ABOVE PHOTO: Steering Committee of “On the Table Greater Philly” (Photo: Leona Dixon)
By Arlene Edmonds
Sometimes those making policy decisions can get so swept up in lobbying for key issues that the voices of everyday people are submerged. Without an ear to the ground, they may not notice that those in local neighborhoods who attend certain churches, frequent or own small businesses, or are community advocates with new problems that need to be addressed and solved. They may even have effective ideas about how this can be done.
To ensure that average citizens are heard, there is a new initiative in town. It is called “On the Table Greater Philly.” The program is being hosted in 10 American cities, each bringing about a dozen people together at a time over a meal in a relaxed atmosphere. During the meal, the participants discuss the ways that their voices can be heard, and what it will take to make their families, blocks, neighborhoods and larger communities better.
The Philadelphia Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced the “On the Table Philly” initiative at the Columbia North YMCA on Thursday, March 16. On hand were Pedro A. Ramos, president of The Philadelphia Foundation and Patrick Morgan from the Philadelphia office of the Knight Foundation. Both were excited about community members throughout the Delaware Valley getting involved in the new program.
“The Knight Foundation is sponsoring this program in communities in Philadelphia that have deep roots,” Morgan said. “We wanted to provide relaxed atmospheres to engage the community. We know that when you bring people together through a meal, with food as the common denomination that people feel more relaxed and open.”
“That is why we are joining with the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the local CDCs, nonprofits, businesses and people who want to host these events,” Morgan continued. “We really want to get local responses. The hosts decide if it should be coffee with breakfast, lunch, or dinner and where to host it, and it could be at home.”
What the Knight Foundation hopes is that many from diverse backgrounds will respond to this invitation, according to Morgan. They anticipate that the conversation will range from everything from economic development and public education to quality of life issues unique to their particular communities.
“We actually have a $1.15 million grant to do this in 10 cities,” Morgan said. “We really wanted to get the greater Philadelphia area to be involved. This is really a pilot program that started in Chicago. We hope that people will be creative and out of this all types of collaborations will be formed.”
Ramos said that the intimacy of the events would facilitate participants being more open. He envisions that community groups, churches, and other houses of worships, clubs, coffee shops, neighborhood businesses, and others will participate.
“These are not led by politicians who come in to dictate what the topics are,” Ramos said. “Though there are some (guiding) questions the conversation should flow. That’s why we want to keep it intimate with about 8 to 12 people coming together. We want it to be a gathering where people feel comfortable talking to the host and each other.
They have been doing this in Chicago for about three years now. All kinds of things come out of these types of sessions. The interaction is informational, but all kinds of things can come out of it. This is just a way to hear from the community stakeholders so that they can create programs that are needed. It is a way to get civic engagement involvement.”
Local sponsors of the program include the Urban Affairs Coalition, Philadelphia Media Networks, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations, the United Way, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the City of Philadelphia.
For more information on registering to be a host, contact www.onthetablephl.org or [email protected]