• Woodford Sun Staff Report

“A great discussion” ,Community event draws 181

THE “ON THE TABLE” community listening event on March 28 attracted 181 residents to the Life Adventure Center. “They encourage you to sit with strangers, so that your conversations … really mean something when you’re sharing ideas with others that you don’t even know,” said participant Heather Nichols. (Photo by Chase Milner)

On Wednesday, March 28, the Knight Foundation, Bluegrass Community Foundation and Woodford County Community Fund held an event called “On The Table” at the Life Adventure Center. Participants gathered for breakfast, lunch and dinner to discuss a wide variety of local issues in a friendly, respectful fashion. The Sun spoke with participants at each session. These are their words.

Breakfast: Christa Stoudt, Voices of Versailles

Stoudt said the people at her table were a diverse crowd, including new residents, a sixth-generation farmer, transplants and community leaders.

“We talked about a number of issues. Community was the core of the discussion – why do people come to Versailles, why do people stay in Versailles, what do they like about Versailles? And then we’d circle back around to communication being probably the greatest obstacle in Versailles.

“There’s a lot of misinformation. It was interesting, because while it was a physical, face-to-face talk, a lot of the same things that come up within Voices of Versailles were on the table again that night -- large divisions between the city and county and between farmers and ‘city folks.’ How do we keep our community safe and viable without being simply a bedroom community for Frankfort or Lexington?”

“Kyle Fannin (the former Woodford County High School teacher and creator of the Spark Versailles program) was the facilitator at our table and he asked, ‘What’s our next step? We’ve had a decent discussion, but where do we go from here?’ And looking around the room, we said we need to include more diversity in these conversations, because everyone has a unique perspective. So we’re hoping that this conversation can continue next year, and I think it was probably viewed as a successful event. And how we can get more community involvement, more volunteerism, and people to really take charge of our community and not only invest in it, but (also) engage in our community?”

“It was a great event and I really appreciate the Woodford County Community Fund sponsoring it. I think it’s important to understand different perspectives and how much misinformation can be out there. The art of conversation doesn’t need to be lost in our society. We need to sit down and talk, face to face, from time to time.”

Lunch: Chase Milner, CEO of Woodford Forward

Milner, who volunteered to be a table facilitator, called the assortment of participants throughout the room a “good spectrum” and said every table was filled for the lunch session.

“What I was hearing from my table was there was a discussion about the need for better communication in the community, meaning, ‘Where are people getting their information from?’ About getting printed information. What resources are available in the community to help for various matters, whether it be housing needs or drug abuse-related matters? There was kind of a sense of, ‘How do we take care of our own?’ …”

“(Another topic was the) identification of Woodford County as being really distinctly unique and how we can empower and help those in our community specifically, with potentially creating an addiction substance rehab center – that was something that came up a few times. Looking at potential grant resources and if the community can have an actual grant writer to help get more grant resources to Woodford County. There was a great discussion about more civic engagement; about how to have more safe, inclusive spaces for meetings like this, and everyone that was at my table really wanted to hear the results from all the other tables. … “

“It’s going to take a few months to synthesize all that data, but when it’s said and done, she (organizer Lori Garkovich) anticipates to have another public forum for that purpose – to get everybody back in the room to report on this.”

“I heard there were some pointed questions at other tables, but my table was more the ‘Kumbaya’ approach – very focused on listening to each other. What was really great about it was just being there to help answer and let the table know about resources that are available.

I’m a member of the Leadership Woodford County program, and through that program, I had some resources that I could share with my table afterwards, like ‘Versailles Cares,’ (the website put together by the City of Versailles) that connects a lot of the dots to resources that are available in our area.”

“The real takeaway that I had in my meeting was, ‘How can each of us do one thing that supports specific local programs to empower individuals and build resiliency in our community?’”

Dinner: Heather Nichols, Journey Provisions

“They encourage you to sit with strangers, so that your conversations … really mean something when you’re sharing ideas with others that you don’t even know.”

“Some of our biggest topics were downtown revitalization. That was the number one thing people kept coming back to – about making Woodford County unique and keeping Woodford County unique with the beauty that we have here. And just really making it a draw. There was a lot of conversation about art and about what could happen downtown to bring young people in and just what can we move forward on. Everybody’s very, very excited about what the Riddles (the owners of new businesses on Court Street) are doing. I suggested that we give them the key to the city and everybody agreed, because they’re really making a difference downtown. But, what can we do from there? It’s not all on the Riddles’ shoulders – what could the rest of us in the community do. So that was a good portion of the conversation.”

“It really didn’t (get political) at all. I was really surprised. Now, I did have what you would call horse people here at our table, and of course, they’re very big on making sure that we’re not paving over Woodford County and making sure that we’re sticking with the beautification. But yet, they made a point to not be political about it, to say, ‘I understand that there are different people who have different feelings at this table.’ But one of their concerns, and one which was very much agreed on at my table, was, ‘How do we get everyone to talk about what matters, and not just some people?’ Because it’s not just the horse folks, it’s not just the people with money and it’s not just the politicians. When you’re talking about our Hispanic community and our poor, both white and black communities – where are their voices and what do they feel about all of these issues, from the downtown stuff that’s happening to growth? …”

“A big part of our discussion was, ‘How do you make everyone feel welcome and everyone have an actual voice …’” Lori Garkovich of the Woodford County Community Fund is compiling the answers and plans to present them at another community event, perhaps in May. She praised the owners of the Life Adventure Center for the use of their facility and the participants for making it a “great event.”

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