Holding a community conversation event has been a dream of Alan Gilburg's for two years. When he first suggested it at a Crush meeting a few months ago I was a bit skeptical of its value, but after the April 7th rehearsal event I was totally on board.
As we setup tables at the High School cafeteria I was hopeful for a really big crowd, but feared no one would show up. Its really hard to get people to come when they don't know what to expect, but as people started filtered in the door my fears about this being a dud faded away.
The tables were big enough that we had 2 groups of 4 people at each. The small groups help you feel more comfortable talking with strangers, and the they also ensured everyone would have a chance to talk.
To tell the full story of the event I had to participate so I tried to sit with people I didn't already know, but that wasn't easy since I've met so many great people the past year. Holyokers are a friendly bunch. Even so, some people felt a little uncomfortable being with a group of new faces. They didn't quite get the idea of it at first.
With a large piece of paper taped down to each table we were free to draw on it, take notes, or express any ideas we wanted to add. Each group needed a recorder to write down a summary of the comments expressed during the discussion. So on the count of three we pointed to the person in our group who we thought would best do this job. It was funny in an accusatory sort of way.
First we all introduced ourselves, then each took a minute to answer the question posed to us. (I'm not going to tell you what the question was. You'll just have to attend the next event.) Finally we discussed the question as a group for a few minutes.
Now here's the fun part. Before we got our next question we all had to get up, and go to a new table with totally different people. The person recording had to stay put.
My new group was estrogen charged. Three women vs me. Actually the women were very informative. Beyond the question posed to us I took away an interesting fact. Holyoke has thousands of acres on the mountain open to the public, yet children who live in the downtown find it totally inaccessible by means of public transport. I grew up in a hill town - 'out in the sticks' as we called it. Those summers spent running all over the mountains like wild Indians were the best times of my life. It's a shame so many kids are stuck in the city all summer.
On to another group, and another question.
In my fourth, and final group we got a little stuck on the issue of the Holyoke school system. They didn't all realize it at first, but three of the people sitting together are involved in education some how. This also became a personal issue for me, because my schooling never really prepared me for life. All my life skills were acquired after leaving school. Even the ability to write this story is a skill I acquired on my own after the age of 30. Before then I couldn't write a grammatically correct sentence to save my life. It's taken many years for me to conquer my dyslexia, and build up my writing skills.
Finally we were given big sticky notes to write bumper sticker like sayings that summarized the thoughts expressed during the discussion.
A pair of little helpers got in on the act as we broke down the summations into four groups, and posted them on bulletin boards for everyone to see.
Alan Gilburg's daughter, Amy Gilburg was crucial to organizing the event, and moderating the discussion, Gustavo Acosta translated the instructions into Spanish, and Aaron Vega spearheaded Crushes' organization of the event with a group of Crush Minions doing much of the leg work.
In days past I could easily see myself at political odds with my new friends, but this is the new Holyoke. We are all working together to end the senseless bickering that's plagued Holyoke in the past, and accomplish common goals. I think Alan Gilburg was way ahead of the curve on this one. Seeing the need to get all of Holyoke on the same page years before the rest of us were ready.
Controversial Easthampton intersection scheduled to be put out to bid for improvement - The Eastampton road project 15 years in the making could begin in the fall.
1 hour ago