Four representatives from Wayne Tomorrow! recently presented at the NEPA Learning Conference, a venue for those involved in the nonprofit section to gather, learn, network and grow together.
The Scranton Area Community Foundation planned and hosted the third annual event, designed to offer non-profit professionals, volunteers and board members an opportunity to learn from local and national experts in a variety of fields and to network and connect with peers.
The Wayne Tomorrow! team of Ryanne Jennings of the Wayne County Community Foundation, Mary Beth Wood of the Wayne Economic Development Corporation, Commissioner Jocelyn Cramer and Community Network Specialist Kim Rickard presented during a Friday Breakout Session called “Building an Ecosystem Based on Collaboration.”
Wood started things off with a discussion about how Wayne Tomorrow! formed in response to the challenges illustrated in Wayne County’s 2010 Comprehensive Plan and how a widely diverse group of community minded individuals learned they have one important thing in common – they all want to see a better, stronger and more prosperous Wayne County.
She talked about the importance of strategically creating a structure and culture in which these far-ranging efforts can be successful. Following a period of self-study, the group formed a set of guiding principles and a strategic plan that focused on what would become the pillars of an ecosystem designed to support public and private endeavors to grow the local economy and build a resilient community.
Wood emphasized the value of commitment, which has been bringing 35 to 45 individuals together every month for the last nine years. This Action Committee works as the integrator, a point of contact for aligned projects and programs. “This is where we ask, ‘How can we help?’” she said.
Cramer talked about her experience on the Action Committee, which prompted her candidacy in the 2019 election. She said the many relationships established through those years equipped Wayne County to nimbly respond to the pandemic. “When we realized we needed to quickly offer food assistance, we knew who we needed at the table to make it happen,” Cramer explained.
Through these partnerships and collaborations, organizations learn what each brings to the table. When an opportunity presents itself that might stretch the resources of one group, they now seek out trusted partners to enhance their capacity and the impact of programs.
Rickard discussed the importance of staff support for such a broad-based volunteer effort. The County Commissioners created Rickard’s post as the first full-time, dedicated staff position when Wayne Tomorrow! shifted into the action phase.
With launching five task forces made up entirely of volunteers as her first major task, Rickard noted her job is not to lead but rather to convene and connect. She serves as the contact person, administrative support and all around coordinator for this diffuse network of collaborators.
Rickard talked about the many challenges she faces including keeping busy volunteers engaged in the task forces and engaging new collaborators in the ecosystem. Promoting Wayne Tomorrow! successes among the broader community and creating citizen buy-in also need constant attention.
Jennings spoke about the growing role of the Wayne County Community Foundation in supporting Wayne Tomorrow! by providing a 501(c)3 vehicle for project fundraising, creating a micro-lending program for local entrepreneurs, and connecting local and regional philanthropic efforts to Wayne Tomorrow! aligned projects and programs.
She said the most important transformation in Wayne Tomorrow has been the shift in focus from “me” to “we.” Instead of organizations competing for funding opportunities, many are now collaborating to produce stronger applications or to seek complimentary funding for a project.
Increasingly, Wayne Tomorrow! partners participate in regional and national training programs as a cohort, in which several cooperating agencies apply together to take advantage of these opportunities.
Wayne Tomorrow! shows that communities that are willing to make a serious commitment to work together for common goals, create a strategic structure for doing so and put community first can seize their own destiny and cultivate a vibrant future for everyone.