Five questions with: Dr. Susanna Calvert, founder and convener, Foundation for Family and Community Healing

Following the death of her husband and sister, both of whom died of cancer, Dr. Susanna Calvert left a 26-year career in higher education to establish the Foundation for Family and Community Healing (FFCH). More than anything, it was a move designed to honor her late loved ones.

Following 23 years as a faculty member in pharmaceutical sciences, the first chapter of Calvert’s career in personal and professional development began after receiving a degree in Applied Positive Psychology and several coaching credentials.  She then took a position at the University of Georgia as the inaugural director of programming for the Office of Faculty Affairs, a post designed to support the success of the university’s 3,300 faculty.

“The emphasis was helping them thrive and fostering their wellbeing because if they’re successful people, they’ll be successful faculty members,” Calvert said. “That’s really the way it ought to be in all of our organizations.”

Calvert understood how relationships are central to the ability to thrive but very few are taught to do that. She knew that these were teachable skills at the individual, group and organizational levels.

In March 2021, the organization will be launching high-quality educational modules on a gift economy basis to the general public. As we wait in anticipation for those courses, we caught up with Calvert to learn more about the organization’s success so far and what’s to come.

Dr. Susanna Calvert, founder and convener for Mission and Vision, Foundation for Family and Community Healing

What is Foundation for Family and Community Healing’s core mission?

Our mission is to help everyone learn to create healthy and rewarding relationships with ourselves, each other and the Earth, and the loving force that unites us. We do it through relationship education. We are aiming to educate the masses. We’re developing an online educational platform that we are launching in March. It will have an array of modules. An education module is more than a webinar but less than an academic course. It’s for skill development. It’s for skills that would help us not just be a successful student or employee, but be a successful member of the Earth and human communities, meaning a healthy relationship that is respectful and reciprocal – it’s give and take.

There’s a lot of other skills that surround those things that we need that people are not being routinely taught. We’re not focusing on cognitive knowledge; we’re providing that to a degree to help people understand why this is important and how to create new habits to create healthy relationships with everybody and everything.

Can you characterize the extent of the program locally?

We have different levels of relationship education. The introductory level is for the masses; it’s for everyone and runs off a gift economy model, where people set their own “tuition.” It’s online, predominantly. We will ask for donations for people to give commensurate with the value they perceive and also their ability to give. Because we really want to make it available to everybody without restrictions.

We will also have deeper, more advanced levels of programming, which will be small group-focused, with deeper, facilitated conversations which will have a minimum donation required. And we will be online exclusively, initially during the pandemic and, hopefully, we will open local, live workshops at some point.

We are also offering online events, free for the public, on healing meditations for ourselves and Earth, a discussion series on Engaging Spirituality and we co-host a monthly speaker and video/movie series on Earth care and advocacy with the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Richmond, Earth Ministry.

Our aim is to educate the everyone. We’re particularly interested in the Richmond community to adopt this kind of learning so we can have healthier, happier communities. But it’s also for beyond Richmond and for the whole world.

What don’t most people realize or understand?

We’re pretty new. We started in 2018 and we’re just launching our product, so what people don’t know about us is everything. We’ve had a small social media presence but we’re ramping up because we’re launching our initial suite of relationship education modules on our platform. I hope we’ll have around 9 modules at the introductory level and a good handful that will be for small groups, online learning. And that’s just going to grow and grow.

What I want and think people should know is that the quality of our relationships is not an accident. It’s not just a matter of chemistry between two people. It takes attention and effort and investment, but the rewards are just so beautiful. Relationships are what give our life so much meaning and richness. Not just with each other but ourselves and Earth. What the Foundation wants to do is to provide that rich experience of what it means to be human on our beautiful planet and make that available for everyone.

What kind of work do volunteers do to help Foundation for Family and Community Healing?

We need people who want to join us in helping us all learn to create healthy and rewarding relationships through either social media and/or through education, as well as expertise that’s required to help make a thriving nonprofit in today’s economy.  

We are a community of entrepreneurs who have a passion for this work. We have people who are creating social media content for us to help spread their work in this area. We also have people to create content for our education modules. They’re either leading the creation of content or contributing to the content. We’re growing, so we need people who have expertise and experience in marketing and communications, accounting and fundraising.

If $100,000 fell from the sky tomorrow, how would you spend it?

I would spend it to give and help support a living wage to our staff because they’re so passionate about their work, and they’re so good at it. We are just in the early stages of our growth and development. Our product has still not come out yet. Until we have sustainable income, they’re making big sacrifices to help us move our mission forward to change the world.

Foundation for Family and Community Healing is located in Richmond’s Southside. Under Calvert’s leadership, the team has almost quadrupled in the last year. To learn more about FFCH, visit its website, or follow it on Facebook and Instagram. You can also donate directly to the organization here.

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