rising strong: a community in minnesota bounces back

Dr. Corey Martin
One of the most exciting things about Dr. Brené Brown’s research is how transformative individuals find the shift to living courageous lives can be. But can the work transform entire communities? Well, Dr. Jill Nelson, the Associate Dean for Professional Development and Leadership at North Dakota State University and a Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator, at the invitation of Dr. Corey Martin (shown left), Director of Medical Affairs at Buffalo Hospital, has been helping to lead the charge of embedding the research into the tight-knit community of Buffalo, Minnesota.

It began with a tragedy: within three months, two doctors in the small town of Buffalo were killed – one in a traffic accident, one as a result of suicide. The hospital reeled, and Dr. Martin, in an effort to help his staff heal, required 15 physicians to attend a resilience course. At the end of the course, the doctors discussed what resilience work might look like if it was extended outside of the hospital setting, into the community. Their parent company, Allina Health, had recently given them a $100,000 grant to focus on mental health, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to put the money to good use. And so, The Bounce Back Project was formed, with the goal of promoting health through resilience and happiness.

Immediately, the Bounce Back Project got creative: they gave community presentations on the power of random acts of kindness. They created a community gratitude practice, where folks could sign up to receive texts to remind them to share three good things that had happened to them during the day at a community site. They even launched 2000 beach balls from the back of a truck during the Buffalo Days parade, simply for the purpose of injecting an unsolicited moment of joy in their citizens’ day.

But it wasn’t enough. They knew that there was more work they could do.

Luckily, around that time, Dr. Martin’s wife heard of a weekend intensive on The Daring Way being held by Dr. Nelson, three hours away in Fargo, North Dakota. She called, and booked the last two spots in the intensive for herself and Dr. Martin. During a hallway conversation on one of the breaks, Dr. Martin told Dr. Nelson all about the work his Bounce Back organization was doing to help make their community more resilient, and invited her to come to Buffalo to hold a similar intensive in the community.

Corey and friends

“During the first intensive in Buffalo, there were some really influential people in attendance, including several community leaders,” remembers Dr. Nelson. “And they were so open to it, because Buffalo is a small enough town that they were deeply affected by the deaths of the doctors. When they discussed the burnout that could have led to their deaths, this gave them the gateway to discuss vulnerability. Also, there was a certain sense of patriotism about it all – they were really there in the intensive ready to learn everything for the benefit of their town.”


Powerful vulnerability is worth it. ~ Dr. Jill Nelson, Certified Daring Way™ Facilitator

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Dr. Jill Nelson
Since that first intensive, Dr. Nelson (shown left) has made the trek several times back to Buffalo to do additional intensives. And her work has definitely caught on: this fall, the athletic director began a book club with 90 teachers, all reading Daring Greatly. In January, the high schools will be bringing Brené’s research to their students, having them all read Brené’s books. Two local Certified Daring Way™ Facilitators, Michelle Hunt-Graham and Jamie Mosley, are leading weekly afternoon and evening Daring Way and Rising Strong groups. And of course, Bounce Back continues to introduce resilience tools to the community throughout the year.

Dr. Martin is enthusiastic about the changes that they’ve seen in their town over the past two years. “People are kinder to each other,” he says. “There’s a sense of Buffalo pride.” In fact, he’s so enthusiastic, he and Dr. Nelson have been instrumental in helping our team pilot test a long-awaited assessment tool, that will measure how courage shows up in people’s daily lives.

Dr. Nelson agrees that the changes have been profound. “Folks have permission to be compassionate, because people are so invested in their community,” she says. “There’s just more hope. The community sees that powerful vulnerability is worth it.”