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FutureWalk covets your thoughts

Trained listeners are inviting New Richmond area residents to walk together into the community’s future.

The FutureWalk program, which has been in the planning stages for more than a year, is kicking off in New Richmond and the surrounding area.

According to Bill Buell, one of the FutureWalk boosters, the goal is to talk with at least 1,500 local residents to gather their stories and impressions about what makes this community special.

“We get four or five people around a table, along with a table leader who has been trained in hosting,” Buell explained. “Then we get people to answer questions in a deeper way.”

The stories are recorded and will eventually be compiled into a report. Then the information will be used to help chart a course for New Richmond’s future.

“We want to develop a shared vision of New Richmond in the year 2033,” he explained. “We can all help to shape our future. We will figure out how to do it together.”

To prepare for the extensive project, FutureWalk volunteers have researched seven communities across the nation that have successfully implemented similar community planning efforts.

Buell said the group found that the key to success for community visioning efforts is listening to what citizens have to say. He noted that it will be important to gather comments and stories from all age groups, people from all socio-economic levels, and people of all ethnicities.

To prepare for the story gathering process, Buell said nine people have been trained to lead the small groups. Additional people are being trained as well.

Several listening sessions have already been conducted, with many more planned in the near future.

“The experience we’ve had so far has been unbelievable,” Buell said.

Carol Jones, one of the trained listeners, said she’s been blown away by the response from those participating in the project to date.

“It’s really been fun to hear people,” she said. “There are a lot of common themes, but every story is different.”

Jones said the FutureWalk questions are simple and no one is put on the spot during the listening sessions. But typically participants open up nicely once they get started, she said.

“It helps me see New Richmond in a different light,” she said. “Sometimes we take for granted the things we have going on in the community.”

By asking questions and then listening, Jones said the facilitators gather valuable information about people’s personal stories and hopes for the future.

“This helps us to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, not so much just basing it on perceptions,” she said.

Another trained listener, Michele Hermansen, said the strength of the FutureWalk project lies in the fact that it’s a grassroots effort.

“It’s not a government effort,” she said. “It’s of the people, by the people, for the people.”

She said many people assume they don’t have anything to contribute to the project, but once the listening sessions start it becomes clear each person has a part to play.

“Everybody has hopes and dreams to share,” Hermansen said. “We don’t want to just hear from people who are recognized as leaders in the community. And we’re not focusing on people from a particular demographic.”

Hermansen said she encourages everyone to commit to attending one listening session in the coming months so that all opinions are heard.

“It’s an opportunity to participate in creating our future,” she said. “This is not just another meeting.”

Hermansen said she and her family have been part of the New Richmond community for decades, and she decided to be part of the FutureWalk project because she cares about the area’s future.

“My experience in New Richmond has been so positive that I want the best experience possible for other people to live and grow here,” she explained.

Upcoming listening sessions that are open to the general public will be held at The New Richmond Area Centre. Dates and times include: Tuesday, July 16, from 7:45-8:45 p.m.; Thursday, July 25, from 10-11:30 a.m.; Tuesday, July 30, from 7:45-8:45 p.m.; and Thursday, Aug. 8, from 10-11:30 a.m. Check in at the front desk and you will be given directions on where the meeting is being held.

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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