It took Maureen Sylvia a few minutes to get from the buffet table to her spot across the Gomes Elementary School cafeteria Wednesday night, the first of three community dinners for South End Engaged, and not just because of the turnout of 100-plus South End residents. Organizers, volunteers, citizens of all ages, were keen to get her attention, and she was keen to give it.
The United Way of New Bedford’s vice president of development eventually got to sit down to enjoy a delicious meal from an array of ethnic South End restaurants. United Way spearheads the project, so Ms. Sylvia had a lot on her plate besides jag.
South End Engaged comprises some 40 organizations and individuals, including city departments, nonprofits, businesses, and representatives of elected officials, working according to its vision statement: to make sure that “all residents of the South End of New Bedford are safe, healthy, and have the knowledge and skills to thrive.” The process has roots going back a couple years. After shaking off a grant rejection from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the project built on its swelling capacity for community engagement and pushed ahead with a series of strategic and organizing meetings aimed at that vision.
Wednesday’s dinner was the start of a next step: deliberate and purposeful interaction with residents to understand what they need and expect from their community.
Sprinkled among South End residents sitting around the Gomes School tables were bilingual and multilingual facilitators in bright green “Volunteer” shirts, breaking the ice for the next two dinners, July 19 and 26.
Diners young and old engaged and shared their concerns. (Not surprisingly, one theme that sounded repeatedly was the concern for safety.) South End Engaged teams will organize all they heard and will bring what they learn to the next dinner.
Outside Gomes School were the Southcoast Health van and a stand with fresh vegetables. Inside was the community — stakeholders, volunteers, activists, residents — taking the steps to make new connections and to learn more about each other.
This hard work is so good and so important, and progress comes slowly. But it is coming, not just with meetings, dinners and new services we see. Whether we see it or not, progress comes with every new connection.
Standard Times Our View: July 14, 2017 http://www.southcoasttoday.com/opinion/20170714/our-view-south-end-engaged-provides-more-than-food-for-thought