Coleena Ali, left, and Greg Braylock, Jr., right, lead the discussion about aspirations for the Central City Community during a "We Are Toledo: A Community Gathering " event sponsored by United Way at Scott High School.
About 200 community members gathered at Scott High School on Saturday afternoon to share ideas about making positive changes in central Toledo. While last year's forum focused on public education, the community gathering, hosted by United Way of Greater Toledo, discussed a wide range of issues this year.
"We have two main goals. We want to share with people what we heard from the community, and to make sure that people connect with each other and get involved," said Jane Moore, United Way's interim president and chief executive officer.
The two-hour forum, entitled We Are Toledo, highlighted the report of United Way's community conversations project.
The community conversation project occurred over two years. About 300 people participated in conversations to share concerns and insights about the community. United Way then summarized their concerns into six themes related to community, education and family.
"We decided to go out and listen to the neighborhood. We organized small group discussions about issues in the community. The six themes are what we heard the most frequently in these conversations. Community conversations really help people to better understand the challenges that we are facing," said Greg Braylock, United Way's director of education. Mr. Braylock presented the report with Coleena Ali, a local resident.
The audience was then given time to reflect on the six themes during and after the presentation. They were also given journals to write down their thoughts. Filled with quotes from the community conversations, the journals were United Way's new attempts to engage the audience.
"It is great that I saw many people writing in their journals when they listened to the speakers." Ms. Moore said.
Deacon Zettie Williams, center, a former gang member from Brooklyn, New York, stands up and offers his opinion about furthering the community during the audience sharing portion of "We Are Toledo: A Community Gathering " event.
The audience enthusiastically responded to the report during the following group table discussions and audience sharing session.
"The themes are effective in addressing the issues. We have taken the first step in the right direction. We gotta keep it up. We need to get resources to sustain what we are doing," said Rev. Robert A. Culp, pastor of the First Church of God in the Old West End.
The forum went beyond the presentation of existing challenges in central Toledo. The second half of the forum gave individuals and organizations an opportunity to share what they do to better the neighborhood.
"I like the forum. It launched the starting point and gave the opportunity for the community to collaborate. We need more volunteers to get involved in our organizations," said Karl Parker, board chair at Frederick Douglass Community Association. Mr. Parker introduced his organization to the audience and told them how to get involved.
The Frederick Douglas Community Association was not the only organization presented at the forum. A few other groups, such as Glass City All-Stars, Velocity Heights, and Village 50, also introduced their organizations to the audience and called for actions.
Tamara Muchiarone, a teacher at the Scott High School, told the audience that groups should reach out more to high school students.
"I'd love to see groups come to our schools and tell students what's going go. The forum provided a platform to communicate with the groups," Ms. Muchiarone said, adding that several groups sought her out after the meeting to reach out to students.
Participants spoke positively of the forum, but some hoped that more people would join in the future.
"The activities are excellent, although everything will take time and nothing is going to change overnight. We need more people to get involved. I want more diversity in the audience," said Zettie Williams from the Family Baptist Church.
United Way said that there will be follow-up programs to continue the conversation developed at the forum.
"Ultimately, it is about graduating our kids. The community needs to work together and it is a long-term project. We will continue our work." Mrs. Moore said.
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