On Tuesday, Oct. 3, nearly 6,000 residents are expected to gather for small mealtime conversations to discuss pressing community issues as part of On the Table Greater Akron. The event will bring residents in Summit and Medina counties to the table to tackle such issues as homelessness, addiction, urban design, prisoner re-entry, art and education.
Akron is one of 10 cities across the U.S. selected to replicate the On the Table initiative this year with funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Led by Akron Community Foundation, the effort will engage a number of community partners big and small as they host conversations in restaurants, libraries, parks, churches, cafes, kitchens and backyards.
Hosts include representatives from Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan’s administration and Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro’s network, as well as homelessness organizations, churches, mental health agencies and neighborhood groups. The Akron-Summit County Public Library will also host discussions at several of its branches.
South Street Ministries, a grassroots neighborhood organization in South Akron that is participating as a “super host” by hosting 15 or more discussions, encourages these types of conversations daily at its Front Porch Café on Grant Street.
“I feel really strongly that conversations are the way forward,” said Director Joe Tucker. “I get a chance every day at the Front Porch Cafe to talk with individuals, and it’s in conversing that we see someone else, hear from someone else and understand. We live in a really divided country presently, and the only resolution we are going to have is if we ourselves talk to each other.”
For Perry Clark, founder of Truly Reaching You Ministries, On the Table will offer a platform for his clients, who are returning to the community from substance abuse treatment and prison, to share their needs and ideas. In West Akron, On the Table conversations will enable the Summit County Historical Society to invite disenfranchised residents to the nonprofit to address critical social issues, said Board Chair David Lieberth.
“We’re talking about doing breakfast, lunch and dinner on our property for our neighbors, people who can share their experiences,” said Lieberth, a former Akron deputy mayor and resident historian. “I think today more than ever it’s important for people who have grown up in the African-American community in the ’50s and ’60s to share what it was like living in Akron at a time when we were still basically a segregated city in so many ways.”
These ideas and more will be part of a survey and community report, which will be released in early 2018. Akron Community Foundation also will collect video, photos, social media posts and other forms of media from the day’s activities to ensure that those who participate have their voice heard.
“We wanted to hear from residents on what they feel are the most pressing issues of our community,” said John Garofalo, vice president of community investment at Akron Community Foundation. “The data we receive from the On the Table survey, along with research that is taking place with our Community Needs Assessment, will guide our board when identifying those proactive grant making priorities.”
Many community organizations are still accepting seats at their tables. Residents can find a public conversation and sign up to participate at www.onthetableakron.com. Individuals and organizations who wish to host a conversation can also register through the website and download a host toolkit, discussion guide and other helpful resources. Participation is encouraged from residents of all ages, and hosts are not required to prepare an elaborate meal – discussions can take place over tea, coffee or snacks.
On the Table originated in Chicago in 2014 and has been replicated in cities across the country. Last year, The Chicago Community Trust engaged nearly 100,000 Chicago-area residents through this growing initiative.
In addition to Akron, other cities receiving Knight Foundation funding for On the Table are: Charlotte, North Carolina; Columbus, Georgia; Detroit; Gary, Indiana; Lexington, Kentucky; Long Beach, California; Miami; Philadelphia; and San Jose, California.
“On the Table Greater Akron will encourage residents to address some of the city’s most pressing challenges and come up with solutions together. It also invites us to be part of a national network of communities working to share lessons on city success and civic engagement,” said Kyle Kutuchief, Knight Foundation program director for Akron.
To learn more about Akron’s On the Table initiative and to get involved, contact Garofalo at (330) 436-5624 or [email protected].
On the Table Greater Akron is sponsored by Knight Foundation, Huntington, KeyBank, S&T Bank, PNC and Fifth Third Bank.
Celebrating 62 years of building community philanthropy, Akron Community Foundation embraces and enhances the work of charitable people who make a permanent commitment to the good of the community. In 1955, a $1 million bequest from the estate of Edwin Shaw established the community foundation. As of June 30, 2017, it is a philanthropic endowment of nearly $202 million with a growing family of 570 funds established by charitable people and organizations from all walks of life. The community foundation and its funds welcome gifts of all kinds, including cash, bequests, stock, real estate, life insurance and retirement assets, just to name a few. To date, the community foundation’s funds have awarded more than $143 million in grants to qualified nonprofit organizations. For more information about Akron Community Foundation or to learn more about creating your own charitable fund, call 330-376-8522 or visit www.akroncf.org.
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.