Our Valley Our Future inspires grass-roots civic involvement
There is a tendency to think about community leadership as exclusively the domain of influential business leaders, nonprofit executives and elected officials. Good civic leadership at those levels is very important, but it isn’t sufficient for building community cohesion and a sense of shared purpose.
Communities work better when there is a grass roots-driven effort that empowers individuals and groups to continually work to make things better.
An important measure of community health is the extent to which people are invested in making things better for the greater good. In the Wenatchee Valley, the organization Our Valley Our Future has emerged as a critical catalyst for empowering people and organizations to strengthen the community.
Recently, OVOF held a public launch for its second five-year plan, featuring coordinator Steve Maher, OVOF board chair Laura Merrill of the City of Wenatchee and keynote speakers Katy and James Sheehan of Spokane, who have spent 20 years fostering civic involvement in Spokane through their Community Building Campus.
“I can tell that you guys are on a really amazing path,” marveled Katy Sheehan, noting that our valley has committed to more than 80 action items to improve the quality of life here.
The Our Valley Our Future action plan for 2022-2026 is the culmination of a transparent community process that tapped into the wisdom of more than 2,000 individuals from all walks of life. It is significant that while we were struggling as communities to deal with the pandemic, OVOF was focused on our shared values and how we can work together to make things better.
There are several game changing initiatives and more than 80 action items in the plan, for which organizations have volunteered to step up and be leaders or participants.
Those game-changing initiatives included:
- Developing a technology ecosystem to encourage economic growth
- Fostering a post-carbon economy to take advantage of our renewable energy
- Improving health literacy and outcomes
- Regional wildfire prevention, preparedness and recovery
- Enhancing early care and learning programs
- Broadening the leadership opportunities
- Developing a regional housing approach
- Many voices, one region, the quest to bring people together to find common ground
One major theme the survey revealed was the need to adapt to growth in our region, which covers a range of issues, Maher said, from dealing with critical housing shortages, to adding infrastructure and at the same time retaining the small-town feel to the valley.
The legacy of our forefathers in this valley is one of civic service and placing community health, vitality and resilience on a par with personal gain. It’s an “all for one and one for all” mindset.
Every great civic achievement in our history is the result of cooperative action with long-term community benefit as the driving force. It’s why we have publicly-owned hydroelectric dams, the Numerica Performing Arts Center, Mission Ridge Ski and Board Resort, Pybus Public Market, the Apple Capital Recreational Loop Trail, and many more civic successes.
One of the things I value about OVOF is the group’s focus on what is possible — what we can accomplish by working together. In a society that is seeing so much division, thanks to our dysfunctional political parties,and national media and social media ecosystems that are rewarded by perpetuating conflict.
If we’re going to make things happen, we have to start in our home towns and strengthen the bonds of community. That’s exactly what OVOF is doing in this valley.
Maher, the OVOF coordinator, noted that our valley has seen a lot of in-migration during the pandemic. Our opportunity, he said, is encouraging them to participate in the civic life of our community.
Our valley is being transformed before our eyes, and quickly. Maintaining the community spirit while this changes happens is the most important work ahead of us.