BY EILEEN PERSIKE
What do you love about Rhinelander? If there was one thing you could do to move Rhinelander forward, what would it be? Those two questions were posed to shoppers at the Hodag Farmers’ Market July 30. Participants in the Forward Rhinelander advocacy group are reaching out to the community in effort to add new voices to their discussions.
Forward Rhinelander has been working quietly for a couple of years, facilitating positive conversations about the direction of Rhinelander and has “engaged concerned and interested citizens, business leaders, and government agents in discussion and action,” according to group member David Heck.
The group has relied upon research, demographic information and community feedback to open discussions about community development in housing, economy, the workforce and transportation to name a few.
“It was pretty apparent early on to a lot of people that we were reaching just a small number of voices,” said Forward Rhinelander participant Melinda Childs. “This is a grass roots community effort, so we had to find ways to include more voices; facilitate conversations in different ways.”
It was decided that going out to where people congregate, like the Farmers’ Market, for example, was a better idea than asking people to come to them.
Childs said being there gave her the opportunity to explain that Forward Rhinelander is not affiliated with the Chamber or the city, but is “just a bunch of community members facilitating positive conversations” about the city.
“Our hope is that it stays positive,” Childs said. “We worked to create questions and discussion that would lead us in a positive direction. We all know the challenges; let’s think about ideas and solutions.”
The outreach was well received, according to Childs. It’s an encouraging sign for the volunteers, who are just beginning to market the positives of Rhinelander.
“Our community has many more attributes than other towns including businesses, transportation, tourism, medical and retirement facilities,” said Heck. “When combined in with small-town values, nice and hard-working people, year-round outside resources to lakes, rivers, and parks – it all provides Rhinelander a differentiation which can help our community.”
Volunteers will be taking the show on the road to the Oneida County Fair, the YMCA, the Senior Center and other locations in the coming months. Heck said they will continue monthly discussions open to anyone engaged. They welcome feedback and “encourage cooperation across the community” to gain forward momentum. For more information, visit the Forward Rhinelander website, ForwardRhinelander.org.