By BRENNA GRITEMAN
A group of church members gathered around a table at Findlay First Church of the Nazarene on Wednesday to express their hopes and concerns for the community.
Topics of concern ranged from lack of access to organic foods and thriving retail outlets to vandalism, heroin, parenting, employment and creating a waning family-friendly atmosphere.
But the group was hopeful, suggesting the possibility for healing by way of greater community communication, neighbors taking care of neighbors, church outreach and revitalization of downtrodden neighborhoods.
The dialogue was facilitated by representatives from the United Way of Hancock County and the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation, as part of the agencies’ joint “community conversations” project. Information gathered through the small-group assessments and related surveys will be used to determine potential areas of focus for both agencies.
According to Beverly Phillips, community services director with the United Way, the goal is to hear from 1,000 diverse Hancock County residents by the Aug. 18 cut-off date. Many of the conversations have taken place in informal, small-group settings, while others are sharing their opinions via online surveys. Both are essential to gathering the necessary information that will help steer the county’s progress, Phillips said.
“This could tell us, for the United Way, where the community thinks we should be providing support,” she said, adding the conversations will also point out potential gaps in local services.
Brian Treece, program director-community and organizational development and evaluation with the Community Foundation, said over 46 small-group conversations have taken place this summer. Discussion groups have included friends and neighbors, church members, corporations, inmates, service groups, youth groups and school leaders, among others.
“We’ve had all different kinds of groups,” Treece said. “We want to make sure that the people we meet with reflect the community in which we live.”
The group from the Church of the Nazarene, having talked through a number of challenges facing the county, agreed mentoring children and fostering more neighborly interactions could go a long way toward helping to raise spirits and reaching people on a more personal level. Some suggested churches could work with each other to identify and adopt struggling neighborhoods. Others said school leaders should team up with pastors, recovery agencies and county leaders to share resources and information.
Nate Stults, associate pastor at the church, said he was proud to have the church included in these conversations, adding he often asks God “to really help us to make a positive change for those in need.”
“I was just really very excited to host such an important meeting at our church and for our people. I believe the church can have a huge impact on our community if we listen to the citizenry and really search out all of our collective needs.”
Stults said he has seen a more recent shift to churches making an effort to partner with each other, along with businesses, nonprofit, government agencies and media members, and he hopes to help foster more of that. Meetings like this will help inform what issues the community as a whole views as priorities, he said.
Trained note-takers have sat in on each meeting and their notes, along with survey results, will be forwarded to the University of Findlay Center for Civic Engagement. Highlights will be compiled into a “lessons learned” document which Treece said will be shared “probably over and over and over again” not only with agencies and elected officials, but with anyone who participated in the conversations.
A second document will be a scan of needs and services in the community, and a third will outline what actions will be taken as a result of the feedback. Treece said the hope is to have the data analysis finished by early September, with all three documents presented to the public by the end of the year.
“It’s been so rewarding to be a part of these conversations,” Treece said, adding he appreciates the public’s willingness to speak openly and frankly in a noncritical way.
Phillips said there is still time to schedule a small-group conversation, and anyone wishing to do so may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-423-1432.
Two online surveys are available — one version just three questions — and can be linked to from posts on both agencies’ Facebook pages. The short version’s questions include “What do you think it means to have a good life in Hancock County?,” “What’s missing in our community for everyone to have the chance at a good life in Hancock County?” and “What services should be added in our community (Hancock County) to help people?”
The United Way hosted a series of Community Conversations in 2014, but this is the first time the Community Foundation has been involved.