Thousands of Columbus area residents are expected to break bread together in November as part of a project to enhance the community.
The “On the Table” initiative, organized by the Columbus Community Foundation, is being funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Additional support is being provided by the Community Foundation’s Community Endowment Fund and Chattahoochee Valley Fair Fund.
Columbus is one of 10 cities across the United States selected for the program. Plans will culminate Nov. 7 when area residents host people in their homes, as well as other locations, for mealtime conversations focused on improving the community.
“On the Table will bring Columbus-area residents together to discuss the city’s many opportunities and address challenges, in a connected, organic way,” said Lilly Weinberg, Knight Foundation director for community foundations. “Its focus on local problem-solving and national knowledge-building will help establish a bigger network of engaged citizens across the country.”
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On Tuesday, the foundation unveiled the plans at a news conference held at The Loft on Broadway, where about 50 community leaders participated in a practice run. They sat in groups of eight around six tables and discussed community issues while eating pastries.
Betsy Covington, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley, described the project as “an important civic engagement project in the Chattahoochee Valley.” She said it’s based on a community program that involved about 100,000 participants.
“On the Table will be a day of coming together around food — breakfasts, lunches, dinners —but also snacks, donuts, coffee, wine and cheese,” Covington said. “Small groups of eight to 12 people will gather to learn something about each other and to share ideas for improving our community.
“We invite area residents and their families, neighbors, colleagues and friends —both old and new —to pull up a chair, share a meal, elevate civic conversation, foster new relationships and inspire collective action,” she said. “And we will be listening.”
Hosts will receive tool kits that include sample discussion questions, she said. But the topics discussed during each of the On the Table conversations will be completely organic and driven by the interests and perspectives of the participants.
Following On the Table, participants will receive a brief survey compiled by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Institute for Policy and Civic Engagement. They will be asked what issues matter most to them and what ideas and solutions emerged from the conversations. Surveys will be available in both English and Spanish, and the results will be shared with the community.
Covington said people comfortable speaking at public meetings are welcome to attend, but the program is not meant for them. She said it’s designed for people unaccustomed to speaking up and having their voices heard.
Thirteen local organizations have already agreed to be super hosts, responsible for at least 15 tables. Those participating are Brookstone School, Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals, Chattahoochee Valley Libraries, Columbus Consolidated Government, Columbus State University, Leadership Columbus, Midtown Inc., Muscogee County School District, Rotary Club of Columbus, South Columbus United Methodist Church, Uptown Columbus, The Urban League of Greater Columbus Young Professionals and First Baptist Church.
“If you figure that each of their tables will average about 10 people, we already have over 2,000 people committed to go to an On the Table event that day, which is fantastic,” said Covington. “... Our goal is ambitious. We want to spark a movement that makes this the best place in the Southeast to live, work and play.”
To sign up as a host, guest or participant, go to onthetablechatt.com or call 706-718-9565.