Foothills Forum: Helping uncover the stories we all need to hear

Original photo by Molly M. PetersonOriginal photo by Molly M. Peterson
Every voice at the table.

That’s the idea behind Foothills Forum.

For those of you who care as deeply about Rappahannock County as we do, the arrival of this independent, nonpartisan nonprofit is good news. When the Foothills Forum survey arrives in your mailbox later this year, you can cite and prioritize your top concerns, read about our collective issues in detail, then join civil discussions about what might be done about them.

Foothills Forum is a volunteer assemblage of your fellow citizens from Huntly to Slate Mills to Amissville. Together, we’re tackling the need for a deeper, more factual understanding of our common future here in “the jewel of Virginia.”

You already know most of our board members and advisors. We’re your neighbors. Refreshingly young and older ’n dirt, from-heres and come-heres, all stepping past our political beliefs, pledged to make a go of this.

We are working with the renowned Center for Survey Research at the University of Virginia as well as Rappahannock Media, owners of our county’s oldest news outlet, the weekly News. The News gamely chronicles your lives in a tough economy, publishing and posting weekly in an increasingly digital age. This new venture acknowledges the county’s advantages and disadvantages in geography and scale but seeks to improve newsgathering with community support.

For starters, the countywide Foothills Forum survey will provide the broadest baseline yet of what we care about.  

I’ll repeat: Nonpartisan. Inclusive. Focused on choices for our future. Your future.

We’re confronting the “If Only” complaints we’ve all heard (or made) at Quicke Mart and the Public House and after Sunday services. “If only we knew more about where we stand,” the cost and consequence of the options. If only we could see how other places approach the issues and succeed.

We’re taking the long view because the better informed we all are, the more engaged in civil considerations of choices and tradeoffs, the better the chances you’ll discover doable solutions.

Your concern might be education of our youngest, services for our oldest, conservation of our prized terrain, opportunity for our workforce or just keeping things the way they are. Let’s see where those concerns rank, and what rises to the top.

This start-up effort belongs to all of us – you’re most welcome to join Foothills Forum, contribute at foothills-forum.org and like us on Facebook.

Foothills Forum began by recognizing just how distinctive Rappahannock is. We’re loyal Virginians and proud Americans from elsewhere. Folksy and faithful. Earthy and artsy. Learned and learning the ropes. Experienced and entrepreneurial.

We are older statistically than nearby counties. We are challenged (iffy cell coverage and Internet) and blessed (night skies and hard-working people). We have pockets of wealth, side-by-side with poverty. Sure, we have services, but there might be gaps or duplication. The unknowns are as troublesome as the spring tick season around the corner.

Aware of seismic shifts hitting mainstream media and the rise of nonprofit news efforts across the nation, we studied the best of them over several months. Many, as near as Charlottesville, are funded by citizens like you.

Then we went out to talk to scores of you, soliciting advice, hearing cautions and, encouragingly, drawing support and start-up funding to get going. We’ve crafted an approach for this foothills place we call home.

We’re set to launch listening sessions where many more of you will describe the key concerns driving your lives. Those talks will help the U.Va. pros and our volunteers write a mail-out survey going to the 3,000-plus households in Rappahannock later this year.

You’ll see the findings and read about the results via enhanced coverage in this newspaper, online and at our website. Next, you’ll be invited to public forums to consider what’s next.

It seems to me that what you say, how it’s all presented and discussed, offers value for many in government and business and services and the arts because of its sole focus – Rappahannock County.

If you’ve longed for a chance to learn, be heard respectfully and do something in the open with your fellow citizens, welcome to the Foothills Forum table.

Larry “Bud” Meyer, former newspaper editor, foundation executive and novelist, lives on Long Mountain Road. He chairs the nonprofit Foothills Forum board. For more about Foothills’ agreement with Rappahannock media, see the story on A1.