Healthy Communities initiative takes off

Sara Thompson Ben and Susan Paganelli. Photo by Sara Thompson, KP News

The Key Peninsula is poised to be at the center of innovation and coordination in ways we have never seen. And at the core of that action is a remarkable couple, Ben and Susan Paganelli.

The Milgard Family Foundation awarded a grant through the Key Peninsula Community Council (KPC) this fall. Its purpose? To build an infrastructure that will help this community better serve our populations in need. In addition some funds are available to provide services that focus on hunger, transportation, and health and wellness.

“We are excited to be working together to build on what is already a vibrant and healthy community,”said Susan Paganelli. “Our job is to create a long-term plan based on the desires of the community, and to harness the existing strengths in a way that has not been done before.”

The couple, who recently established a consulting firm in Gig Harbor, is perfectly suited to lead the project.

They met during college, Susan with a background in education and Ben in international relations. Ben served in the U.S. Air Force and when his career took him overseas, Susan gave up her teaching to raise their three children. She also gained valuable experience as she immersed herself in volunteer work, with schools and international groups.

Ben’s work with the Air Force was initially in operations, but then shifted to strategic planning, including rebuilding Afghanistan.

After 22 years with the Air Force, the couple decided it was time to leave the military and join forces in a business together. “We had served our country,”Susan said. “Now we wanted to serve our community, but in a way that gave us a chance to put down roots. We wanted to let our kids get settled, not to move again.”

The first step was an advanced degree in international human rights for Susan while Ben taught at the Air Force Academy in Colorado. The next few years were busy. Susan was raised in the Pacific Northwest and Ben, originally from upstate New York, had come to love the area. In 2010 they found the house of their dreams in Gig Harbor, remodeled, settled their children in school, Susan completed her internship and they started their consulting business, VIA Unlimited.

Both Susan and Ben taught at Harbor Institute, part of TCC. It was through connections there that they heard about the Milgard grant and decided to apply for the position of director.

“Our work has been in capacity development,”said Ben. “That involves seeing what a community has, what they want and then creating a plan of action to get there.”

“We take an asset-based approach. We have already seen some great strengths and we expect there is more we don’t know about yet. This is an incredibly diverse community, and we are in an information gathering stage now,” he said.

They have met with many community leaders and the Key Peninsula Business Association, and have attended community events to gather information and simply to listen. They are impressed with the energy and passion for service that so many people on the Key Peninsula have demonstrated. But they commented those people have their hands full with their current commitments.

“It takes time and energy to bring cohesion to all of the good work that is done in this community,” said Susan. “People just can’t add one more thing to their plates.”

And that is exactly where the Paganellis come in.

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