In 2018, more than 1,000 people from nearly every community and demographic across Lake County formed a consensus – the future for the Region is hopeful and the people are united. That conclusion came from the Legacy Foundation’s 2018 On the Table initiative, a one-day forum, hosted at 144 sites with participants representing every city and town in Lake County.
Attendees discussed their thoughts on the future of the Region, issues they thought needed addressing, and ways to do so. Survey data collected from the participants marked a few main categories that Lake County residents worry about, the largest being economic and job development. The Sojourner Truth House, a nonprofit that serves homeless and at-risk women, their children, and other underserved members of the community, saw those results reflected in their conversation.
“They were extremely excited to participate,” said Arleen Peterson, Director of Operations for the Sojourner Truth House. “Our goal for this year was to think of pop-up ways to create economic development.”
As the women discussed their thoughts, they found they shared common barriers in finding a stable income. For example, while full-time employment is ideal for many of them, it is often impossible to juggle those hours with childcare. Many also struggled to find ways to apply their skillsets in the job market, where training is often expensive in both money and time. Accord to the On the Table results, 53 and 48 percent of people countywide identified finding good-paying jobs and a lack of workforce skill development as their top economic concerns, respectively.
“This made us really start to talk about social entrepreneurship and small business development,” Peterson said. “So what if instead of going into the workplace, you start to develop a social entrepreneurship kind of activity that will help you start a small business. For example, maybe you like cleaning up so you start cleaning people’s houses. What are some of the skillsets you can build to be your own entrepreneur?”
The Sojourner Truth House is transforming their On the Table conversation into action. They are in the process of creating what they are calling BoxTown, a complex of shipping containers transformed into a marketplace. Inside each container, the women of the Sojourner Truth House will offer goods and services they are passionate about.
“It would be a platform for some of our ladies to develop their own small businesses,” Peterson said. “Maybe we could use the garden we have on site to help a lady start a farmer’s market. We’re looking at using BoxTown as a gathering place during the summer months, so that there will be a place in the community where people can come, hang out, meet their neighbors, and get engaged with their community.”
That kind of action is exactly what the Legacy Foundation was hoping to inspire. According to their results, 86 percent of Lake County residents believe that they can have a moderate to big impact on making their community a better place to live. Collecting data, highlighting issues, and demonstrating to others that they are not alone in caring for their community led 88 percent of participants countywide to claim that they are likely to take action on their discussions in 2019.
“We hope that the Legacy Foundation continues their investment in community initiatives like this,” Peterson said. “These are the things that are hard to support sometimes. It’s not simple. It’s so much about the relationships and letting people know that they can come out and trust that it’s not just more discussion, there will be action.”
The full results are available at www.legacyfdn.org/onthetable/, and reveal much about the Region’s interests outside of economic development. Education and youth development was the second biggest priority. Forty eight percent of participants are focused on ensuring that schools are filled with qualified teachers. Post-high-school prospects for their kids are also on the mind, with 41 percent concerned about finding kids adequate job or vocational training, and another 39 percent want to ensure that schools are preparing graduates for college.
There were also more immediate and practical concerns such as road repairs, which 56 percent of people worry about. Others want more convenient access to public transportation, such as buses and trains.
Ninety three percent of survey participants said they are interested in attending another On the Table conversation next year. With so many interested in taking steps to improve their community, On the Table 2019 might be even more hopeful.
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