Power of 32 is “really a full community effort.”
As part of this initiative, which is the largest regional visioning project ever undertaken in the country, a series of Community Conversations have been held in the area in order to get input from people from every walk of life.
Power of 32 includes 32 counties in four states: Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and Maryland. Altogether, there are approximately 4.2 million people and 17,380 square miles of land in the region. In West Virginia, the following 10 counties are involved: Brooke, Hancock, Harrison, Marion, Marshall, Monongalia, Ohio, Preston, Tyler and Wetzel.
The initiative focuses on finding ways to pull together the economic region centered around metropolitan Pittsburgh and looking at how to work collaboratively, rather than letting political jurisdictions and competition inhibit the success of the collective region. This joint effort, which went into full operations mode in January, is trying to discover solutions that cross the borders and allow change to happen.
This two-year project has a $1.5 million to $2 million budget and is funded through a combination of private and corporate philanthropic organizations as well as a very small amount of public monies. Power of 32 is governed by a 60-member steering committee from throughout the region, with public, private and nonprofit entities represented.
The group is working to create an agenda that can be implemented. The first step of the initiative was to meet with residents and find out what’s important to them. Since the summer, people from across the region have been meeting for Community Conversations held at various locations.
During the dialogues, the facilitators talked to people about what it takes for their region to be successful and the opportunities, challenges and possibilities that exist. The ideas and data will then be taken to policy leaders to start framing solutions.
Selena Schmidt, executive director of Power of 32, said about 140 meetings have been organized since July, and a few sessions are scheduled for November. So far, more than 2,000 people have participated in the dialogues. These events have taken place in all 32 counties, with two and a half staff members and more than 120 volunteers helping to pull off the effort.
Power of 32 hosted a session in May to teach the outreach coordinators and volunteer facilitators about working with different people and finding individuals in the community to help spread the word. Through a number of facilitator trainings from May until July, volunteers from all over the region learned how to lead a meeting and get the audience engaged in the discussion, Schmidt said.
“I’m extraordinarily proud of how many people have committed to make this happen,” she said. “The members of the community have (put) well over 5,000 hours ... into this project, and that’s just amazing to me.”
People are really showing how committed they are to talking about the future and personally putting their mark on it, Schmidt said. Every type of person who lives in the region, from young teens to people in their 90s, has been included in the Community Conversations.
She said once the meetings are completed, the next phase of the project is doing analysis. The information gathered from the sessions will allow Power of 32 to identify the core ideas that are essential for the region to thrive. It’s important to honor the unique assets and values here and figure out what works for the area.
A few weeks ago, Power of 32 did some very small samplings to look at what themes were coming up during the Community Conversations. Some of the topics of discussion included sustainable education and making students ready for employment, maintaining a diversified economy that fits the region, managing technology and broadband, and having jobs with incomes that enable a good quality of life, Schmidt said.
She said she is very pleased with the success of the meetings. During these conversations, people start to understand how much more power they have and begin to envision what is possible.
“We’ve gotten some great ideas,” she said. “The public has a lot of life experience to offer to the public policy (arena).”
The Power of 32 team will be pulling together the thousands of ideas from the community and creating common themes, Schmidt said. From there, leaders from all the sectors will convene to talk about the ideas that have been raised in the meetings and also give additional input. During the coming summer, that information will be taken to the community and decisions will be made about where to start to help the region thrive and allow change to happen. This will be the launching pad for the future.
“I can’t thank all the people in the communities enough for opening the door and being so straight forward” and a part of this project, she said.
Schmidt said she feels lucky to go to all of these locations and meet different people. Although this community process is closing, people will be able to comment on the issues during the winter by visiting Power of 32’s website. Even if people weren’t able to attend a meeting in person, they will still have the opportunity to make an impact.
For more information, visit www.powerof32.org.
E-mail Jessica Borders at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Power of 32 is “really a full community effort.”
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