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Tossing aside preconceived notions for sake of progress

Culturally informed service was the focus of great discussions this week within the boundaries of Marietta.

“We want you to pause that instinct to rush to plan a project and think about what is the issue you’re trying to address first,” said Maribeth Saleem-Tanner, to her students in four separate practicums on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Tanner instead invited panelists from The Marietta Times, Washington County Behavioral Health Board, Habitat for Humanity, Fort Frye Local Schools, the American Civil Liberties Union and Circles MOV to join her classes.

We spoke with approximately 50 Marietta College upperclassmen as they began to plan their service projects for this fall semester.

She stopped the predetermination instinct to hold yet another 5k, canned food drive, or holiday toy drive.

Those could be well-meaning, but would at most land superficially like a Band-Aid over more significant Mid-Ohio Valley needs.

She asked those students to step away from the inclination to act as another Santa Claus, granting “gifts” from on-high.

Tanner challenged them instead to share what broader topics have tugged at their heartstrings and utilize the collective knowledge gathered before them to dive deeper.

Six natives of the Valley in one class pointed to food insecurity, poverty and addiction in their hometowns of Marietta, Parkersburg, Little Hocking, Vincent and Woodsfield.

Another two, from Waterford and Newport, reported to their class the concern of opioid addiction affecting children’s personal and educational development in our area.

Other students, while not native to the Valley, also have that desire to make a difference while present in our community.

They asked for guidance and direction to nonprofits and organizations which benefit veterans, downtown economic planning and art therapy.

I told the young man who brought up the veteran community to first make his way to one of the legion halls and have a meal with the battle-worn there.

Soak in the war stories, ask about their lives since returning–but most importantly: go humbly, ready to learn and break bread– prepared to listen.

With the panelists in the room, powerful experience over three generations of professionals became the greatest gift to Generation Z.

“It is imperative to understand that people are their own best advocates, that if you can empower them to speak to their truths, in their voice, you can introduce lasting change,” counseled Doug Evans, who serves on the National Advisory Council of the ACLU and is a resident of Parkersburg.

But that guidance is not only being put to the test in the realms of academia.

Compromise, discourse and a departure–if but for a night–from the party-line politics in Marietta City Council, allowed for a new path to be sketched on the everpresent topic of blight and decay.

During the final budget review of a federal grant application last week, council members sat forward in their chairs, offered the reasons behind their support for changes, the motivations behind their hesitation for others.

They thought creatively, they expanded their minds to what else could be possible–they went from spectators of the game to running a more refined play.

And we have now begun to see the next transformation of leadership in this great city of Pioneers because of that courage to participate, to run with patience the race that is set before us.

Janelle Patterson can be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

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