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Risk, Change and Farewell

My family and me cycling through abandoned railway tunnels in New Zealand last year. 

At times you have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover is yourself.

— Alan Alda, director and screenwriter

It was a pretty big risk to uproot my family and go to New Zealand last year for a fellowship, but it changed the course of my life.

The Kiwi risk-taking culture must have gotten into me, because this week I’m leaving the Colorado Health Institute, where I’ve worked for the past 13 years, to lead an early childhood organization. I’m leaving health policy for the front lines of health. And I’m leaving a place that has provided me with important skills and an excellent platform to do this new work. 

It all started like this.

Despite loud protests from my two sons, my family and I picked ourselves up from our routine lives in Colorado and moved to New Zealand at the beginning of 2017. We lived in Wellington, where I was an Ian Axford Fellow at the New Zealand Treasury.

It was invigorating to learn about new issues in public policy, meet new people with different perspectives and stretch myself personally and professionally. My kids were eventually won over by New Zealand and its daredevil culture. (These are the people who invented bungee jumping.)  It got me thinking, though, that maybe we all hadn’t had enough change in our lives.

What that change would look like perplexed me. 

But at CHI, we specialize in perplexing questions. Just like I’ve done with dozens — OK, hundreds — of CHI projects, I grounded myself by framing the question. What could I do to address the growing body of evidence showing rising gaps in income, health, education and opportunity? 

And then I did my research. I learned that high quality early childhood education is one of the most effective ways to level the playing field. It leads to better health outcomes, lower use of social services and fewer criminal justice costs.

It’s one of the most important investments we can make to address the elusive issue of equity that we talk about so much in health policy.

With this perspective, I made an exciting yet difficult decision. Later this month, I will assume the role of Executive Director of Family Star Montessori. Family Star is a remarkable organization that combines a Montessori curriculum with Head Start programming to deliver high-quality early childhood education to economically, racially and ethnically diverse children. Parent educators travel to homes, homeless shelters and transitional housing to provide parenting education and wraparound services to families. 

CHI has provided me with the skills to dive into this new area. Through my work here, I have been astonished at the profound impacts that the first six years of life have on emotional and physical health throughout the lifespan.

As a parent, it’s both fascinating and terrifying. Working with so many of CHI’s diverse partners in the health policy community has engrained in me the importance of listening attentively, seeking evidence, and finding compromise by looking beyond what is politically expedient to what is objectively true.

I will take all these perspectives with me in this new chapter.  

To my friends and colleagues in the health policy community, I am honored to have worked with you for the past 13 years. I wish you all the best, and I do hope our paths cross. Feel free to say hello, stop by Family Star or come volunteer!