In this recurring section of our blog, we regularly feature some of the work of our members with the hopes that the profile might inspire some new connections, ideas, and community building. If you’re a Thread STL member and interested in being a future Member Snapshot, drop us a line at info@threadstl.org.

Ken McManus is the Coalition Director for the Alliance for Healthy Communities, based in the Parkway School District.

Member Name: Ken McManus

Title: Coalition Director

Name of partnership, coalition, or collective impact initiative: Alliance for Healthy Communities

What is your effort trying to achieve? Reduction in risks for youth suicide and substance abuse through changing local conditions that fuel these health challenges.

What are some of your strongest beliefs that support the work you do or your approach to it? Our coalition serves the west central St. Louis County region. This is a region that is frequently characterized by the material capacities of the majority of its stakeholders. Yet, beneath the surface of these appearances is a lot of pain, confusion, mixed messages and tremendous pressures, absent the necessary social-emotional supports youth need to thrive. This is a main example of what I have continuously observed in the clinical role I have sustained for nearly 40 years as a mental health counselor serving youth and families. I strongly believe that until we build a more vibrant experience of our communities as a reliable social safety net, the risk factors for area youth will increase. Also, I believe a coalition’s main function, at least of the type Alliance for Healthy Communities represents, is to provide a safe and reliable platform for stakeholder collaboration as opposed to inventing its own “wheels”. It takes time for a community to understand this function, as the expectation is that we’ll be another “agency” with its own agenda and products competing for attention and funding.

How did you first get involved with your effort? What drew you to it? I was motivated to become involved in public health strategies targeting youth risky behavior by observing that traditional interventions did not address important community dynamics that clearly contributed to increased risk.

Why is partnership and collaboration essential in the work you do? The work we do and the goals we pursue simply can not be accomplished by one person or organization. Community buy-in and “hands on deck” are of absolute necessity in effecting any lasting change. Partnerships make the work happen and take the work to the intimate levels necessary to impact people’s lives and lifestyles. To create our communities as viable safety nets for youth fundamentally requires participation from each piece of fabric woven into the community “quilt”.

What do you do when you’re not working? I am an avid outdoorsman. My wife and I recently completed a trip to Kearney, NE to witness the amazing Sand Hill Crane migration. I don’t hesitate to run to the Ozarks to fly fish, even for an afternoon. My son and I take an annual trip to Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario for an extended wilderness canoe trek. There are very few outdoor activities for which I don’t have enthusiasm.

What’s the best way for other Thread STL members to contact you? You can reach me at kmcmanus@parkwayschools.net

What’s the best way for other Thread STL members to learn more about your effort? Visit ahc-stl.org or come to our monthly meetings every first Tuesday in the Parkway School District Instructional Services Center from 3:30 to 5pm.