Creating safe, equitable and thriving neighborhoods

Ana Clymer, guest columnist

United Way is partnering with several community groups to carry out community conversations throughout Cedar Rapids. Our goal is to learn what it means to live in a safe, equitable and thriving neighborhood. We are looking for input from those that work, live, and have grown up in or moved to our community. We want to hear from all generations and experiences to uplift and listen to voices that are often missing from decision-making groups. All information collected will be kept confidential.

We are providing a conversation tool kit (adapted from the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation in collaboration with United Way World Wide) to facilitate Community Voices conversations consistently across diverse groups. Having a tool kit available creates more consistent conversations and gives equal opportunity for feedback because the conversation leader stays neutral and helps to only guide the conversation. This model has been very successful in the other areas listed above because it is community driven. The tool kit explains what is needed to host, lead, and record conversations. It includes a conversation leader guide, recorder guide, ways to follow up, and the questions for participants in the conversation. If you are interested in learning more about the tool kit or would like access to it please email communityvoicescr@gmail.com.

If you would like to host conversations with any groups you may be a part of including people from your faith, community members, neighborhoods, workplace, etc. please email us to help you get set up. Depending on the group, conversations take around 90 minutes. If you need a conversation leader or recorder for your group or would like to become a conversation leader or recorder please email the above address and United Way will help connect you or get you started. The initial conversations will take place up until November 2016 in order to get a summary of feedback. We hope to continue these conversations to gain feedback from our neighbors in Cedar Rapids and provide a report to the City of Cedar Rapids’ SET Taskforce who will pass along feedback and recommendations to the mayor.

We have had great conversations so far and have already learned a lot. Since we began two month ago, eight conversations have taken place. More than 50 people have participated in conversations including people who have been involved in court systems, people who are providers in our community, and people who are in groups that support recovery. We expect this number to more than double in the next two months because now that word is spreading we have a lot of interest in hosting conversations with many different groups. Upcoming groups include social service providers, homeless populations, neighborhood associations, apartment complexes, parent groups, youth groups, and homes for the elderly. Many more groups are in the beginning stages of setting up conversations.

Many issues in our community have been highlighted by all the groups having conversations. Some of the issues include: equity; transportation; the need for more easily accessible, alcohol free events for families; housing that does not exclude people with felonies and more diverse job opportunities; the need for neighbors to look out for each other and help each other out; and that people want to feel safe in their community. These are just a few highlights and we expect a lot more to come out of the conversations as they continue.

For additional information, interest in hosting, being a conversation leader, or helping to record conversations please contact us through our email: communityvoicescr@gmail.com, follow us on Facebook: CommunityVoicesCR, or call (319) 398-5372 x 824. You can also participate anonymously through this link or share it with people you think might be interested.

• Ana M. Clymer is manager of community building for the United Way of East Central Iowa

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