For Family Leaders, The Impact of Networking Is “Unforgettable”
April 2017

Susan Colburn
State Parent Consultant, Children’s Rehabilitation Service, Montgomery, Alabama

Vera Spinks
Local Parent Consultant, Children’s Rehabilitation Service, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

While everyone in maternal and child health values opportunities to network with colleagues, for family leaders, any chance to network with other family leaders is especially powerful. As family leaders who work with the Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs program in Alabama, we want to tell you about the impact that networking with our colleagues has had on us, particularly through the AMCHP Annual Conference.  One of us has been attending the conference for years, while the other attended this year for the first time. For both, the impact has been immediate and unforgettable.

Family leaders Eileen Forlenza, Susan Colburn, Rodney Farley and Gina Pola-Money at AMCHP 2017.

Family leaders Eileen Forlenza, Susan Colburn, Rodney Farley and Gina Pola-Money at AMCHP 2017.


I attended the AMCHP conference for the first time over 20 years ago. Wow! So I can give you a little history about how the conference’s embrace of family leaders began and grew.

In those first few years, family leaders who were in Washington, D.C., attending the Family Voices national conference were invited to come to the AMCHP Annual Conference for selected workshops and meetings. Those first efforts to engage families rapidly grew, beginning with the first Family Scholars Program in 1996, and leading to the strong commitment to family involvement that AMCHP has today.

Now family leaders are acknowledged as part of the MCH workforce and are included as a cohort of the Leadership Lab, as well as participating in the AMCHP organization at many levels. For example, family leaders now serve on each of AMCHP’s committees, and there are two designated spots on the board of directors for family representatives. This year, there were five family leaders serving on the board, including two on the executive committee.


Last December I was accepted into AMCHP’s Leadership Lab Family Leaders cohort, a 10-month program to help me develop greater leadership skills and expand my knowledge of Title V.  One of the requirements was to attend the AMCHP 2017 Annual Conference for an in-person meeting.

Just by accepting this invitation I grew as an individual, because for the first time in my life, I would be traveling alone and not in a group. I thought of every possible thing that could go wrong and doubted my ability to navigate an airport alone, but accepted the opportunity to conquer my fears. Leadership Lab is meant to stretch us and I was fully committed to being stretched.

I knew I would gain a lot from the Leadership Lab meetings, which were held before the conference officially began, but I had no idea the even greater impact the conference would have on me as a family leader.


In the states, family leaders working with Title V may sometimes feel isolated. This year, more than 50 family leaders attended the conference.

Having a chance to interact with other family representatives who are doing similar things in other states reinforces our commitment and excitement about our work, and we know that each of us leaves with new ideas and projects we want to try when we get home.


As a fairly new family leader in Alabama, I often refer to myself as “just a parent” advocating for families of CYSHCNs. But by attending the Annual Conference – which included workshops, sessions and events for families – I was able to start seeing myself as an intricate part of a group of people who each individually have something to give in order to create something big together.

One of the highlights was hearing from Eileen Forlenza, the outgoing president of AMCHP, who was the first family leader to serve in this role. In her speech, Eileen shared how important it is to inspire a shared vision, challenge the process, lead the way, enable others to act and encourage the heart of those you encounter.

The AMCHP Conference did all of this for me and gave me a vision of family leadership that will be what I make it.  This was a pivotal point for me that has propelled me to be a voice for Title V families at the local, state and national levels.