If we asked eight people to define “regionalism,” chances are we’d get eight different answers. That’s what happened when we began this journey. Eight people were struggling to get a grasp on what this word meant. As we started meeting with local leaders, conducting research, and defining our objectives, we were still struggling to define regionalism and create a concrete idea for a program day. After much debate, we decided regionalism wasn’t something to be defined. It was something intangible. It is ignoring government lines and a sense of pride and love for one’s community/region.
Once we realized that, the wheels started turning—how can we create that pride? We relied heavily on the Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community study that identified the top three things that make a region “sticky” (or make people set down roots). They are openness, how accepting a community is to different people; aesthetics, a community’s physical attributes; and social offerings, ways for people to get involved and meet like-minded residents. We met with local leaders who helped us see that when one community thrives, those around it will as well and that we are a small enough community that even one person can jump in and create change. Groups and organizations showed us the ways they’re collaborating with different groups to create that stickiness a community needs, and they gave us some example of where work is still needed. These conversations drove us to our program objectives:
- Celebrate grassroots change in the region
- Demonstrate collaborative efforts enhancing regional culture
- Educate and empower regional ambassadors
Our goal was to meet all of our objectives through our keynote speaker, panel discussion, a quick dot activity, and scavenger hunt. Our keynote speaker was Pete Eschelman, Director of Roanoke Outside. He would highlight where our region was 10 years ago and the strides we’ve made to be where we are now. He would talk about leveraging our assets to create a regional identity, collaborative efforts they’ve made, and how we can get involved.
Our panel would comprise John Dooley, the CEO for the Virginia Tech Foundation, Inc; Erin Burcham, the Director of Talent Solutions at the Roanoke Regional Partnership; Ariel Lev, a local entrepreneur and influencer; and Julia Boas, the Event Manager for Roanoke Outside. The moderator would be Thomas Becher, Senior Vice President with ndp. They would be able to highlight the social offerings in our region, show us ways that people are working together to create a better life for those who live here, and ways we can get involved and help continue this forward momentum.
We would conduct an activity that would reinforce the Knight Soul study by having participants pick out what they value in a community. We would discuss the results at the end of the day in our wrap-up.
The scavenger hunt would require teams to find real-life examples of social offerings, aesthetics, and openness in our region and share them with the group.
Afterward, we would have a social offering speed dating session. Local groups would come and speak with our participants to educate them on what they do and how to get involved. We wanted to cover everything from art and music to the outdoors and exercise. This activity would educate and empower regional ambassadors as they would be aware of several different ways people can get involved or encourage them to start their own group if they recognize something is missing. We’d follow this up with a “happy hour” so people could talk with the different group leaders on a one-to-one basis. It would also encourage them to complete our three calls to action:
- Find your tribe to contribute personally to a strong regional culture
- Share social offerings you’re passionate about through social media
- Be a better regional ambassador by encouraging other to participate
Then, it snowed.
We lost two of our panel participants, Dr. Dooley and Julia Boas. Many of our social offering leaders had to cancel. In the name of safety, we operated on a two-hour delay, so we had to scrap the scavenger hunt all together. However, we felt that our program would suffer more if we had to cancel, so we decided to continue on.
And despite all of the challenges, we pulled through. We made adjustments on the fly and were able to put out a valuable program. Because of the delayed schedule, the day wasn’t as interactive as we had hoped (no scavenger hunt and not much of a discussion after the dot activity), and that was mentioned in the survey results. Some things may have felt a little rushed as a result as well. However, we still felt that our speakers were amazing. They were a wealth of valuable regional information and drove home our objectives. The highlight of the day was the social offerings piece. Participants mentioned they’d never heard of some of the organizations and were eager to learn more. Many people said they were hoping to get involved with some of these groups, and some participants mentioned other groups that weren’t present as ways for people to get involved and find their tribe.
Overall, we are proud of the final product. It wasn’t what we’d originally planned, but the adversity we encountered throughout the process, and especially on the day of, taught us a lot about ourselves and our leadership abilities. We were forced to flex those leadership muscles. It was an incredibly valuable experience for all of us, and we are happy overall with our program and what we brought to the LRV table.
- Andrew Chester
- Alicia Demartini
- Charles Denny
- Brian Hughes
- Leslie Huntress
- Stephanie Long
- Jeremy Waldoch
- Timothy Wesolek
- Jessica Webb
- Phillip Clements
- Michele Minter
- Tom Smigielski
A special thanks to our sponsors whose support made our program possible:
- Center in the Square
- The Spot on Kirk
- B2C Enterprises
- Salem Printing Company
- Martin’s Downtown
- LewisGale Regional Health System
- Starr Hill Brewery
- City of Roanoke
- Park Roanoke
- Fresh Baked
- Jersey Lily’s Roadhouse
- CDS Tractor Trailer Training
- Five Points Music Sanctuary
- Dunkin Donuts
- Homestead Creamery
- Mission BBQ
- MKB Realtors
- Virginia Lottery
- Jefferson Center
- Vistar Eye Center
- Myrias Group
- Freedom First