One of the best parts of my job at Manatee Community Foundation is meeting so many people.
Those are strange words for someone who is an introvert at heart. But this work affords me with a true privilege — getting to see first hand that no matter how different people are, they all have aspirations.
In turn, it helps our team think more broadly about what is possible for our community.
It’s no secret that people think differently, are shaped by different experiences and are driven by different motivators. Too many times, these differences are viewed as frustrations instead of opportunities.
In moments of sheer honesty, I realize that my personal inner circle is somewhat limited by those who are like me because somehow, it seems easier.
At the Foundation, it is our job to be knowledgeable about our community. Our staff and board have the chance — and the responsibility — to understand people from all walks of life.
We have yet to meet someone who does not wish to be part of a healthy community. But the way each of us defines our community and our roles in it varies widely.
Together with my colleague Hannah Carter, I am participating in the Harwood Institute for Public Innovators Lab, made possible by The Patterson Foundation. The program was built to help us learn what it takes to use the community, not our conference room, as our reference point for choices and action.
We are starting by understanding the value of turning outward, focusing on public knowledge and asking the right questions instead of arriving at a meeting or conversation with a plan in mind.
Many participants have common concerns about inclusion. Though we are starting to see improvements in the number of diverse voices at decision-making tables, we have even more work to do to ensure that people have the power to shape changes impacting the places where they work and live.
As an extension of our homework, Hannah and I decided to ask everyone we could how they define their community.
Here are some of their answers:
▪ “A population of people that doesn’t get bogged down in ‘What should have been,’ but focuses on ‘What’s next.’ ”
▪ “Everyone who drives the same roads, walks the same beaches, eats at the same restaurants and shares common spaces with myself and each other.”
▪ “Those whose actions impact me and who are impacted by my actions.”
These descriptions are fascinating precisely because they are so expressive of how people see themselves in relation to others. But our follow up question leaves a twinkle in the eyes of just about everyone.
“What are your aspirations for your community?” is an invitation to better understand what is most important to people. It offers a more positive approach than talking about problems, eliciting a practical understanding of what lights a fire for people who care.
That’s all of us.
Some of the aspirations we captured include:
▪ “Nurturing and developing young artists who will be the ones to create, share, and protect the artistic voice of our community.”
▪ “A place where people can be sincerely invited in — regardless of economic status, country club affiliation or career choice. In this place, everybody has something to offer, from the server to the restaurant owner, from the medical school student to the neurosurgeon, from the homeschooling mom to the college professor, from the crossing guard to the Sheriff.”
▪ “A community where people with Parkinson’s Disease are understood and not embarrassed or ashamed of their disease.”
▪ “A place I can make a difference working with the young men in our community, hoping to change their way of thinking and encourage them to be great productive young men. It’s a tough task but with the help of like-minded people it can be achieved.”
These statements make me feel more optimistic about our future and more connected to strangers, just knowing that they hold these aspirations for a better, stronger Manatee County.
As we continue in our work, Manatee Community Foundation would love to know your aspirations. Visit us at ManateeCF.org and click on the link on the home page to share them with us. Four respondents will be chosen to select a local nonprofit of their choice to receive a $500 mini-grant.
At 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, the Patterson Foundation is bringing the creator of the Harwood Institute, Rich Harwood, to the Manatee Performing Arts Center for a free presentation about his new book, “Stepping Forward.”
If you can attend, visit ThePattersonFoundation.org to register. How nice it will be to see a full space of people who want to ask better questions, to seek what our community wants and to be part of a conversation in which each of us is free to share our aspirations.