Citizens participate in visioning process

By Bill Rautenstrauch, The Observer April 07, 2010 02:12 pm

Facilitator Jeff Goebel makes a point during Oregon Rural Action’s Building Wealth in Local Communities workshop Saturday in Cove. - BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH Observer photos
COVE — They came from all over Union County, from Wallowa County and from Baker County, too.

They brought with them their plans and hopes and dreams, ideas for businesses and projects and ways to make their communities better places.

They learned, in the end, about communication and consensus building. After a long, full day together, they went home feeling like there’s hope.

“I feel encouraged talking to people who are working towards the same kind of things that I am,” said Teresa Brain of La Grande.

The occasion was Oregon Rural Action’s “Building Wealth in Local Communities” workshop, held Saturday in Kimsey Commons at the Cove Ascension School.

Some 33 participants showed up for the day-long event, which was moderated by Jeff Goebel, a veteran community facilitator who lives in Portland but spent a good part of his youth in the Grande Ronde Valley.

Billed as a community visioning process, the workshop gathered in ideas ranging from Joel Rice’s plan to create a community woodworking and metalworking shop in downtown

La Grande, to Peter Donovon’s desire to create a Wallowa County currency, to Tim McCarthy’s wish to become a better farmer, and more.

In the beginning, people talked about themselves and their individual ideas, then took part in a revolving greeting circle where everybody shook hands with and met each other — twice.

The introductions and greeting circle were Goebel’s way of getting people to loosen up and talk. From there, he split the gathered crowd into groups and conducted exercises aimed at showing how to resolve conflicts, listen respectfully, and form productive visions for communities.

In one exercise, people gave their definitions of community wealth, talked about the present situation and how they felt about it.

Some but by no means all of the comments were positive. People expressed some fear about the local community’s economic situation.

“By and large I think the community is under a negative cloud as far as economics are concerned,” said participant Gayle Schaad.

In another exercise people brainstormed strategies or community approaches to existing business and social problems.

One person said governments should pass business regulations that make sense. Another said banks should be urged to back projects being done by local people and companies.

More than one participant said people should look for ways to stop money from leaking out of the local area.

In another exercise, the focus swung to the best and worst possible outcomes of taking action. Goebel said it is useful to look at both sides.

“When you believe your worst outcomes, you have a tendency to make them happen,” Goebel told the group. “Start thinking about the best outcomes, you can get excited.”

People envisioned farms and ranches becoming sustainable, resources revitalizing themselves, businesses and communities becoming strong and vibrant.

Goebel urged the group to believe best outcomes are possible. He also said people working for community wealth should hold nothing back.

“Why do mediocrity?” he said. “Why not make this valley the most awesome place to live? Why not?”

Oregon Rural Action has hosted the same workshop in Malheur, Umatilla and Baker counties, and plans another presentation in John Day April 17.

People attending the Cove event said they learned some valuable lessons and came away refreshed.

“I feel like I’ve come home to a common good,” said Bill Whitaker of

La Grande. “I appreciate the energy and caring I’ve seen.”