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A role for citizen problem-solvers in Eau Claire

December 9, 2009

This guest post was written by J. Thomas McCarty and Catherine Emmanuelle, two members of a citizen action team in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Background: The greater Eau Claire community recently completed a community visioning and strategic planning process termed Clear Vision Eau Claire. One of the key performance areas of the Clear Vision Plan was enhancing civic engagement within the community.In partnership with the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, training sessions utilizing the Public Achievement model were conducted with community members. During the training sessions, a small group of citizens agreed that the community needed to address options for enhancing treatment instead of sending people to prison/jail.

A group of five citizens met over three months to try and develop an action plan to enhance the treatment options available in the community as an alternative to spending time in jail. This proved to be a frustrating time – some members determined that the work group approach did not match their expectations. Others persevered, and through one to one conversations brought additional members to join the work group. Upon “re-grouping,” additional stakeholders were brought to the solution-building table—including and owner of a transitional home and residents who had firsthand experience with the realities of transition from jail to the community.

We used tools from Public Achievement (referencing ideas from the handy “green book” and the ideas on the Public Achievement website). Our group participated in a “Wishful Thinking Brainstorming Session” and out of many ideas was birthed an idea from someone who had been in the justice system—sharing that after people are released from jail, they often do not have a place to go, and he simply wanted a “place to be.” Over time the work group focused on an action plan that now will bring community agency volunteers to the Community Table to provide “Resources to Reconnect” for community members attending the Community Table in need of food and shelter, health care, employment, and other services. The Community Table is an organization in Eau Claire that serves a hot meal every day to any guest—coupled with our group’s initiative, dubbed “Community Day,” a place to be was born.

This effort has been a great learning experience. The work group brought together individuals from different walks of life that typically do not interact, in order to solve specific problems. Despite different backgrounds and experiences, the common theme of the action plan (to provide connections for people in transition within the community) motivated all the work group members to find solutions. Work group members are excited about the synergism that’s been created and have learned that when goals are clear and there is common interest at hand, community issues that can’t seem to be resolved through typical/traditional bureaucratic means CAN be solved. As a result, the community is improving as more services are available to citizens in transition. And the work group members have also realized that we as citizens can achieve change in the community.

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