Living Community Psychology-Vincent Francisco

Photograph of Vincent Francisco

This installment profiles Vincent Francisco, a community psychologist who has made major contributions to community psychology through his co-creation of The Community Tool Box, SCRA’s Practice Council, and the Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice.

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Living Community Psychology highlights a community psychologist through an in-depth interview intended to highlight the personal and professional lives of those working in our field.  The intent is to personalize Community Psychology as it is lived by its diverse practitioners. These past columns contain a wealth of life advice gleaned from over 60 profiled community psychologists, from graduate students to retirees, representing an invaluable resource for community psychologists.

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As a young person with a Portuguese-American heritage, Vince Francisco could have been a consumer of much of his professional work with troubled youth, having grown up in several neighborhoods around Providence, RI, surrounded by acting-out friends. “Portuguese immigrants were pretty poor and were discriminated against at every level, including jobs, sports and education.” The Portuguese have been in this country before its founding, many landing on the northeast coast as shipwrecked sailors. Vince is convinced that he has been blessed by a series of fortuitous accidents that “saved him” and led to who he is today. “I could easily have gone the wrong way, but people intervened to set me on the right path,” he said.

Vince’s (Portuguese-descended) father worked as a maintenance worker in a steel mill but also worked side jobs as an electrician. His mother, of Irish descent, worked as a file clerk in a factory. Vince’s sister, eight years older, was the first in the extended family to graduate high school, eventually working for the state as a building supervisor. “When I was in high school, the family’s combined income, with both children working, was $30,000” he remembers. (All 3 have died, as has his extended family.)

Vince benefited greatly from mentoring from his father’s best friend, who stepped in when Vince needed authoritative guidance. Mr. Perry was a Marine and a drill instructor from the Korean War era. As a local Scoutmaster, he taught crucial lessons about respect and discipline. Although Vince got into fights and other scrapes, Mr. Perry saw his potential and “set me straight, keeping me on the right path.”

Although Vince was always curious and loved to learn, for him “school sucked.” He never did homework and was generally unfocused. Because his high school was overcrowded, he had a split schedule, attending school in the mornings, leaving the afternoons free. So, from age 15, he worked 1-7 pm and all day Saturdays in the plating shop of a jewelry factory. This was unpleasant, chemically hazardous work involving toxic fumes from acid vats and degreasing machines, without adequate protections for the workers.

Hungry to learn and seeking a different life path, Vince worked hard in his teen years, saving money for college. In addition to the jewelry factory job, he assisted his father on electrical jobs and picked up money wherever he could. For example, he and his friends used to haul leftover coal away from basements to re-sell on street corners, amounting to 9 tons weekly. However, despite all his efforts, he had accrued only $3,000 for college tuition, nor was he able to secure scholarships or loans. He graduated high school in 1977 and proceeded to work fulltime at the factory until he had earned enough money to pay for a semester at college. Initially interested in biology and chemistry, he also worked a summer in upstate New York on an agrochemical research project.

Vince attended the University of Rhode Island for an accumulated 5 semesters but then enrolled in (the Dominican run) Providence College (PC), after having been admitted to a seminary to study for the Roman Catholic priesthood. PC is a small liberal arts college affiliated with the Dominican Order. Originally denied entry to that college, the bishop, who admired Vince, asked Rhode Island’s Governor to join him in writing a letter of support to the College, citing mitigating circumstances for Vince’s spotty academic record.

Admitted to Providence, he enrolled in undergraduate classes in philosophy and theology. During that time, Vince lived in the Catholic seminary for 2 ½ years. “I came close to being ordained as a priest but needed some time to deal with personal issues including having recently been diagnosed with Dyslexia.”

Vince majored in psychology, with unofficial minors in philosophy and theology. He received excellent research training at Providence College. Before finishing his BA degree, he landed a job as research data coordinator for child psychiatry at a hospital affiliated with Brown University School of Medicine. Although he was a cheap hire, lacking a degree, the substance of the work fully engaged him.

When Vince completed his BA in 1986, he entered the job market. He interviewed for a teaching job in central New Hampshire at the Spaulding Youth Center, a residential treatment center for children. However, the interviewer, spotting his background, redirected him to a newly created intake position. Soon after, he was promoted to the job of assistant director of the facility, including a day treatment program. The position involved policy and programming work. His experience at the Spaulding Youth Center taught him that the problem was less the kids than the systems that had failed the kids.

Through a mutual mentor at Providence College, Vince met Steve Fawcett, who was ten years older than Vince. “I knew I’d work with him eventually,” so when the time came to return to school, Vince applied to the University of Kansas where Steve was teaching. “I wanted to do the same work that Steve was doing, following a consistent line of research.” (Steve had been drawn to Kansas as a VISTA volunteer, working on poverty issues in Kansas City.) Vince’s original plan was to complete his doctorate in 3 years and return to New Hampshire. However, his doctorate took 5 years, involving a time consuming community-based dissertation, and he stayed on at Kansas for 10 more years, post-PhD, having a seamless transition from graduate student to research assistant professor, doing essentially the same work.

Vince was a member of a tight group of colleagues at KU who were known to be “boundary spanners.” That is, while they focused on applied behavioral analysis, their reach extended to fields such as youth development, public health, and community development. One major project that Vince co-invented with Steve Fawcett and Jerry Schultz was The Community Tool Box ( The KU group produced a number of useful community training manuals and took the initiative to make the content widely available to the public, free and online. This resulted in the CTB, a comprehensive, field-based resource for social change that includes training in 16 core competencies and an interactive Ask an Advisor service.

CTB, a copyrighted name with a construction connotation, reflects the working class roots of some team members. The CTB leadership team (which also includes Christina Holt, Jerry Schultz, Tom Wolff, and Bill Berkowitz) has held monthly telephone conference calls for 20 years. Over the years, more content has been added, so that it has grown now to over 7,000 pages of original text. In 2013, SCRA awarded the CTB leadership team the first Don Klein Publication Award to Advance Community Psychology Practice as well as the first Kalafat Award for Community Programs or Initiatives.

Vince’s introduction to community psychology was at the 1991 SCRA biennial conference held in Tempe, AZ. He soon became active in SCRA, beginning with a term as Midwestern student representative. Much of the rest of his connection with SCRA came through his participation in the group of community psychology practitioners that was beginning to gain visibility and respect within the Society.

Despite his research appointment, Vince enjoyed opportunities to co-teach and decided to seek a tenured teaching position somewhere. Although it was difficult to leave his Kansas colleagues (“I still miss them daily”), he accepted a teaching position at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), formerly a women’s college with a strong teaching tradition. There he learned to teach and mentor. Despite the fact that he had no formal training in public health, he was recruited to facilitate the creation at UNCG of a degree that would recreate KU’s work, awarding doctorates in community health promotion.

The UNCG program is sited in a (professional) department of public health education, not a school of public health, SPH. (Vince explained that these two kinds of academic programs differ in dynamics as well as in numbers, with about 40 SPHs vs. about 250 departments of PHE, training most of the country’s public health educators.) Classes are held on campus at UNCG and via distance learning.

“I do community-engaged scholarship,” he says, and still considers himself a boundary spanner. His primary research interest is in community system improvement, especially for the enhancement of community integration and support and toward the empowerment of marginalized groups.

Vince’s involvement with SCRA ramped up when he participated in the founding of what is now the Practice Council, originally co-chaired by Tom Wolff and Greg Meissen. He had known Tom since 1991 when he evaluated one of Tom’s projects. It started as a loose group of practitioners that organized the first Practice Summit at the Pasadena biennial conference. It grew in visibility and connections that were cemented at subsequent biennial conferences and through monthly telephone conferences organized around multiple workgroups. The group has since been codified as a Council, with representation on SCRA’s Executive Committee.

He also has been active in the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE), an organization that overlaps substantially, in membership and mission, with SCRA. He gained experience in publishing through SOPHE’s Journal of Health Promotion Practice.

The practice group recognized the need for a venue to feature the work of community practitioners and to serve as a forum for practice issues. Vince was the founding editor of the Global Journal ofCommunity Psychology Practice (GJCPP), an innovative outlet for the exchange of practice ideas and program models within the field ( ). They envisioned a unique model – an e-journal without a commercial publisher – intended as a forum for practitioners and applied researchers. GJCPP is an online, peer-reviewed journal, available in PDF format for ease of individual printing and including audio and video. Bill Neigher’s employer, Atlantic Health, is the main donor, with smaller contributions from SCRA and individuals. “However, most of the resources for the journal were bootlegged.” To meet the journal’s needs, Vince has contributed substantially out of pocket, including for his travel to international conferences to meet with the editorial board and to promote the journal. The GJCPP costs $10,000 to $12,000 per year to produce, including internet costs, considerably less than SCRA’s outlays to publish the American Journal of Community Psychology or The Community Psychologist.

As is the case with most new journals, the founding editor becomes the personification of the publication, its driving force. However, Vince enthusiastically acknowledges the efforts of Tom Wolff, Bill Berkowitz, Victoria Chien Scott, Dyana Valentine, Maria Vargas Moniz and Liesette Brunson in the e-journal’s creation. Always conceived of as a global resource, the content of the journal includes contributions from around the world. Two of the associate editors on the management team and 8 members of the 11-person Editorial Advisory Board currently are from outside the U.S. In early 2015, Vince will pass the editorship onto Wichita State University’s Scott Wituck, although he expects to remain active.

He is open to fulfilling other leadership roles in SCRA, seeing great but unfulfilled potential, in part because of an historical disconnect between SCRA’s leadership (always dominated by academics) and its membership. Also of concern to Vince is the flight of graduates from SCRA to membership in other professional associations that better serve their needs. Here, he cites the experience of SOPHE, which experienced similar tensions between public health academics and practitioners but, 15 years ago, “cleaned up its act.” He applauds SCRA’s recent efforts to introduce sound business practices, but feels much more needs to be accomplished to that end.

In addition to his very active professional life, Vince exerts his prodigious energy with many hobbies. Following his father’s example as a licensed ham radio operator, he has used his self-built ham radio to assist in emergency management. A gift to himself upon obtaining tenure, he took up lessons in classical guitar. Photography has been a personal passion since high school. In his double lot in downtown Greensboro, he pursues a passion for gardening. He has mentored high school kids as a volunteer and was involved in Scouting for 20 years. His sports include fishing, hunting, climbing and hiking, some of which he has pursued on vacations throughout the world. Finally, he rebuilds and rides motorcycles. Whoosh!!

No longer affiliated with a specific Catholic parish, Vince explained “I have not adjusted to the southern way of observing Catholicism which is culturally very different from what I’m used to.” He has reflected on his earlier vocation to be a priest, observing that he kept getting sidetracked. Although he has remained unmarried and without children, he has passed the usual age for ordination. “It’s obvious to me that I turned out to be what I was supposed to be, doing the work I love.” Vince is satisfied that he was “able to follow the core of who I am as a person. What I do is my ministry. It’s been a wonderful ride.”

Article by Gloria Levin

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