What do you want Door County to be like as you grow older? This simple question is at the heart of a new initiative called Discuss Door County, in which the first county-wide conversation is “Growing Older in Door County.”
This spring and summer, we are holding dozens of guided “Neighborhood Conversations” in every part of the peninsula. We’re listening to the voices that reflect the many different people who call Door County home. From our seasonal residents to year-round folks, from our wealthiest families to those who struggle to get by, from our young people to senior citizens, everyone is invited to share their thoughts about what they want for our community as we grow older together.
Discuss Door County is an initiative of the Door County Community Foundation. Growing Older in Door County, our first community-wide conversation, is the outgrowth of discussions between Bader Philanthropies, the Door County Community Foundation, the R. Bruce & Alyce S. Kopseker Trust, the Raibrook Foundation, and the United Way of Door County. These philanthropies have created and are jointly funding this effort.
After we’ve spent this season listening to the voices from across our peninsula, a County-Wide Assembly of both year-round and seasonal residents will then gather together this fall to shape our common aspirations and shared vision for growing older in our community.
As we’ve started down this path and held our first few Neighborhood Conversations, I’ve often been asked as to what I expect to be the outcome of these discussions. As unbelievable as it may sound, quite honestly, I have no idea. This isn’t a strategic planning process. It’s not an effort to define a work plan to achieve a predetermined goal. Nor is it an attempt to convince the community of the righteousness of a particular course of action. This is a genuine opportunity for the people of our community to come together and talk about what we want for Door County as we grow older. What kind of place do we want to call home?
Eventually, we anticipate that many different organizations and citizen groups will develop their own tactical approaches and strategic plans, each working to realize that part of our shared vision which most resonates with them. Yet that future work will draw its power and legitimacy by being deeply rooted in the aspirations we share. The process of defining those aspirations begins with an open and authentic conversation we have with each other. Hence, we ask that you join the discussion and help us answer a simple question. What do we want Door County to be like as we grow older together?
Fundamentally, Discuss Door County is a conversation about what we value. It’s an opportunity to have a discussion about what we hold most dear. The framework for our structured Neighborhood Conversations is grounded in the work of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. Its founder, Richard Harwood, wrote in Hope Unraveled about the years he spent traveling the country talking with ordinary people about what they want for their respective communities.
“The conversations about values make me think that too many of us have lost sight of the values people seek to hold in common, values that contribute to people identifying themselves as Americans, values that make up the fabric of this nation,” writes Harwood. “Instead, we use values to divide and manipulate and to set up one group against another. The honest discussion of values will not by itself guarantee any easy agreements on specific policy issues; such issues need to be worked out. But a clear recognition of the values common to many Americans can produce a good society – one in which people, together, can reach for their own potential and work for the public good. Without this discussion, too many of us will go our own ways, pursuing our own individual needs, without concern for the public good.”
Discuss Door County is our community’s effort to have such a discussion. It’s our opportunity to talk with each other about an important issue – Growing Older in Door County – in a structured conversation that helps us collectively define what we want for our community.
This conversation begins with folks like you. We need people to host Neighborhood Conversations so we can listen to as many voices as possible. We’ll assign trained volunteer Conversation Leaders to guide your discussion, but we need you to invite your friends, neighbors, colleagues, or clients to gather around the table.
Each Neighborhood Conversation takes about 90 minutes and works best with 12 to 15 people. We can gather in your living room or your place of business, at your favorite charity or a public place like a library. The Community Foundation will assist you with the logistics of hosting your conversation, but we need hosts who will invite their friends to gather together. If you’re interested in hosting a Neighborhood Conversation, contact Christine Henkel of the Community Foundation at 920.746.1786 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re not able to host a structured Neighborhood Conversation, you can still share your voice by using our home discussion guide. Have a conversation around your kitchen table then submit your comments to us in writing. You can download the home discussion guide, and learn more about this entire initiative, at DiscussDoorCounty.org.
Regardless of your age, we’re all growing older in Door County. Let’s walk this path together.
This column originally appeared in The Peninsula Pulse.