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Treasuring His Seat at the Table


This week the Inside Track continues a series of interviews with members of the Strategic Advisory Committee of Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and American Heart Association, exploring their various contributions to the fight against childhood obesity.

As a child of the 1960s, Mark Schoeberl attributes his passion for public service in part to the big impression made by the glow of “Camelot,” the Kennedy era and its dedication to national service.

Mark, a Leader and executive at the American Heart Association (AHA), has pursued that passion in college and his early career as a paramedic.

From there, he went on to various roles at the Iowa Department of Public Health, culminating as deputy director under the administration of then Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack.

“I always knew I wanted a job in public service,” Mark says. “But after about a decade in state government, I decided that I didn’t have to work within government to honor that commitment to public service.”

The search for a meaningful role in a nonprofit took him from Iowa to Texas in order to start his career with the AHA. Mark believes that his years of experience in state government and with the Iowa legislature has helped to guide his work since 2002, first as vice president for state advocacy and public health and now as executive vice president for advocacy and health quality.

“For so many of us who are involved in advocacy, we recognize the tremendous privilege it is to be doing the work that we do every day,” he says. And at the AHA, there is also a deep sense of responsibility and accountability to those individuals to contribute to the Mission of the organization.

“The work we do every day is made possible by kids who are jump-roping or shooting hoops for Heart,” Mark notes, as well as by foundations like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and other donors. Knowing that keeps him ever mindful that “we have an obligation to make sure we are making a difference and having an impact that is improving lives.”

Among the lessons learned early in his career is the power of networking at the community level, a key piece of work for the Strategic Advisory Committee and its diverse array of members and the organizations they represent.

The goal, he notes, is to get Voices for Healthy Kids recognized as a wide-ranging and powerful movement.

“We want to take the policy fight to where we can be most impactful,” he says.

To make that happen, there is an ongoing focus on making sure everyone’s voices are heard: “To be a member of a coalition is one thing. To say that they feel a sense of ownership in that coalition’s efforts is something totally different.”

Discussions aren’t always harmonious, but that’s the point.

The Strategic Advisory Committee is a “safe harbor” for these conversations, he notes, and it also provides a forum for filling gaps in advocacy and activity on the ground.

“If it was easy, it wouldn’t be meaningful,” Mark says.