Building Capacity: Identifying and Making the Most of Available Information and Local Networks

Written by Christopher Plein, Ph.D. West Virginia University and MFLN Military Caregiving Team Member

Aristotle is credited with the observation that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” This ancient piece of wisdom holds true today, especially as we consider working together through networks and in collaborations at the community level.   The concept also applies when we are pulling together various strands of data and information to form a fuller picture of a topic, challenge, or opportunity that is before us.  One of the goals of the Military Families Learning Network is to help all of us recognize how we can make the most of existing resources in our communities and beyond.

Just last week, one of our MFLN groups, the Community Capacity Building concentration area, offered a webinar on how to “Learn to Build Community Capacity through My Training Hub Modules.” The training modules are of great assistance to anyone considering how to effect positive change in their communities.   Most importantly, the training modules reveal how each of us has the tools and abilities to work together to make a difference.  The modules are readily accessible and are hosted on the Military One Source website.

The training modules embrace an assets and opportunity based approach rather than a deficit and problem orientation.  This echoes much of what we know about the importance of combining strengths and resources to build community resilience, strengthen networks, and improve collaborative effort.

As the training modules reveal, community capacity building has many different applications.  As a health policy specialist, I was especially interested in how different individuals and organizations can work together to promote healthy communities, to build and strengthen networks of caregivers, to improve health service delivery, and to better coordinate common interests and efforts among various institutions, groups, and organizations.

Caregivers and those that assist caregivers (such as Extension professionals and military family support personnel) know the importance of friends, families, and colleagues who provide advice, assistance, and support.  Through these relationships, we become self-reliant but also mutually supportive.  The Community Capacity Building training modules explain effectively how these arrangements serve as “Informal Networks” and serve as a bedrock for community capacity. When “Formal Systems” are added to the mix in a conscious and collaborative way, such as social service agencies and healthcare providers, the possibilities of “Collective Competency” increase allowing for overall capacity building that benefits all.


We can also make more of the sum of the parts when we are accessing information and data that provides insight and context.  To make positive change, we must have an understanding of the underlying context in which we are involved.  Knowing the lay of the land is absolutely essential for planning and action. Tapping into various data and information sources can help us greatly.  Here again the Capacity Building training provides helpful resources for family support professionals and caregivers.  For example, the session on Advanced Community Assessment (Session 4) provides links to helpful government reports and documents that help us understand underlying demographic information, health status, and healthcare assets at the community level.

The training modules identify many helpful sources of data and information.   For those wanting to get the big picture of military demographics, the Department of Defense’s annual Profile of the Military Community is essential. Other resources allow you to take a closer look at specific locations at the state and community level.  The US Census Bureau’s American FactFinder website provides detailed information on local communities by city, county, and zip code. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers detailed information at the state level and for many cities (see for example,  In addition to the resources identified in the Community Capacity Building Modules, there are other resources that are useful in knowing more about local communities and states.  Especially helpful is the annual Kids Count Report that is a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation which provides national, state, and local data on child well-being issues.

The insights offered in the Community Capacity Building modules are well worth the investment of time and effort to dip into and take the training.  I encourage you to take a look at these by visiting the MFLN Community Capacity Building web-page, I would also invite you to share any resources with us that you might recommend.  You can do this by commenting below!

To gain a better understanding of the training mentioned throughout this post and the different modules within it, please look into last week’s Friday Field Notes from Community Capacity Building: Learn to Build Community Capacity through My Training Hub Modules.


 This MFLN-Military Caregiving concentration blog post was published on April 28, 2017.





Go Beyond the Webinar: Insights, Experiences, and Strategies for Working with LGBT and Transgender Youth Families

By: Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT


We were fortunate enough to have Dr. Jenifer McGuire from the University of Minnesota join us in facilitating two very important and captivating webinars.

The first webinar, The ABCs of LGBT: Learning Language and Inclusive Practices in Work with LGBT Families, offered participants a deeper understanding of how language can impact the ways in which how people communicate can provide activism and inclusivity. Additionally, this webinar provided an understanding of the major theories around gender and sex while assisting participants in understanding how these theories can shape social interactions.

The following is a list of examples of some of the significant “take-aways” from the webinar:

  • Appropriate use of terminology and inclusiveness- ways of talking to and about people can promote activism and intervention. Reframing the ways in which we talk about gender, age, body image, and inclusion can lead to change.
  • Ways that we unconsciously gender police others in which we don’t even realize we are doing it- Gender policing is when we impose behaviors of others based on sex or assumed gender
  • Being more aware of gender pronouns- letting others know what gender pronouns you use- people being respectful of that and using the pronouns the person requests
  • The binary concept about gender- Classification system consisting of two genders: male and female.
  • The difference between gender identity and gender expression- Gender identity is a person’s perception of having a particular gender, which may or may not correspond with their birth sex. Gender expression is the way in which a person expresses their gender identity, through their appearance, dress, and behavior.
  • Definition of (some) terms used by (or about) the LGBT community- See power point and webinar for all of the terms
  • Inclusive language- using inclusive language makes people feel safe. Everyone feels safer in inclusive environments.
  • The importance of language in the LGBT community- See power point and webinar
  • Everyone feels safer in more inclusive environments- Research on schooling repeatedly finds that all youth are safer when environments are more inclusive.
  • How our culture is shaped by “physical” sex identity, and how much self-identification is crucial- See power point and webinar
  • How expression and identity are different- See above

The following is a list of examples of ways in which providers can apply these “take-aways” to their work:

  • Improve inclusivity
  • Use the knowledge to improve professional interactions with LGBT clients
  • Being more inclusive of patients and families when providing counseling
  • Provide more education so that others can be more aware intheir practices
  • To assist with being more culturally competent and sensitive
  • Ensuring the use of inclusive language when interacting with clients
  • Use resources provided in the training, as well as the resources provided by the participants
  • Increasing sensitivity and inclusivity with LGBT population
  • Use more inclusive language

The second webinar, TRANSforming Conversations: Addressing Needs of Transgender Youth and Their Families, provided participants with information about research that has been done with this population in order to have a better understanding of the ways in which they can be supportive and helpful when working with families.

The following is a list of examples of some of the significant “take-aways” from the webinar:

  • Family support has a significant impact on the struggles Transgender Youth face- family rejection is harmful, parent support is linked to better outcomes, being forced out of the home is linked to additional risks for Transgender youth, loss is associated with anxiety and depression.
  • The concept of ambiguous loss- this kind of loss occurs without closure or understanding; in terms of Transgender youth and families, it can be a loss through psychological and physical change.
  • The amount of homeless Transgender children and the lack of safe/appropriate shelters for them- See webinar for more details
  • Factors that lead to family reconciliation; application of ambiguous loss theory- See webinar for more details
  • The importance of supportive parenting- Family relationships are key
  • The variations of how family members treat Transgender Youth when they first tell them- See webinar
  • The importance of family relationships to be strong and supportive- See webinar

The following is a list of examples of ways in which providers can apply these “take-aways” to their work:

  • Being more supportive
  • Giving people language regarding what they are experiencing
  • Be more understanding, accepting, and share knowledge with others
  • Working with families to help navigate the confusion they may be facing
  • Being more aware of how to best offer support services to clients
  • Be able to identify mediators for the youth and discuss how family relations are not static

We encourage all of you to watch both of these webinars and think about significant things you can take away from them and the ways in which you can apply what you learned to your work. We would love for you to share your responses after watching these webinars. You can share in the comments section on this blog. We look forward to your responses!

This post was written by Bari Sobelson, MS, LMFT, the Social Media and Programming Coordination Specialist for the MFLN Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network Family Development concentration area on our website, Facebook, and Twitter.