Special Reports

Seeking out common ground to solve community problem

On March 23, a community conversation will be held at the State College Municipal Building from 6:30 to 9 p.m.

The purpose of this event is to come together to discuss how to create a safe environment in which underage and dangerous drinking no longer puts our youth at risk or damages how we feel about the place we live.

Our work will be that of engaged citizens finding common ground for action.

Margaret Wheatley teaches, writes and consults around the world about new ways for people to organize and make change. And she says: “When a community of people discovers that they share a concern, change begins. There is no power equal to a community discovering what it cares about.”

And as she traveled she heard many stories about change that began with a conversation — “some friends and I started talking.” Conversations are the way we think out loud together, and together we discover our collective wisdom.

Our community has identified a concern — underage and dangerous drinking.

So we need to come together and have a conversation about how we want to create a safe, healthy environment where underage and dangerous drinking are no longer the community norm.

Our work during our community conversation is that of engaged citizens working together to find solutions that we can support.

We’ll build on the work of the November Centre County Public Issues Forum, “Alcohol: The Toxic Spill,” where we discussed the problem, considered different approaches, identified tensions and began to find common ground.

The first tension relates to the concern that this issue has too often been framed as “us” vs. “them,” the “community” vs. the “students.” But as we talked, we began to realize that the solution lies in seeing all of us as part of one community, students included. How do we begin to do that?

The second tension is based in the value we place in individual freedom — the right to make our own choices as long as we’re not hurting anyone else. Out of this came the common ground that there should be consequences when someone else is hurt or impacted. Many suggestions have been made; what will we, as a community, support?

What will we as a community choose to do? Reality doesn’t change itself; we need to choose to act together. This isn’t a Penn State problem or a borough problem. This is our problem. Together we can make a difference.

So join us March 23 and be part of the conversation and see where our collective wisdom leads us.

“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”

Lou Ann Evans and David Hutchinson are co-chairs of the Public Issues Forum of Centre County. The community conversation is organized by the Centre County Prevention Coalition, Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care and Centre County Communities that Care. To register, please e-mail your name and phone number to centrecoprevention@gmail.comor call 880-5069.