On the Table…Preparing our Community for the Future

Authored by:  Teresa Cocker, Chief Program Officer

We had the opportunity on 10/17  to host an On the Table conversation.  Thousands of community members took part in similar conversations across the region to talk about our communities – what is working and where are there opportunities to come together and make them stronger.  This initiative was sponsored by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation in an effort to provide a forum for relationship building, idea gathering and igniting action.  We invited Norris staff, community partners and youth who reside at Norris and are learners enrolled at Norris Academy.  

To be honest, I was both excited and a little anxious for the conversation to start as I wasn’t sure what direction it would take and didn’t want us to bite off more than we could chew.  I was so impressed with the willingness of everyone to share their views and their enthusiasm to talk about ideas – most notably, the youth who attended.  They talked about how and why they are succeeding academically and emotionally at Norris and tools they had learned that they will bring with them wherever their future leads.  They were articulate, thoughtful and grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this discussion.  

We talked a lot about the need to break down silos between systems, opportunities to provide services for families from prevention to aftercare, and the importance of listening to the people who access services in our communities so that we can learn firsthand about the need and brainstorm solutions together.  

It was a rejuvenating conversation…we only had 90 minutes and I feel like we could have kept the conversation going all day!  My biggest takeaway, though, were the stories and ideas that came from the youth.  It made me stop and reflect about the importance of engaging with youth here at Norris so that they can have a strong voice within the Norris community.  I am grateful to the Greater Milwaukee Foundation for starting this initiative as I feel this is our springboard for future engagement and planning to meet the needs of children, youth and families in our community.  At the end of the conversation, I challenged everyone to reflect on what we had discussed and think about one small action they could take moving forward.  My goal and one that I will be bringing to our leadership team is to determine how we can keep this momentum going  – perhaps with quarterly tabletop discussions with youth that they could eventually co-facilitate.  We want to empower youth and help them build connections so that they can live successful lives and build a positive future for their generation…stay tuned to hear about our progress!

“If everyone helps to hold up the sky, then one person does not become tired.” – Askhari Johnson Hodari