February 24, 2018 9:59:40 PM
A planned "community conversation" event aims to better inform and engage citizens about the challenges facing Lowndes County.
The Lowndes County Foundation, which is the local affiliate of the regional CREATE Foundation, will host the event from 5:30-8 p.m. March 5 in Trotter Convention Center on Fifth Street. The conversation will bring together civic and church leaders and nonprofit organization representatives. It is also open to the general public.
"When we leave there, I hope everyone who attends has a better sense of what is important in our community and what we can do as individuals or organizations to help," said Matt Bogue, chairman for the Lowndes County Foundation.
Registration begins at 5, and once attendees are assembled at 5:30, CREATE Senior Vice President Lewis Whitfield will present a "state of Columbus and Lowndes County" -- which Bogue said will include local data for crime, education, homelessness, teen pregnancy and myriad other categories.
From there, participants will form small groups for breakout sessions to discuss key community issues before coming back together and reporting their findings.
"This will be an open-forum discussion," Bogue said. "Sometimes, it's as important to hear the tone of what people are saying as the actual words. We know issues like crime and education are going to come up. But what is the passion and the emotion behind those issues?"
Untied Way of Lowndes County Executive Director Danny Avery, who will participate in the community conversation, called it a "great opportunity" to foster stronger, better targeted civic engagement.
Through grants and volunteer programs, Avery said United Way partners with 18 local nonprofits.
"We feel we have a fairly good grasp where the needs are," Avery said. "This event will either validate that or help us gain a new understanding. Plus, any time we can promote more unity in the community, it has to be a good thing."
The Lowndes County Foundation hopes for a similar result, especially as it pertains to best targeting its grant funding, Bogue said.
From 2005-16, the foundation awarded more than $109,000 among 37 organizations/projects in Lowndes County, all of them focused on education, the arts, social welfare or developing special projects.
Those grants range widely in amount and purpose, Bogue said, from $1,000 for a local band to travel to play in a parade to a $10,000 to help build the Field of Dreams at Propst Park that will be tailored for people with disabilities.
The foundation's board decided to pool money for 2017 and 2018 to double this year's pot. That way, Bogue said, there would be more money available to subsidize possible initiatives identified through the March 5 event.
"This could give us more guidance on where we need to put those grant dollars," Bogue said.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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