the Athena Group

Athena Bulletin

Athena Receives "Best for Colorado" Award


As the lead consultant on the Durango project, I wanted to share a few thoughts about receiving this award. First, I want to share that my project partners (both professional and community partners) and the rest of us at The Athena Group are deeply grateful to the Alliance Center for offering this award in the first place and for choosing to honor us and our work this year. The award, in its essence, is for being a force for good in the world, in Colorado communities specifically. That basis of the award is deeply meaningful to me.

At the end of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, her mother says, “If you’re for the right thing, you do it without thinking.” That line has stuck with me since I first read that book as a young girl. Over the years, I have come to disagree with Dr. Angelou’s mother. The right thing is not always clear, and when it is, it can require a lot of thinking to figure out how to do that right thing without harming others – and it’s sometimes even hard to figure out how to do it without harming ourselves.

When my daughter was just beginning to figure out who she was and how she would be in the world, I frequently reminded her, “Your chief obligation is to become yourself”.  I told her that my job was to help create space and provide the support she needed to do just that…and that I would only intervene if it appeared she was going to do harm to herself or others. She struggled with those ideas, but I believe that simple container helped her to become the powerful and positive participant in the world around her that she was.

What if everyone had that opportunity? What would our communities be like? I am privileged to learn the answers to these questions every time I work with a community.

I saw my job with my daughter to be very similar to my job working with communities. With her, I was facilitating the development of a single human being; with community members in the greater Durango area – and the many other communities that my partners and I have served in Colorado and beyond – we facilitate the development of a whole community, with its many diverse members who each bring many different experiences and challenges and strengths and dreams to the conversation.

As a community member and a consultant, I see this work as being our ultimate challenge in a free and democratic society – coming together across our differences, connecting through our commonalities and working together to craft local systems that offer everyone real opportunity to thrive and to develop a sense of community that assures all that live, work and play there that they matter, that they belong.

I would love it if one day this could all emerge “without thinking”, without struggle, but until then, I am grateful that leaders like those in the City of Durango and La Plata County make space for this difficult work to happen.  

And I am proud of the container my partners and I created for engaging in this work. Shouting out now to the amazing team that Athena, a consortium of small consulting businesses working together to navigate complex systems change, was able to offer Durango community members for this work: Jenn Lopez, founder of Project Moxie – full of moxie herself and coming with vast knowledge about housing, homelessness and resources available; and Chris Chopyak of Arlosoul and local strategic illustrator Heather Martinez , both of whom helped the community to see and hear the challenges and opportunities more clearly.  Read more about the project here.

And I continue to be astounded by what is possible when people come together with conviction to find a better way, to do right by one another. It is the people in communities like the greater Durango area that show us what is possible in our communities, what they might be like, when a critical mass of local community members take on the ultimate challenge:

  • from the incredible energy and dedication of community members like Richard Dilworth, who brings to helping people who are unhoused find safe places to sleep and have a meaningful voice in the planning process or share their gifts through art,
  • to people like Caroline Kinser and others at the tenacious and impactful alliance of the local faith community in the Neighbors in Need Alliance (NINA),
  • to the generous support of local consultant Paul Roithmayr, Founder and Managing Principal of Same Page Solutions, who gave his time and energy to support success by facilitating NINA’s parallel work and coordinating with our work with the Planning and Action Team on Homelessness
  • to the housed neighbors that sought the best results for everyone, even knowing that they would need to make some compromises
  • and many, many more.

No one can achieve any of this alone. Thanks to everyone who has been part of taking on our great democratic challenge, of working together to find a better way and of truly being a force for good in Durango. And thanks again to the Alliance Center for this honor!

About the Author:

Meagan Picard brings approximately 20 years of experience in public policy development, including community engagement, facilitation, strategic planning, community development and performance assessment and reporting. Her experience working with state and local governments, community organizations and engaged community members spans ten states from Washington State to Pennsylvania. Together with the communities and organizations she serves, she has achieved remarkable results, from enabling highly divided communities to work together toward common goals to building highly effective partnerships to develop and implement strategic plans.