Our Valley Our Future will release its second five-year action plan during a luncheon on Wednesday, March 23, at Pybus Public Market and I’m excited to see the results.
Our Valley Our Future has become a highly effective community-building effort because it relies on volunteer action and community collaboration — democratizing community leadership.
One of the highlights of the event will be a keynote address, “Revitalization and Resiliency,” by Spokane philanthropists James and Katy Sheehan. James was the founder of the Community Building Foundation and his daughter is executive director.
The Community Building Campus is home to 35 organizations in downtown Spokane, including the Smart Justice Spokane coalition. Revitalizing old buildings and creating a vibrant campus has helped transform the city. James Sheehan is a former public defender who used a family inheritance to fund the Community Building Project.
A recently-released book, One-Block Revolution, features stories about this effort. The editor of the book, Summer Hess, lives in Wenatchee. I spoke with Hess recently to talk about the book and what we might learn from the Spokane effort.
While it is tempting to focus on the extraordinary philanthropy of the Sheehan family, Hess says that perspective can lead one to miss some very important lessons. “I think it’s important to recognize what Jim has said all along, which is that ‘none of this happened because of me,’” Hess said.
Instead, the more compelling story is how community organizations have developed working relationships that better serve folks who are living on the margins and are strengthening the community.
As Katy Sheehan wrote in an essay at the end of the book, “in a supportive community, legacy doesn’t have a beginning or end, and it doesn’t involve just one person. Instead, legacy is the continuous cycle of people investing in their community.”
I find that expansive view of building community to be inspiring. This same spirit of creating an opportunity for people to invest their time and energy in the Wenatchee Valley to make it a better place for the long term has been a key component of Our Valley Our Future.
The process used by Our Valley Our Future is unique and inclusive. Each plan begins with a community survey inviting people to talk about what they value about living in the community and sharing their concerns about the future. They also propose ideas for community projects they felt would make a positive difference.
Groups of community volunteers flesh out the proposed projects into a list of specific action items, which are then adopted by community organizations and businesses.
The beauty of this process is its grass-roots emphasis, something typically missing from civic leadership that relies solely on civic institutions. In other words, Our Valley Our Future gives regular citizens a meaningful voice in our future.
For the current plan, more than 2,000 people took part in the survey and nearly 26 percent identified as Latino, which approximates our local population demographics. The top five community challenges identified in the survey included: adapting to growth, housing, building resilience, bridging the cultural divide and developing better jobs and a stronger economy. These certainly ring true.
I am looking forward to the Our Valley Our Future event on March 23 and getting a glimpse of the organization’s second five-year action plan and the new game changers.
Building a sense of community requires that we create a mindset and approach that taps into a wide array of community members rather than just a few. That’s been the secret sauce of Our Valley Our Future.
You can find a full list of the 2022, five-year action plan projects at: ourvalleyourfuture.org.
Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The Wenatchee World. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (509) 665-1162.