Photo: The fall 2021 cohort

Turning Outward: A Reflection on the Fall 2021 Harwood Institute Lab

Posted on January 21, 2022 by Renée Isrel, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

The most impactful part of the Harwood Lab for me was having my first community conversation. Harwood asked me to Turn Outward and connect with people in my community.

The assignment terrified me! I was stressed for two days thinking of who and how I would invite people and where to hold it. Then I told myself to stop worrying and get into motion by turning outward. So, I did!

I invited four people in my community, and they all seemed happy to join the conversation. I chose a shaded outdoor patio area to hold the conversation, thinking it should be in a neutral location. Well, as luck would have it, a rainstorm came in at the scheduled time. So, we moved it to my home. (On reflection, the place to hold a community conversation is not all that important, as long as you stay away from government buildings and swanky hotels. As it turned out, my kitchen table was a great place to host my small group.

So begins our conversation. I asked everyone what community meant to them, and then I asked them to define their community. When asking about what concerns we have for our community, the discussion went on for a bit about the usual stuff….. affordable housing, infrastructure, density, and healthcare concerns. Concerns we all share!

I then steered the conversation to our local community and asked what changes they would like to see. We talked about what they liked, what they wanted more or less of, and what frustrated them. For about 90 minutes, we just talked and listened to each other. How awesome is that!

It was great hearing all their thoughts about our community, and we had many positive things to say. I found the conversation to be inspiring and encouraging. Later that evening, a light bulb went off in my head, and I realized we could start to make small changes happen because of our shared aspirations. If the conversations continue and more folks join in, what a powerful impact it could have.

This is what The Harwood Institute is teaching me, and after the community conversation, I started to get it!

What I learned about myself from leading a community conversation is that I can Turn Outward! That is huge for me because turning outward is the first step in becoming not only a Public Innovator but a better person. Turning outward is not easy for me by any means, but connecting with others is the key to moving forward.

I want to thank The Patterson Foundation for the opportunity to learn and grow by allowing me to attend the Harwood Institute Lab. I am grateful for the experience and will use the knowledge I gained to help make changes to our community.

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