The Nelson Community Forum Follow-up

The work of the September 17 and 18th Nelson Community Forum is over, and now the work toward its resultant goals has begun.

The event was a phenomenal show of community interest and support with well over 100 participants, many of whom also volunteered to help with the planning aspects of the occasion.  Thank you all.

The Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music was an ideal venue for accommodating the Forum, which was facilitated by Jack Calhoun of Antioch New England Institute.  Thank you Apple Hill for your generosity, and thank you Jack for your many hours of guidance through this process.

We gathered Friday night for registration and a potluck supper.  And then, with dessert barely digesting, as we were settling down to begin the facilitated work of the evening, the power went out!  But the power of the participants surged on as we literally and figuratively lit our way through the rest of the evening.

We began with a couple of brief presentations:  opening comments by Rick Church (a printed copy is available at the library), and current demographic information by Lisa Murphy of the Southwest Regional Planning Commission, both accompanied by Warren Hammack on the flashlight.

We continued with an overview of the forum process upon which we were about to embark.  Then with easels and flip charts at the ready, and by now with a back-up generator providing a wee bit of light, Jack led us through a brief calling-out from the floor of what we currently like about Nelson and what we’d like to see going forward.

We then counted off (1 to 10) around the room to form 10 groups.  Each group was given a very broadly defined topic to discuss: for example, Effective Community Leadership: A Broader Definition, or Physical Infrastructure and Services: The Basics that Serve Our Needs, or Use of Natural Resources: Water, Energy and Materials, or Growth and Development: Are We Planning Well?   Each discussion was to be facilitated by community volunteers who had previously received guidance from Jack Calhoun as to how to proceed.  Thank you to our 22 volunteer facilitators.

Meanwhile, thanks to Yankee preparedness, a few of our participants found glove-compartment flashlights that were ample enough to light our way into 10 small break-out rooms within the Apple Hill complex to begin our “thinking”.

But these break-out rooms, prepared in advance with easels, flip charts, colored markers and chairs, were dark.  Finally, though, with additional scrambling around for lights, each group ended up with at least one light.

Ten of us participated in the group whose broad topic was Effective Community Leadership.  Our one little penlight became an instant metaphor for successful leadership.  Lew Derby and Pamela White facilitated our group.  They took charge of the little light and passed it around the group as they kindled our discussion, and somehow simultaneously gave light to our comments as they recorded them on the flip charts.

Our particular group was charged with compiling a list of what we felt community leadership strengths, concerns, and visions for the future should be.   We “flip-charted” all of our comments, but then honed them down into a handful of agreed-upon key issues for now and the future.

The other nine break-out groups (with different topics) were led through a similar process by their facilitators.

By Saturday morning the power was back on.  After coffee, tea and donated goodies from Bagel Works, we settled in again to get to work.

The barn at Apple Hill was set up with the 10 flip-charted easels upon which the previous evening’s work had been consolidated.  A designee from each group presented their findings to the full group.

After identifying similarities among the 10 charts, it became evident that 9 issues emerged as important for our town to further study.  They were, in random order:

1.  Cooperatives

2.  Taxation/Land Use

3.  Communication Among Residents

4.  Family Services

5.  History & Natural Resources

6.  Communication & Mentoring

7.  Group Gathering & Community Gathering Spaces

8.  Transportation

9.  Shared Infrastructure

Each of us then chose to continue to work with one of these 9 groups.  Again, we broke out into separate rooms for further discussion.  Using a grid chart to determine potential impact and feasibility, we were charged with identifying and evaluating possible projects to present to the full group.

But by now we were hungry.  First Choice (http://firstcourse.org/) catered a plentiful and very tasty buffet lunch.  Many of us took advantage of the warm sunny day to sit outside and eat with friends and neighbors, and to meet some people we’d never met before.

While we enjoyed the sunny afternoon, the newest honed-down flip charts were displayed outside the barn for us to peruse – 9 charts presenting 26 different projects.   Even though we knew that these 26 amazing ideas had to be further cut, it was heartening to see the depth of thought and consideration that went into developing these areas of common interest.

Next, we were each given 4 stickies with which to vote – having previously decided that only six “winners” would be moved forward at this time.  But it was also made clear that none of these 26 ideas should be discarded, but rather saved for further initiative.

Once again we selected to meet to form committees for the purpose of moving forward with the chosen projects.  Although we did have some attrition among participants by this time, each committee finished up the day with a solid core of interested members.  Here they are:

Activities and Outreach
Contact:  Jan Perry or Betsey Church

Preserving our Natural Resources through Education
Contact:  Tom Murray or Linda Cates

Expanded Use of Public and Private Spaces
Contact:  Kathy Schillemat

The “Gathering Place”
Contact:  Beth Williams

Regionalization
Contact:  Sandy Mackenzie or Sam Osherson

Community Resource Guide
Contact:  Linda Singer

You will be able to follow the progress of these groups through Moving in Step’s weekly e-mail message to which you can subscribe at the Moving In Step website, and this web site will also provide periodic updates.  If any of these projects interest you, please get in touch with the contact person to offer your help.  All are encouraged and welcome.

And finally, an extensive final report is being prepared as we speak.  We have saved all the flip charts – and no entry will be omitted from the report.  All of our comments have tremendous thought, care and insight and will thus be included in the report for everyone to ponder.

The final report will be made available on line at the above-mentioned sites, and copies will be available at the library and at the selectmen’s office, or by request for a small fee.

Thank you from the entire Steering Committee to all of you who participated in this community event.

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