Institute to explore problem solving

PARKERSBURG — In today’s world, the idea of people having conversations to find solutions to problems may seem strange, but an event at West Virginia University at Parkersburg is trying to get people to talk to each other about the problems facing the community.

Jean Ambrose appeared before the Wood County Commission this week to discuss the 2019 Civic Life Institute event July 18 and19 at WVU-P. Ambrose is one of the representatives for the event.

”People don’t appreciate what we have in West Virginia, the closeness the citizens have to their government,” she told commissioners.

The commission meets every Monday and Thursday and citizens can come in and address their concerns with the commissioners as their agenda allows.

”We are partners in terms of the community,” Ambrose said.

The commission has been open to letting students come in to interact with the commission about what they do and how local government works.

”My work over the years has been civic engagement and dialogue,” Ambrose said. ”We have had a lot of conversations around our community about what our economic future will be, are we an inclusive community and what are we going to do about the drug crisis.”

People have wanted to talk about how they can come together to figure out what the community needs, Ambrose said.

”People don’t appreciate the openness and the respect that you give all citizens here,” Ambrose said. ”They have a responsibility, as citizens, to come up with solutions and that we are all in this together.”

The West Virginia Center for Civic Life wants to help citizens start conversations about issues facing the state by encouraging fresh, innovative thinking during its annual Civic Life Institute at WVU-P. The event will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on July 18 and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on July 19 in the College Activities Center.

The WVCCL is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that convenes public workshops and provides resources to help people develop productive ways to address common concerns, according to a press release from WVU-P.

Over the past 20 years, the center has partnered with organizations and individuals in community-based initiatives to address issues related to the health, education and economic well-being of West Virginia residents, the release said. This includes What’s Next WV, a statewide initiative designed to help communities plan actions based on their own ideas for building stronger local economies, the release said.

“We need to find productive ways to talk to each other, especially when we disagree,” Ambrose said. “It is our goal to help diverse sectors in the community develop habits of listening to each other, taking ownership of problems together and working toward solutions that work for all.

”We can be a community where people listen to each other and where people work on problems jointly and where people get things done.”

Ambrose said she wants this community to be known as a place where people continually listen to one another about the problems facing the community.

Commission President Blair Couch said the best kind of government is “participatory with the citizens.” In most cases, candidates mostly interact with the citizens around election time, he said.

”That should be more ongoing and town hall meetings should be more ongoing,” Couch said.

People from around the state, other parts of the country and from around the world will be at the Civic Life Institute event. People are coming in from Fiji, Ghana, Russia, New Zealand, Colombia and Pakistan through the work of the Kettering Foundation in Dayton, Ohio.

”They are concerned about making democracy work better in their own countries,” Ambrose said. ”The Kettering Foundation has determined that there are some best practices happening in West Virginia that people can learn from. They are bringing people here to Parkersburg.”

Peabody award-winner Trey Kay, producer of the nationally recognized “Us & Them” podcast, will lead a session at the institute that explores the cultural issues that often divide us. Following his remarks, participants will experience ways of facilitating community discussion that explores different points of view while working together on difficult issues.

“Us & Them” is a joint project of West Virginia Public Broadcast, PRX and Trey Kay Productions.

Also, the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation is funding scholarships to participants in the institute. Eligible to apply are staff or board members of nonprofits or high school and college students from PACF’s service region: Calhoun, Doddridge, Gilmer, Jackson, Mason, Pleasants, Ritchie, Wirt and Wood counties in West Virginia and Washington County in Ohio.

Attendees will learn how people think it is worthwhile to talk to each other and understand each other’s points of view, Ambrose said. ”I think many people are giving up on they should talk at all which is really dangerous for communities.”

The program goes from how do people talk to each other to forming a plan of action, Ambrose said.

Brett Dunlap can be reached at bdunlap@newsandsentinel.com