On a single day this past year, 1,500 people in Lexington and Richland counties sat down to talk for a specific reason. Because of 2018’s On the Table inaugural success, Central Carolina Community Foundation hopes that the upcoming October 22 conversation movement will attract even more to tables all across the Midlands.
According to Cherise Arrendale, CCCF’s strategic initiatives and communications manager, On the Table is an initiative powered by the Community Foundation with the intention of bringing people of various backgrounds together for an hour or so to discuss ideas that might turn to programs and actions that strengthen communities. Individuals, churches, schools, businesses, and organizations sign up to host tables and invite six to 12 individuals to tables. Hosts are provided with toolkits that help fuel conversations and facilitate idea sharing. Simple food at tables is encouraged: brown bag meals, snacks, potluck, etc. This year Panera Bread is offering a discount to hosts.
“The main idea of On the Table is for people to sit down together, break bread, and share thoughts. What’s great about our community and how can we make it even better — more generous, vibrant, and engaged?” Cherise explains.
After this past year’s On the Table, participants were asked to complete a survey to convey their experiences. Findings were then shared so that, points out Cherise, people can take part in continuing the conversations that were started at On the Table, or they can take action.
“In our second year with On the Table, we hope to see even more community members come together on this day to help move our region forward,” says JoAnn Turnquist, president and CEO of CCCF. “It’s all about discovering the unique ways we can collaborate to make our community a better place to live. The more voices we hear, the better decisions we can make together.”
Based on the results of this past year’s survey, the Community Foundation determined community priorities that will benefit from $20,000 in allocated mini-grants. Nonprofit organizations and individuals with a fiscal sponsorship can apply for grants up to $2,000 for a project that addresses one of the issues identified as a community priority by the 2018 On the Table survey. Key areas that On the Table participants identified include jobs, economic development, poverty, economic security, housing, public and charter schools, and more. (See full survey results at OnTheTableCola.org.)
“This is a way for us to go back to our roots, and engage with one another … sit down with one another, have those conversations, and develop true relationships and friendships that you can’t develop online,” says Stephanie McCummings, community change agent.
On the Table is funded by First Citizens Bank and is part of a national initiative funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. On the Table replicates an annual civic engagement initiative of the same name developed by The Chicago Community Trust in 2014.
“I had the pleasure of participating in On the Table this past year and witnessing firsthand the powerful conversations and meaningful connections that transpired when people in our community gathered over a meal. This type of creative forum has a unique way of bringing people together and encouraging everyone to work toward shared values and a common goal: making our community stronger. First Citizens Bank is very proud to support On the Table this year, and I look forward to another successful day of conversations that will surely help the community we call home thrive,” says Sharon Bryant, regional executive vice president of First Citizens Bank.
Cherise points out that the goal is to continue to grow the diverse group of area residents, from all walks of life, ages, and backgrounds, who participated in On the Table 2018, who sit down for conversations on Oct. 22 — and beyond.
Says Rita Patel, owner of Hotel Trundel, “We have a great environment to foster creativity and diversity. We need to just encourage that growth.”
Anyone interested in hosting a conversation, whether over breakfast, lunch, dinner, a coffee break, or any time in between, can register online. Hosts can decide whom they want to invite. Super hosts are organizations, such as nonprofits, places of worship, businesses, schools, civic organizations, and others that commit to hosting at least five tables of six to 12 people per table. Interested super hosts need to call (803) 254-5601 or email email@example.com.
Plus, Cherise explains that a new focus for this year is to encourage younger generations of residents to engage with On the Table. Young adults and youth-serving organizations and schools interested in hosting or participating in a conversation can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.