When the Akron Community Foundation and its partners organized the On the Table Greater Akron event to get residents to share their opinions about challenges facing the community and ways to address them, they weren’t sure what to expect.
The event had taken off in Chicago and was being launched outside of the Windy City in 10 other municipalities for the first time this year.
Would Akronites even show up?
“We didn’t know how quickly this would take off, so our initial goal was 1,000 people,” said Tracy Burt, spokeswoman for the foundation, which received support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for On the Table.
They showed up all right – in drove after drove at more than 500 locations around the city by the time the event was over on Tuesday, Oct. 3.
“We had an excellent turnout,” said a beaming Burt after the event. “Approximately 6,000 people participated.”
That was well beyond organizers’ expectations, she said. Sure, Chicago had 100,000 participants this year – its fourth year with the event. But even Chicago only drew 11,500 residents to the event’s first year there, Burt said, and Akron was one of the top cities in terms of this year’s attendance.
Groups in other cities, such as the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, facilitated the events in their respective locations.
On the Table Greater Akron was a string of what were billed as “small mealtime conversations” held at businesses, governmental offices, churches and other locations in and around Akron, with a few in Medina County, as well, Burt said.
The purpose was to assess what residents say are the greatest needs in their communities so that the Akron Community Foundation can use the data in its future grant-making. The organization is the largest nonprofit grant-making entity in Summit County and will award about $11 million in grants this year, Burt said.
“We wanted to hear from residents on what they feel are the most pressing issues of our community,” said John Garofalo, the foundation’s vice president of community investment, in a statement prior to the event. “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.”
To no one’s great surprise, the opioid epidemic – which has hit Akron harder than most U.S. cities – was a top item of concern. The city of Hudson held a special meeting to discuss that issue, which was also brought up at other sessions, Burt said.
But residents also brought up things like transportation and how it impacts their ability to get and hold a job. Economic development needs were also high on folks’ priority lists, Burt said.
Some of that information will be used by others as well, including ConxusNEO, an Akron-based nonprofit that works area companies and manufacturers to match their workforce needs with local education and training.
ConxusNEO spokeswoman Jenny Stupica said her group worked with On the Table organizers to present information at some of the recent sessions.
“We put a spin on our conversations, because (National) Manufacturing Day was three days after the On the Table event,” Stupica said. “We used the opportunity to get a cross section of people in the community to talk about awareness of manufacturing opportunities, training and a general awareness that there are career opportunities out there.”
Now, though, the real work begins. Burt and her group will begin tabulating the results of more than 3,000 surveys received from the event.
The foundation will release the results early in 2018 but use them to guide its planning long after that, Burt said.
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Shingler, Dan. (2017, October 18). On the Table Greater Akron organizers weighing input from thousands of participants. Crain’s Cleveland Business. Retrieved from http://www.crainscleveland.com/article/20171018/news/139236/table-greater-akron-organizers-weighing-input-thousands-participants