Tri-county organization hires new director

By Katy Nesbitt, The Observer March 26, 2014 11:01 am

Building Healthy Families Director Tammy Dennee brings strategic planning and a network of relationships from around the state to her new position. (KATY NESBITT/The Observer)
Building Healthy Families Director Tammy Dennee brings strategic planning and a network of relationships from around the state to her new position. (KATY NESBITT/The Observer)

ENTERPRISE — When the Building Healthy Families board went looking for a new executive director, it went “outside the box” and hired Tammy Dennee, a former lobbyist and consultant for agriculture and energy.

Dennee worked in the wheat industry for 17 years. Most recently, she ran her own business, helping organizations with strategic planning and leadership development, skills she brings to the Building Healthy Families organization, a program she was unfamiliar with before she interviewed.

Her community and government affairs involvement with Greater Oregon Behavioral Health was the link between working as a private industry advocate to an advocate for social programs in Northeast Oregon.

“This gives me an opportunity to work with a board of directors of an organization I didn’t realize existed. I think this it’s a good time for me to focus my energies on this type of service,” Dennee said.

Building Healthy Families has been without a director for five months. Dennee said she put her strategic planning skills to work right away at her first board meeting earlier this month when they discussed the organization’s vision past surviving day-to-day operations.

“I want to know what is the board’s dream. Can we lay out a multi-year plan and think longer term. It was an exciting first discussion,” Dennee said.

She said she and the board are assessing what programs make sense to carry forward and what funding is out there.  She credits the work of her predecessor, Amy Johnson.

“I have the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of those who were here before me, and I don’t take that lightly. The rapid growth and what has taken place the last few years — what a bright shining light and model for other communities,” Dennee said.

Building Healthy Families provides what it calls wrap-around services — programs for expecting parents to home visits with newborns, preschool and kindergarten readiness to housing the county’s alternative high school. 

“This is a place where everything is under one roof,” Dennee said.

Enthusiasm about her new role carries over to the programs she oversees. 

“I see how interesting and ironic it is to see kids in (alternative education) programs becoming parents themselves and taking behavioral skills and life skills forward,” she said. “They will be better parents and citizens.”

In just a short time, Dennee is getting up to speed on the groups that partner to provide social services in Wallowa County. 

“We are working with local medical providers to help gather information so people expecting new additions to their family have resources,” she said.

Of the Early Learning Center on campus, she said they are complying with a government mandate to focus on kindergarten readiness. 

“We want to make sure they are ready to spell their own name and are recognizing colors and numbers,” Dennee said.

The advantage of having a preschool and high school on the same campus helps provide what’s called “wrap-around services.”

“The high school and preschool kids went to the park today and played together Red Light Green Light,” she said. “The big kids have their food handlers licenses and make lunch for the little kids. You don’t get that in a regular school environment. This way we are modeling healthy relationships for them that creates a whole new dynamic for these young people.”

Dennee brings not only leadership and planning skills, but a wealth of relationships with elected officials, agencies and funding sources from around the state. 

“I can bring a really good network here and bring more exposure,” she said.

As for what she’s learned about Wallowa County in a short time is ubiquitous throughout its government, nonprofits and small business is how challenges are met proactively for the betterment of the community.

“We are laying down a model so bigger communities can take a page out of this book and model these programs,” Dennee said.