The Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties concluded its first-ever On the Table civic engagement initiative on Oct. 24 with more than 3,500 residents participating in conversations about how to cultivate a stronger community.
On the Table, a national initiative funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, was coordinated locally by the Community Foundation and designed to unite people of all ages and diverse backgrounds over mealtime conversations to discuss issues that impact their community.
“We are in awe of this community, and its ability to come together to inspire change through On the Table,” said Bradley Hurlburt, President and CEO of the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties. “We had high expectations for this event, and the amount of participation from our residents, businesses and community leaders has far surpassed our expectations for this first-time initiative. We’re eager to learn and share the results of the surveys taken and determine how we can best take action with these pressing issues.”
The issues and ideas discussed at both public and private tables – from northern Martin County, to western Belle Glade and southern Boca Raton – were driven by the perspectives of the participants. Topics ranged from homelessness to education and support for small businesses.
In Belle Glade at the Glades Initiative, Inc., primary issues discussed around the table included unemployment, youth programs and affordable housing. Participants remarked that targeting year-round jobs and job training programs are needed to support the area’s unemployment problem. Creating additional after-school programs to keep youth active, engaged and off the streets was also strongly supported at this table.
At The Lord’s Place’s table, held at Joshua Café in West Palm Beach, participants included everyone from West Palm Beach Police Chief Sarah Mooney and Assistant County Administrator Nancy Bolton, to former homeless residents who are now employed at The Lord’s Place. Affordable housing, hunger, transportation and education were the focus of the conversation among this group.
“Hunger is an issue, but so is the process of getting people to the food that is made available,” said Diane Stanley, Chief Executive Officer of The Lord’s Place. “How do people get to the food? They need reliable transportation as part of the equation.”
In North Palm Beach County, tables hosted by Eat Palm Beach founder Cristyle Egitto at Pumphouse Coffee Roasters and The Parched Pig focused on sustainability, creative development and support for small businesses. Both tables were filled with entrepreneurs and local business owners who discussed ideas for developing a more collaborative relationship between lawmakers and business owners including: creating start-up promotions and co-working spaces; incentives for landlords to lower rents, and endorsements to stimulate small business incubation. Guidelines and incentives to help businesses maintain more environmentally sustainable practices also were discussed.
Arts and culture naturally came up in conversation at The Arts Council of Martin County. Participants discussed the importance of promoting more jobs for artists and expanding the arts community. Environmental issues facing the Treasure Coast were also of concern to this group, who noted that investing in the region’s water quality is one of the key issues requiring attention today.
Many conversations across Palm Beach County focused on education inequality including those held by Path to College, the Education Board of the City of Delray Beach, Community of Hope in Loxahatchee, and a co-hosted table by the Early Learning Coalition and BRIDGES of Belle Glade. A participant at the Community of Hope table remarked that the school system has one of the greatest positive impacts on our children besides family.
At the conclusion of the mealtime discussions, participants were asked to take a brief survey. Responses will be compiled and analyzed by national research firms Hart Research and Public Opinion Strategies to understand the issues and ideas for community improvement that resulted from the discussions. Many participants also posted to social media, documenting their experience with photos using #OnTheTableFL. Those that participated in On the Table and have not yet completed the survey are encouraged to do so at www.onthetablefl.com/survey, as the Community Foundation will fund programs to address the most critical issues determined through the survey results.
“The fact that we got the people in this room together to talk about what’s good, what’s bad, what’s working and what’s not – to me, that was very encouraging,” said West Palm Beach Police Chief Sarah Mooney.
For more information about On the Table in Palm Beach and Martin counties, please visit www.onthetablefl.com.
About the Community Foundation
The Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties is one of Florida’s largest community foundations. The nonprofit organization has provided more than $150 million in grants and scholarships over its 46-year history. At its core, the Community Foundation is an organization created with gifts from generous people committed to local causes. For donors, the Foundation serves as a philanthropic advisor. For the community, the Foundation serves as a grantmaker and a civic leader. Through the support of its donors and fund holders, the Foundation has been able to address some of the community’s most pressing needs, including hunger, housing and education.
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit kf.org.