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James Kissee has spent eight years advancing the physical activity objectives of the Washington State Nutrition and Physical Activity Plan. He brings to his work 18 years of experience in public health and physical education. During his tenure, Washington State has won recognition as a leader among states promoting physical activity through policy and environmental change, with more than 50 such changes adopted in the last 5 years. This achievement puts Washington in the front ranks along with Colorado and Wisconsin for creating active community environments.
Kissee insists that these successes would not exist without cross-agency partnerships and strong relationships with leaders in the regions affected, like local health jurisdictions and transportation agencies. “At first, some agencies could not see why we wanted to be involved in their work,” he says. “As obesity and chronic disease emerged as national issues, more potential partners became receptive. A lot of it was just good communication and showing that public health could complement their work and strengths,” he says.
Partners credit James with being very accessible and responsive. “James always gets right back to me with helpful information when I call,” says Becky Williams, the Safe Routes to School Coordinator for Klickitat County Public Health. “He has the big picture concept of what is happening in the state and can see how one project can benefit another. Also, he is so well-connected that he can tell you who to call to get your questions answered.”
“My approach is to build good partnerships and provide suggestions -- but not dictate the work,” says Kissee. “It’s important to make sure people are recognized for their efforts, and, whenever possible, they should share their work at the state or national level.”
According to Lisa Quinn, the Executive Director of Feet First, Kissee knows that the investment of time to reach a broader constituency will strengthen any initiative. She says, “James is really good at seeing how all the pieces fit together, and he is both strategic and inclusive to make sure key people are involved. It can take a bit longer sometimes to achieve this, but he does a great job in bringing in people with different voices and having them represented.”
Kissee is also known for finding a way to make use of training and outreach to further statewide initiatives. “He is a motivational guy in general,” according to Eve Nelson, Senior Transportation Planner for the Spokane Regional Transportation Council. “James once demonstrated such motivation to get the Complete Streets conversation going in Spokane. While he was travelling he pulled over on the highway and gave a presentation to one of my working groups from the shoulder of the road via his cell phone. Now, that’s commitment.”
Kissee sees good things on the horizon, thanks to the innovative cross-agency State Leadership Team that guides the federally funded Community Transformation Grant. He will work to bring Complete Streets policies to more Regional Transportation Organizations like the recent policy adopted in Spokane. He is also working to involve other partners in active transportation, such as tribes and faith-based organizations. Finally, he plans to provide input on increasing physical activity guidelines for child care settings. Kissee is ready to bring more state leaders to the table to see how built environment improvements can improve the physical activity and overall health of state residents.
Featured: December 2012
Physical activity practitioners in Washington