What’s Next, Wood County, one of many What’s Next, West Virginia community events, will be occurring on Tuesday, June 2nd, from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. at the WVU Parkersburg Culinary Academy (707 Market Street) in downtown Parkersburg. This event is the culmination of community involvement workshops that have been occurring all over Wood County since the beginning of the year. This is your chance to add your voice to the conversation about the direction of Wood County, and explore solutions to shared concerns. What’s Next, Wood County, will begin by exploring the themes that have emerged from the previous conversations. Excitement has been brewing over the collective solutions that have emerged in these previous meetings, and now we, as residents of Wood County, and the Mid-Ohio Valley, have an opportunity to work together to create real change.

Volunteer organizers Jean Ambrose and Kathleen Roedersheimer have been working tirelessly on this project for the past year, in conjunction with the West Virginia Center for Civic Life. Through hard work and dedication a steering team of members of the community have come together to aid their efforts and establish the building blocks of the initial conversations. Initial test meetings were held at WVU Parkersburg in November of 2014. These meetings were well attended by students, staff and local residents. One of the big themes to emerge from these meetings was the need to utilize the new WPKM college radio station, tuned to 96.3, as a platform for local journalism and broadcast. The support was ecstatic, the objectives were achievable, the outcomes have been immense, but the work continues.

After some additional refinement, the What’s Next show hit the road! Community meetings have taken place throughout Wood County, and the support has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Groups in Deerwalk, Lubeck, Vienna, Parkersburg, Williamstown and Mineral Wells have met and discussed a wide range of issues. Everything is on the table when it comes to a What’s Next meeting. Health outcomes for residents, check. Environmental concerns regarding new economic development, check. Youth engagement, check. Small business support, check. Finding something fun to do on a Friday night, check. The coolest part of this conversation has been the honesty, not only in the content of the conversation, but in the interaction between participants.

Now to go a little wonky, a conversation such as What’s Next, Wood County, isn’t exactly a new concept, and the outcomes are universally recognized as being positive for everyone involved, and the broader community. Academics have been talking about communication as a method for education and interaction, for a long time. Shoot, all we know of Socrates is from his conversations with Plato. The current philosopher du jour of conversation as a means of action is without a doubt, Jürgen Habermas. Many have made a career in trying to out-do his theories of communicative action, the idea that people can meet up, talk to one other, and then produce some agreed upon outcome. Habermas has this idea, that our society encourages people to get together in social spaces, think The Coffee Bar, Marietta Brewing Company, the NET, even a park, and talk about issues that are important to our individual selves. After we talk, we do something, anything, related to achieving some outcome based on that conversation. This is the essence of What’s Next, Wood County.

The event will be occurring in the renovated WVU Parkersburg Culinary Arts Center, at 707 Market Street. Light hors d’oeuvres will be served with additional soft refreshments, prior to the actual meeting. The space will be laid out to encourage you to relax and talk to other participants. We want you to enjoy this event, to make new friends, and to think of new things to do in the community. When the night is over, we want you to go out and in the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Get action. Do things; be sane, don’t fritter away your time; create, act, take a place wherever you are and be somebody; get action.” This meeting is an opportunity to discuss concerns and become engaged in organic solution-based organizations.

After June 2nd What’s Next, Wood County doesn’t end, this is when the effort really begins. Groups formed at the event may not have all the answers to create their desired outcomes immediately, but with the assistance of non-profit, and business supporters who will be in attendance, a strong base will enable action going forward. While the conversation will be of a more Wild and Wonderful perspective, everyone in the Mid-Ohio Valley is encouraged to attend. The Ohio River may form a political boundary, but there are no walls around Wood County. So please, stop by the WVU Parkersburg Culinary Arts Center on June 2nd at 6 p.m. for a night of positive ideas and community based action.