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Eye On The Future Leads To More Engaged Community Leaders, Citizens

Posted: November 6, 2013

New Kensington concerned citizens met with Penn State Extension Economic and Community Development Educator John Turack to learn how to positively visualize the town's future as a community.
Penn State Extension Educator John Turack presenting to approximately 70 New Kensington citizens,  community leaders, university faculty, and students.

Penn State Extension Educator John Turack presenting to approximately 70 New Kensington citizens, community leaders, university faculty, and students.

Like many former industrial towns, parts of New Kensington have fallen on hard times, kindling feelings of isolation and hopelessness, and a sense of discouragement that comes when communities become trapped in poverty.

But Turack suggested the first step to moving beyond resignation to their plight was attending structured visioning sessions, ones where the goal is to envision ways forward, rather than ones simply lamenting the status quo. He encouraged them to practice "community visioning,” utilizing cognitive mapping and SOAR exercises, and moderated an initial discussion identifying local community assets, rather than focusing on its detriments and challenges.

"About 70 community members/leaders attended, and for the first time in years a three-hour meeting was held in which nothing negative was said about the community!" said Scott McMannis, the local community champion for the event and a community volunteer with the A-K Valley Bridges to Sustainable Communities program.

"A number of connections were made, and people who felt they were working in isolation realized they are not alone. Scores of assets in the community were identified and some of these rose to the top as possible assets to be leveraged by further development or enhancement in future community projects.”

Joining Turack were leaders of the Westmoreland Economic Development Initiative for Growth (WEDIG);  Dr. Whit Watts from the Smart Growth Partnership (SGP) and also with the Indiana University of Pennsylvania's Department of Geography and Regional Planning; and several of Dr. Watt’s graduate students.

Now that New Kensington has made the connection with this academic partnership, they hope to tap them for advice and additional community project design in the future.  To read more see -- http://futurestorycollaborative.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/future-story-community-visioning-project-report-final.pdf