Whenever you’re trying to collaborate with a particular partner or group for the first time, start with this small goal: just get your foot in the door. If you keep an open mind and network persistently, that entry point can come from surprising places.
When we first started our work, we knew we wanted to work with the school system, but weren’t sure where to begin. I happened to meet with a school’s director of athletics, who I already knew from previous work. We got to talking and it turned out he really believed in this issue and in the power of athletics to influence the character of our kids.
I worked with him to invite former professional football stars, who were well-known in our football-crazed area, to talk with the school’s coaches and their male athletes about respect and character. That one successful collaboration gave us the opportunity to pilot an in-class curriculum on similar topics, but with both genders, in three middle schools the next year. Today, that curriculum is taught to every student at all 18 middle schools in our district.
I never would have imagined that our gateway to Wichita’s schools would be an athletic department. But that was our entry point—and it ultimately led us to many more places. It also of course helps to have a great individual champion, like the athletic director I met, to open that first door for you.