by Minor Lile, reporter-at-large
From July 1 to July 10, a series of community meetings are being organized as the community involvement phase of the Orcas Economic Recovery and Resiliency Project gets underway. The aim of the project is to develop an action plan for economic recovery and community resilience that is both attainable and rooted in a shared vision of the island’s future.
These gatherings of up to 20 participants will bring people together for the opportunity to share ideas and consider possibilities around the question of what a preferred future for Orcas Island might be. Each meeting will be up to two hours in length.
Once these initial meetings are completed, the best ideas, as determined by community input, will be assembled and another series of community meetings will be held to develop workable action plans towards implementation. The goal is to present a set of workable priorities and projects to the Orcas Island community on July 30.
The month-long process has been designed with the intention of bringing a diverse range of ideas and voices into the conversation. A basic premise of the project is that the best and most workable ideas for the future will arise out of a shared community process in which a wide range of perspectives is represented.
Approximately 65 islanders have been recruited to serve as facilitators and provide support for the community meetings. These 65 people comprise a wide and diverse array of the island community: essential workers, retirees, people of color, the Lummi nation, elected officials, recent high school graduates, full and part-time residents, business owners, and others. A strong emphasis is being placed on economic, social, ethnic, age and gender diversity.
Due to the current constraints around meeting in person, the process will be largely ZOOM-based. ZOOM is a popular video-conferencing platform that is known for its ease of use. Accommodation is also being made for those who have limited access to a computer or smartphone. Everyone who feels a connection to Orcas Island and has an interest in its future well-being is invited to participate.
The project is being directed under the auspices of the Orcas Island Community Emergency Response Fund. CERF was formed in the early days of the emergence of the Coronavirus pandemic to coordinate the efforts of local social service organizations. Since March, CERF has provided over $600,000 in support to local organizations and individuals.
According to Hilary Canty, Executive Director of the Orcas Island Community
Foundation and CERF advisory group member, several considerations have gone into the decision to embark on this community process.
A key factor is that over the last four months economic activity in the county has declined significantly. The current unemployment rate is approximately 38 percent, which is more than double the statewide average. As the crisis has continued, it has become evident that the impact on the island economy is likely to remain for some time to come.
Canty added that the killing of George Floyd and the outpouring of response to that event awakened the realization that a response to social inequities on Orcas Island also needs to be a central part of the conversation.
Because this is a fast-moving process, the exact timing of the many meetings that will be taking place between July 1 and July 10 is still being worked out. Those interested in participating can contact Megan Neal (email@example.com, 360-376-6423) for more information. Additional information will soon be available on the project website, which is currently in development.