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Feb 13, 2015

Engagement Is Mandate for New Health Foundation Officer

Lisa Madry is the new diocesan engagement officer for Episcopal Health Foundation. Raised in Corpus Christi, Madry grew up in the Episcopal Church. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was an active member of St. James’, Austin, before moving to Houston in December to begin work with the EHF. Over the next year, Madry will be familiarizing herself with the Diocese’s 153 congregations and developing strategies and resources to support engaging them in transforming community health.

CEB: How did you become aware of the position at Episcopal Health Foundation?

LM: I had been a delegate to Council when we voted to give the Bishop permission to sell St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital. When I saw this position open with Episcopal Health Foundation, I thought:  “Oh, I voted for that.” Then I thought: “Oh, my goodness. This is really right for me.” I have a pretty quirky rÈsumÈ in terms of faith-based and community organizing as well as capacity building with nonprofit organizations … so I applied and they contacted me right away. I was happy in Austin. I loved St. James’. I will miss that a lot, but now I’ll get to be connected with every church in the Diocese.


CEB: Where did your interest in community organizing begin?

LM: When I was in college I started a literacy organization to tutor housekeepers at the university. We had the highest rate of PhDs and one of the highest illiteracy rates in the country. I wanted to do something that would have an impact. My grandfather used to work at the university. I never met him but when I got to college, people would ask me if I was related to Bob Madry. He had died 40 years ago, but people still remembered him. He had been mayor, he was active in his church and the community. He helped build the university into a strong institution that I benefited from. So I saw [the literacy program] as something that could have an  impact. It’s still there and has grown to include Head Start and ESL classes. 

Access to education is a basic human right that dovetails with work issues for the working poor. Many don’t have time to get tutoring because they have to catch a bus to their next job. It’s a bigger issue than I at first realized and I wanted to find out where the root of the problem existed.


CEB: Where else did you experience a connection with community? 

LM: After college I came back to Texas and did community-organizing work and also worked in Dolores Hidalgo, Mexico, for a rural community development organization. In Mexico it was almost entirely women in these rural communities right after NAFTA, because all the men left to find work. We did a lot of cooperative projects to help the women be more self-sustaining. And my Spanish got a lot better. Later I did community organizing in San Antonio and Houston. I worked with congregation and school leaders to address issues facing families in their communities like funding for after-school programs, job training, access to health care, neighborhood crime and improving neighborhood infrastructure. It was inspiring to see faith leaders work with one another and their neighbors to put their faith into action and make improvements to their community that benefited everyone.


CEB: How do these experiences inform your new position?

LM: All the things I learned about how to work with people very different from me, how to collaborate, were very formative. 


CEB: Your last position was with the National Wildlife Federation. How has that added to your expertise?

LM: I hadn’t worked on environmental issues before but I viewed all these issues as being very connected. When you teach people how to engage in public life, you try to identify people who have that capacity, and then you look at how to invest in them, how to develop their leadership skills. I worked regionally in a lot of rural places. Many of these folks were hunters and anglers who see what’s happening in the environment, so they’re interested in environmental work but otherwise pretty conservative—a diverse population. Later I moved into a position within the higher education program. We created peer-learning programs among the different campuses to share ideas and best practices that may provide some useful models for peer learning in my current position. Working with college students I got a lot more savvy about the use of technology and social media for online collaboration and communication as well. It was a great opportunity and I ended up working with them for 12 years.


CEB: Has your faith played into your career choices? 

LM: It’s been woven throughout, I think. I grew up in the Episcopal Church. I can’t say exactly that I learned this in Sunday school on that Sunday and therefore that’s why … but I was the only one who asked “What can I do about it?” when my professor was talking about the injustice around literacy rates. When I came back into community organizing, I got reconnected to the church and learned about the “social gospel.” It’s really great that Bishop Doyle is supportive of this work and of churches getting involved in health initiatives. 


CEB: How does working for a faith-based entity differ from what you have previously done?

LM: I think a lot of people are looking for a faith community where they can see evidence of what they “say” lived in the world, that their beliefs have an impact on the world. I see my job as being a catalyst for our congregations and our work as supporting transformation towards healthier communities.


CEB: What will be your first steps?

LM: I’m going to travel a lot and listen a lot. I want to learn from the people who are [already] involved. There are also a lot of churches that are just now beginning to consider how they might get started. Helping them figure out their next steps will be important. I want to figure out what the Foundation can offer that would be helpful. Hopefully we can help strengthen the overall capacity of the congregations to be more active and engaged. We will be sending out a survey to congregational leaders to help gather some of this input as well as having conversations with people who express an interest in working with us. So that’s what I’ll be trying to figure out. I would love for people to reach out to me if they have an interest.


Madry can be reached at Episcopal Health Foundation 832.807.2586 and by email: