Women’s Voices…some would argue that they are seldom heard – especially in the context of community and economic development. For example, Indiana ranks 35th in the United States for representation of women in the state legislature with only one in five (20.7 percent) legislators being women. In Fayette County, women hold one-third of the County Commissioner seats, one-seventh of the County Council seats and three of seven City Council seats in Connersville.
In light of these representation issues and the well-documented “community vitality” challenges, a group of Fayette County women partnered with the Fayette County Purdue Extension office to host the first Women’s Voices: “Big Dreams – Bold Actions” on January 13, 2016, in Connersville. Despite less than optimal weather conditions and a highway closing, over 80 of the 110 registrants were able to attend the event.
The theme of the convening was “Fayette County Women Empowering Positive Change.” Cindy Hartman, Fayette County Extension director and 4-H / Health & Human Sciences Educator, explained, “The purpose was to bring the ingenuity and creativity of Fayette County women together for planning, prioritizing and putting into action activities that will improve the quality of life in the Fayette County community.”
Linda Fitzgerald, co-chair of the steering committee, added, “The goals of this convening were to educate participants through participatory learning, engage participants in a visioning process and energize participants for creating community change. The Purdue Extension Community Development team played a key role in helping us realize these goals.”
Representing Purdue Extension’s Community Development program were Community Development Regional Educators Kris Parker and Tamara Ogle and Assistant Program Leader Dr. Michael Wilcox. The team worked with the steering committee to develop the process agenda and facilitate the entire five-hour workshop.
After the convening, Wilcox reflected to the News-Examiner, “The amount of ideas put forth and the energy was amazing, but there is the question, ‘Now what?’ After looking at everything, it is clear that the community has a lot of assets, a lot of opportunities and a lot of ideas. There are a lot of good things going on already, but there are so many more the community could do and many more ways to work together to achieve the goals.”
Ideas that bubbled up during the convening were categorized using a modified community capitals framework. They included:
- Education: Overcoming poverty, tutoring programs and creating a central educational and recreational center
- Natural: Community garden
- Cultural: Arts center, welcome center and a performing arts center
- Health: YMCA, drug rehabilitation and awareness, food security and a farmers market
- Government: Unigov, drug rehabilitation, homeless shelter and pride
- Built (infrastructure): Repurposing or updating existing facilities and small business incubator
- Social: Community calendar, organizations working together
- Financial: Business incubator and financial education
Wilcox added, “All the ideas will be cataloged, so that as the process continues, the ideas can be reviewed as well as to make sure no information from the conference is lost. Even ideas that may not have been chosen Wednesday, the concept may come into play as they come back and work with the smaller groups.”
Moving forward, Purdue Extension will continue to play a role as the original steering committee evolves into a functioning organization of women that seek to achieve their goals through collaboration and putting ideas into action.