Community Dialogue in the County of Paintearth

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On Thursday, April 14th, the Paintearth Community Adult Learning Council (PCALC) brought together key representatives from all sectors of our region for an evening dedicated to enjoying good food, sharing information and building connections. We called the event our Community Engagement Dialogue.

We invited learners, tutors, teachers, preachers, business owners, volunteers, community service providers, those knowledgeable in areas of adult and family learning, and those who know very little. This project was put together with the huge help and support of the Campus Alberta Connections of Alberta Advanced Education and Technology and the Community Learning Network. We were thrilled to have 93 key community members accept our invitation. We managed to hold our event in the midst of one of the biggest snowstorms of 2011, but were pleasantly surprised when most of these 93 guests managed to make their way through the snow to attend.

We asked attendees to share their personal experiences, observations or opinions regarding the value and availability of adult education and literacy, academic upgrading, employment readiness and general interest programs in our community. We felt this was a good place to start the conversation as everyone has a story about their experience with learning, whether good or bad. We then asked them to think about how they would prioritize future directions and key activities to meet our identified needs, and to identify ways for our community to work together to meet these needs.

The results of this exercise were amazing!

  • We collected excellent information from the activities of the evening, and from the feedback we received we have been able to establish short-term and long-term action plans.
  • We were able to put a face to those government people who are wholly responsible for keeping our programming alive. Our community guests were able to meet and talk with real people, and ask real-time questions of funders.
  • We got to share information about PCALC and all that we bring to our region. Too many of our guests told us they had no idea how extensive our work was.
  • We had such great representation from a wide range of community groups. We got valuable feedback from all sectors.
  • We have begun a groundswell of momentum around adult and family learning in the community, and can build on that to grow awareness and community connections.

We began this exercise with some key objectives in mind. We wanted to be sure we had representation from all sectors of our community. We also wanted to get good participation, with as many attendees as we could manage. These objectives were met, largely through personal conversations with invitees, and lots of follow-up and reminders. Throughout the whole process, we kept asking ‘who is not at the table?’ It is so important to be looking at the needs of all community members, especially those who are facing the very barriers we are trying to work beyond.

We plan to repeat the Community Engagement Dialogue in 2013. We have 2 years to meet our short-term and long-term objectives, to work to engage those who indicated they were interested in partnering with us, and to build on the momentum that we have begun. This has been a wonderful experience, and we are excited about going forward.

(Paintearth Community Adult Learning Council has offices in both Castor and Coronation, Alberta. We serve the County of Paintearth, which is east of Stettler along Highway 12.)

Many thanks to Pat King and Carmen Felzein at Paintearth Community Adult Learning Council for sharing this wonderful story with all of us. Community Learning Network is always looking for Success Stories from Community Adult Learning Councils.