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‘Conversation not finished’

Turning Outward library group branching out

Times Observer photo by Lorri Drumm Beverly Leonhardt, Warren Public Library reference librarian, shared feedback from questions posed to community members from the Turning Outward team on Thursday. The goal of the project is to learn what those living in our local communities want it to be like.

Nearly two years ago, a group of Warren Public Library staff and one board member planted some seeds in the form of questions. The seeds were scattered among all ages and grew into a stem of ideas to enhance life in our local communities.

That stem of ideas is now available to everyone on the library website. The hope is that more people will add the necessary tools to transform that stem into a garden full of ideas and actions that will help Warren County become an even better place to live, work and visit.

Representatives of community groups and organizations and individuals gathered Thursday at the library to take part in a presentation from the Turning Outward team. The team is made up of Kelli Knapp, library director, Leslie LaBarte, Seneca district consultant, Beverly Leonhardt, reference librarian, Ruth Myer, library business manager and Alex Schreffler, president of the library board of directors.

The focus of Thursday’s gathering was to share the feedback the team received and the launch of the website in hopes that more people will offer suggestions and get involved.

The site can be found at warrenlibraryturningoutward.weebly.com.

Turning Outward started via a grant that enabled the team to participate in training provided through the Office of Commonwealth Libraries and presented by the Harwood Institute. The premise of the Harwood Practice and training is to be “Turned Outward” as an organization. The practice teaches organizations and individuals to “focus on listening to community members and hear what it is they want,” Leonhardt said.

She told those gathered on Thursday that the practice came into play as the team was seeking input from some residents at a local nursing home. The residents said they missed being able to go to the library. The staff at the library heard their thoughts and are working on a solution, according to Leonhardt.

Leonhardt held up a stack of multi-colored questionnaires that were filled out. They contained a lot of “interesting responses,” she said, but they were anonymous so there was no way to follow up and get more specific information.

But, there were commonalities in many responses. A majority of people want their community to be friendly, safe, welcoming and thriving. That same majority shared that various obstacles prevent that from happening, including a lack of cooperation and resistance to change.

Much of the conversation with those in attendance turned toward how to encourage more people to get involved in community activities and events. Terry Williams the city’s director of codes, permitting and recreation services, asked: “How do you get more people to show up?”

Leonhardt responded that the community as a whole is in a stage deemed a “waiting place.” “People want change but they don’t know where to start,” she said. Williams said she felt that was a bit disheartening and asked what stage comes after the “waiting place.”

“Impasse,” Leonhardt replied. She admitted that the term didn’t sound much better but reminded everyone that culture change is a process. “There’s a pocket of change here and one there in this stage,” she said.

Williams asked about the following stage. “Catalytic,” Leonhardt answered. “Small steps are happening. Individuals and organizations are starting to take risks to change the norms of how things have always been done. You start seeing more groups and individuals coming together.”

“The conversation is not finished,” Leonhardt assured those in attendance. “We’re looking for more input and response through the website. Now others can see what they can do and share that with more people.”

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