Meeting of minds held at Madera Center
April 19, 2001
A diverse group of residents and dignitaries shared their thoughts on community pride and rejuvenation during a Community Action Forum held Tuesday at the Madera Community College Center.
The forum was the result of five groups called “study circles” which met for six weeks to discuss the community as a whole and ways to improve it. The study circles gave residents a chance to voice their opinions in an atmosphere of acceptance, and to learn how to communicate with one another. Each group was made up of 10 people with one person acting as a facilitator—someone trained to show people how to “agreeably disagree.”
Study circle program coordinator Mike Fuller said the program is supported by a number of city organizations, and started out as a pilot project last year.
“The program is very effective, and that’s what I’ve been drawn to as a methodology,” he said. “We’re excited about the payoffs in Madera and we’re encouraged to continue the program for quite some time.”
The study circle program was incorporated into Community Pride Renaissance, a grassroots movement started in 1999 by a small group of Maderans. CPR sponsored three Town Hall meetings between November of 1999 and March 2000. It was during one of those meetings that the idea for the study circles was suggested by local organic farmer Tom Willey.
Shirley Driggs, with the Madera County Economic Development Commission, participated as a facilitator in one of the study circles, and said she became involved as a matter of community pride at the request of Nancy Clute with the Madera County Arts Council, Debi Bray with the Madera Chamber of Commerce and former Madera County Supervisor Gail Hanhart-McIntyre.
“We were searching for some kind of tool or avenue to use to get people connected,” she said. “We decided to use this as a tool to get a grassroots movement going.”
“Through open communication we hope to build a large foundation and create action plans to move people from apathy to action,” Driggs added.
The forum was the first time the groups came together to share their thoughts on what areas of concern need improvement within the city. Some common concerns were the revitalization of downtown, education, school overcrowding, city beautification, continued growth, improved communication between city officials and residents and more activities for children.
“It’s really good to see these circle groups because you are where the rubber meets the road,” said Mayor pro tem Gary Svanda. “You have all done a good job of identifying the problems, posed some possible solutions and chosen the best one of the solutions.”
“What I charge you to do now is implement those plans, move forward with them, and see if it makes a difference in your community,” he said.
Madera County Supervisor Ronn Dominici said his involvement with the Sober Grad program has showed him how much a community can do when it pulls together, and encouraged the members of the study circles to follow through.
“Please, don’t back off. Continue to go to the city council meetings and the board of supervisors meetings. Every member will push for you when they see that people want Madera up high,” he said.
The Madera High School Coyote Theater Company entertained the crowd with excerpts from “Guys and Dolls,” and food and refreshments were provided by Burrito King, Di Ciccio’s Pizzeria, the Grocery Outlet, The Vineyard and Win Chinese Gourmet.
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