Waving the community’s flag: Winchester & Clark County’s moment

Difficult conversations, assessment of strengths and a path forward outlined in report

Residents of Winchester and Clark County tonight heard the outcomes of a three-month series of in-depth conversations with a diverse group of community members from all walks of life at The Greater Clark Foundation’s (GCF) annual AMBITIONFest!. GCF commissioned The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation to conduct the conversations in the fall of 2016 in order to provide insight and a starting point for community members to take action.

Among the topics discussed with the more than 150 average citizens, community leaders and high school youth were:

  • key issues leaders believe require change in the community;
  • the underlying conditions of the community;
  • people’s sense of how things are going in Winchester and Clark County;
  • their aspirations for their community;
  • key challenges people see in reaching those aspirations;
  • what kinds of progress would give people a sense of possibility and hope; and,
  • who they trust to help make that progress.

The themes that emerged from those conversations include a lack of trust; divides that separate people such as race and culture, where people live, old versus new, and church denominations; and that people don’t feel seen or heard.

“What these conversations show is that, although there are challenges, the community doesn’t have to stay on this path,” said Richard C. Harwood, president and founder of The Harwood Institute. “The alternate path is one of possibility and hope – for all.”

Harwood says that on this new path, the community recognizes its challenges but does not succumb to them. It sees the divides that exist, but commits itself to bridging them. It hears people’s fear of speaking out and makes the choice to create safe spaces for those same people to engage without such fear.

Harwood told the AMBITIONFest! crowd a top priority is making community a common enterprise. He acknowledged the path may not be an easy one to take, but says the only way to further expand and deepen possibility and hope is to take more intentional actions that reflect what matters to people and bring people together to get things done.

Harwood says the following steps must be taken to get the community on this new path:

  • Change the conversation: Get people talking about their shared aspirations and concerns rather than about narrow or technical issues that are negative and do not adequately reflect people’s lives.
  • Mobilize people to do work together: The key to moving forward is to get people doing things together that restore their can-do spirit.
  • Foster a new can-do story of the community: Move away from the negative narrative that is often rooted in what’s not possible and move to new stories that emerge from concrete actions that demonstrate the possibility of a new path.

Harwood encouraged community members not to wait, but rather to take action themselves. “You don’t have to wait for Washington. You don’t have to wait for Frankfort, or for local government. You can do it.”

Taking Action

GCF hopes this report inspires grassroots action within the community. But, Foundation president and chief executive officer Jen Algire knows community members need to be supported and armed with the tools to take action.

“Strong citizens build strong communities, but this doesn’t just happen,” Algire said. “The right conditions – capacity, collaboration, communication and cohesion – must be healthy and vibrant to stimulate a community identity that is forward-leaning, self-sustaining, engaged and resilient.”

GCF is partnering with The Harwood Institute to offer a Public Innovators Lab in Winchester April 25-27. The two-and-a-half day Lab is an intensive experience that up to 100 local people will take part in to learn new ways to bring people together to solve local challenges and strengthen how the community works together. Participants will learn the five key steps to becoming a Public Innovator and how to deepen the impact in your community. There will be group work, projects, small discussions, reflection time, and real world application.

Following the Lab, Public Innovators will have 18 months of support from Harwood Certified Coaches, including – monthly coaching calls, in-person innovation spaces, webinars, emails and a digital community of support.

GCF is committing significant financial resources to bring the program to Winchester and Clark County so that cost is not a barrier to participate. GCF is fully underwriting the Lab and applicants who are selected will pay nothing to participate.

Those interested in applying for the Public Innovators Lab may visit ClarkAmbition.org for more information and to complete an application. Any questions may be directed to Brett Cheuvront at 859-355-9054 or bcheuvront@clarkambition.org.

The full report may be downloaded here.