Login | November 15, 2019

On the Table Greater Akron brings diverse groups together

On Thursday, Oct. 3, thousands of people from Summit and Medina counties will come together at various locations in the area to share a meal and take part in small group discussions about their community’s most pressing needs. On the Table Greater Akron, as it’s known, is part of a unique national civic engagement initiative developed by The Chicago Community Trust, which seeks to gather diverse voices and engage them in conversations about the issues impacting their daily lives or the lives of those around them. (Photo courtesy of Akron Community Foundation).

SHERRY KARABIN
Legal News Reporter

Published: September 27, 2019

On Thursday, Oct. 3 thousands of people from Summit and Medina counties will come together at various locations in the area to share a meal and take part in small group discussions about their community’s most pressing needs.

On the Table Greater Akron, as it’s known, is part of a unique national civic engagement initiative developed by The Chicago Community Trust, which seeks to gather diverse voices and engage them in conversations about the issues impacting their daily lives or the lives of those around them.

“In 2014, The Chicago Community Trust came up with the idea to facilitate discussions among people from all walks of life,” said Tracy Burt, vice president of marketing and communications at Akron Community Foundation.

When the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation learned of the initiative, Burt said the nonprofit organization decided to fund a three-year “On the Table” pilot in 10 cities across the country, including one in Akron, which Akron Community Foundation facilitates.

The first “On the Table Greater Akron” was held in 2017 and Burt said the interest in participating has increased each year.

This year groups will focus on three topics: Drugs and addiction, the aging senior population and diversity, equity & social inclusion.

Akron Community Foundation leaders determined the issues after they reviewed the data in the 2017 and 2018 On the Table surveys and a community needs assessment done by The Center for Community Solutions.

Those hosting the events can also choose other topics to discuss, but Burt said Akron Community Foundation is encouraging everyone to pay special attention to the issues it has identified as funding priorities for both its proactive grantmaking initiative and this year’s On the Table Community Impact Awards.

The proactive grantmaking campaign is Akron Community Foundation’s newest funding endeavor, which will distribute $500,000 over the next three years to nonprofit organizations that focus on this year’s topics. The On the Table awards were instituted in 2018 and provide up to $2,000 to any nonprofit organization that participates in the discussions and submits an application for an initiative emerging from their conversations.

Burt said anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in Summit or Medina counties is invited to host or attend an On the Table Greater Akron event.

Among the venues where conversations are being held is the Summit County Courthouse, where five Summit County judges, Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh and certain members of the Summit County Probation Department will participate in small group sessions.

The event will get underway in the atrium of the courthouse at noon. Attendees will have lunch, before being separated into groups of eight to 12, where they will have a more intimate discussion about one or more of the three topics. Most of the participants will be pre-assigned to a group based on the preferences they indicated when registering.

Summit County Probate Court Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer plans to focus on issues affecting aging seniors.

“I think it’s interesting that people will get the chance to talk directly to the judges,” said Judge Stormer. “Generally judges do not get the chance to talk to people in the community because of the rules we live by.”

In addition to Judge Stormer, Summit County Common Pleas Court judges Alison Breaux, Joy Oldfield, Susan Baker Ross and Administrative Judge Amy Corrigall Jones will also host small group sessions.

Judge Jones will lead three separate sessions--one will address diversity and inclusion and the other two will deal with drug addiction and diversity.

Joining Judge Jones in the various discussions are Adult Probation Department Director of Offender Services Kerri Defibaugh, Assistant Chief Probation Officer Elaine Cherry, Valor Court Director KT Hampton, Valor Court Community Development Director Chris Stahr, Senior Probation Officer Danielle Sampson, SCORR (Summit County Offender Recidivism Reduction) Program Manager Madison Rice and Case Specialist Luroy Ferguson.

Back in 2017, the court hosted a smaller On the Table event.

“Once again, I am grateful to be able to participate with Judge Stormer and our other colleagues in such a meaningful event,” said Judge Jones. “As elected officials, collaboration is always essential, especially when we are trying to obtain feedback from our community members to better serve them.”

After the sessions, participants will be asked to fill out a survey.

“Anyone who does not fill out the survey at the time of their conversation will receive a link from us allowing them to do so,” said Burt.

The data collected will be analyzed by two large research firms and compiled into a report, which will likely be released in early 2020.

“On the Table provides everyone with a chance to have their voices heard and make an impact in the community,” said Burt. “The information we receive from the surveys provided by participants is used to make funding decisions so the events really make a big impact. It’s not just lip service.”

Last year, Akron Community Foundation awarded $50,000 to 26 organizations that submitted proposals for new ideas that emerged from the conversations. This year it will award up to $100,000 for objectives that focus on any one of the three priority topics.

Grant applications will be accepted in November.

In addition, Akron Community Foundation just announced its first round of proactive grants.

Among the recipients is the Greater Akron Chamber, which will receive $100,000 for its Elevate Greater Akron initiative, which aims to create an inclusive economy in Greater Akron by intentionally advancing income and employment to address long-term equity gaps.

In addition, Direction Home Akron Canton will be given $100,000 for a project aimed at making Summit County a more livable and accessible community for people of all ages and $25,000 will be awarded to the Women’s Network to assist in the development of tools and training to promote workplace and community inclusion for women in organizations throughout Summit County.

 

Burt said Akron Community Foundation is still looking for institutions and individuals that are willing to host On the Table events on Oct. 3. Individual discussions can be held at any time and in any location the host prefers, including a home, place of worship, a local restaurant or a community center.

For those who would rather participate in a conversation, information about sessions that are open to the public is available at www.onthetableakron.com.

“We will be providing hosts with tool kits and doing training sessions for the Oct. 3 event,” said Burt.

Although this is the final year of the pilot funded by the Knight Foundation, Burt said Akron Community Foundation is exploring ways to continue On the Table Greater Akron in the future.

“We will be figuring out the specifics in the coming months,” she said.


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