The Art of Being a Catalyst: Unique perspectives from the Catalyst Coordinators

By ShaCoria Winston, Tammy Bass, Erin Carson, Derrick Haskins, and Emily Roberts

**Erin Carson is a former Catalyst Coordinator

Last week, we shared some insight on the Catalyst Model, and the importance of the philanthropy and state government partnership in a successful community-centric model of health improvement. This week, we dive into the experience of our coordinators.

The Catalyst for Healthy Eating and Active Living program provides a dedicated coordinator in each of the eight participating counties. Many coordinators live right in the community in which they work, which allows them to understand the local context and provide important continuity for their communities.

In this work, no two days are alike. Some days are more eventful than others. Some days offer challenges, some offer success, but each day offers opportunity. The Catalyst’s work is driven by the needs of the community and the people who make up that community, and those needs change. In order to build partnerships, leverage resources, and shape policies, environments, and systems to empower communities, Catalyst Coordinators are an integral part of the communities we support on the ground every day.

I interviewed Catalyst Coordinators Tammy Bass, Cleveland County; Derrick Haskins, Edgecombe & Nash Counties; Emily Roberts, McDowell County; and former Halifax County Catalyst Coordinator, Erin Carson to gather some insight on the uniqueness of their role and how others can work well in community. Here’s what they had to say:

What makes the Catalyst Coordinator position unique?

Emily Roberts: As a Catalyst Coordinator, I provide a unique vantage point to communities, funders, and resource partners alike by serving in an autonomous position in the county in which I live. I have had the opportunity to become well-versed in a broad range of healthy eating and active living best practices, resources, and programs, as well as techniques to provide capacity building, technical assistance, facilitation, and thought partnership to communities through boots-on-the-ground work and professional development. I serve as a connector and conduit between communities and regional and statewide organizations, with whom I have the opportunity to build lasting, meaningful relationships. In this way, I serve as a broker of trust for all partners involved in the work. Finally, I have found myself in the unique position to engage in work that is directed and lead by community need (as long as they fall in to Catalyst program strategies) rather than be tied to implementing prescribed programs.

What makes the role of Catalyst Coordinator effective? What are key challenges of the role?

Emily Roberts: It can be difficult to describe my role as a Catalyst Coordinator because of its uniqueness. It is an autonomous role that is responsive to community need and interest. The flexibility to participate in community-driven and community-lead efforts and programs rather than bringing prescribed programs to community is an effective way to engage in work that builds capacity and is sustainable regardless of the presence of a Catalyst Coordinator. My role and work as a Coordinator is place-based in work and focus, which is important for empowering communities to try new things. One thing that made the Catalyst Coordinator role so effective was the fact that I served my community consistently for several years. While other programs and people came in and went, I was fortunate to be a steady face and resource, and I built a great deal of trust with my community by showing up and sticking around.      

Cleveland County Catalyst Coordinator, Tammy Bass, and small business owner, Mary Renfer working toward “Good Food for All”.

Twin Counties Catalyst Coordinator, Derrick Haskins showcases Wayfinding signage located in the Historic Downtown in the Town of Tarboro.

What does it mean to you to engage marginalized communities? (priority populations) Why is it important to engage priority populations?

Tammy Bass and Erin Carson: As a program, the Catalyst is committed to embedding equity in our work to ensure that everyone has access to the things they need to live a good, healthy life. We do this by allowing the community’s voice to be heard when we are building movements and making decisions. It is understood that even if we open seats at the table, not everyone will be in a position to get to the table or feel comfortable and confident once sitting down. We can help remind organizations to involve the people who are most impacted by the issues these organizations are trying to address in their communities. Our efforts are much better informed and more compassionate when we work “with” people rather than doing “for” people.

We have the resources to get people ready to be ready, particularly the most marginalized, and that’s when we do our best work and make the deepest impact.

What is special about working in your community every day?

Tammy Bass, Erin Carson, and Derrick Haskins: Being a Catalyst Coordinator has been a great avenue to strengthen and serve our communities. On any given day, we set aside time to respond to partner communications, engage community leaders and elected officials, attend strategic planning meetings, assist in board development, research initiatives, and position ourselves in frequented community venues in hopes of connecting with hard to reach partners, all before lunch. The role of the Catalyst Coordinator often involves getting our hands dirty to participate in a community garden or playground build, creating and distributing surveys, as well as reviewing notes and preparing talking points to attend and facilitate a neighborhood listening session in the evening. We connect healthy eating and active living efforts with intersecting topical areas by attending events focused on affordable housing, access to transportation and health care, among others.

The nature of the communities in which the Catalyst serves requires many hats to be worn to accomplish change, but we are also positioned in communities with tremendous opportunity, energy, and heart. We are privileged to work with people from various backgrounds that bring their unique experiences and wisdom to build the strength of a rich tapestry of community. We can all agree that we love the work we get to be a part of and the dedicated people with which we get to do it.

Former Halifax County Catalyst Coordinator, Erin Carson helps builds raised garden beds for a local community garden.

McDowell County Catalyst Coordinator, Emily Roberts, and community partner Amy Haynes take a break from Keeping It Fresh Community Garden’s inaugural planting day to pose for a picture.

To learn more about how we’ve intentionally embedded equity into our work, stay tuned for our next blog, Living up to your Commitment to Health Equity .


The Catalyst for Healthy Eating and Active Living is a program of the Foundation for Health Leadership & Innovation in partnership with the NC Division of Public Health’s Community and Clinical Connections for Prevention and Health Branch with funding from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust.

To see our Five Year Summary and Catalyst Video, please visit our webpage.

Contact Jamie Cousins, Catalyst Program Director, at / (919) 707-5241 for info or with questions