Editor, The Messenger,

These are troubling times. My usual way of coping is to ignore the media barrage of shrieking headlines and turn my gaze to our local community. We are a microcosm of our country and we can only begin to move forward, in my opinion, by listening to people here in our own backyard. We all come from different backgrounds, belief systems with different needs, skills and assets. We are not “blue” or “red”. We are not all college educated or middle class. Some of us struggle to find food and shelter. Some of us are family oriented while others come from a great distance or miss connection to others.

One step to building a stronger more resilient community is by talking to each other. We can strengthen our connections to one another through sharing with and learning from one another. Its easy to talk to those who think like us. Listening requires skill and patience when chatting with strangers or neighbors. Great wisdom can be found in the words of our neighbors and together we can solve tough problems. That is why this year the Athens County Foundation launched a pilot project called the Community Table. It is modeled after The Big Table held in Columbus and Chicago. It works like this.

Hosts volunteer to schedule an event in their home or elsewhere. They invite 6-12 neighbors, colleagues or strangers to join a two hour conversation about what matters to them in our community. The ideas that arise are captured by the hosts, sent to the Foundation and collated. We will look for common themes and great ideas and will share what we have learned with the participants and the community later this year. The results will inform the work of the Athens County Foundation as well as others working to solve problems in Athens County.

The question that guides the conversations is “how can we work together to build a strong, connected community?” It is intentionally broad to encourage creative, productive thinking and to reflect on possibilities rather than dwell on challenges. Guests are encouraged to listen deeply and to speak from their heart. Other questions asked could include:

1. What would you like to learn from others in this conversation?

2. What are the best parts of our community and how can we amplify them to build connections?

3. What can we do to be more welcoming and inclusive?

4. What does our community need?

5. What steps can we take to meet those needs?

To date about 25 hosts have committed to hold or have already held conversations. If you would like more information on the projects, please call us at 740-594-6061. Look for a community report next summer on the results of this year’s conversations!

Susan Urano

Athens

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