Assessing the community’s health
La Plata County Community Summit convenes this Friday

Sidebar: A look at the Summit issues

Operation Healthy Communities La Plata County Community Summit, to be held this Friday at Fort Lewis College, will once again take a look at the overall health of the community and examine the biggest issues facing the area and how to find cooperative, viable solutions to them./Photo by Julie Bliss.

Hundreds of people move to La Plata County each year for quality of life. But, the area is not without its growing pains and problems. However, local residents will get a chance to assess some of the more pressing topics facing the area as Operation Healthy Communities convenes its bi-annual La Plata County Community Summit, held Friday, May 14, at Fort Lewis College.

The summit will be the third such gathering since the local nonprofit organization held the first community forum in 2001. Operation Healthy Communities director Laura Lewis said that after the 2002 summit, it was decided to hold the summits every other year to allow enough time to put into action the plans formulated.

“We decided to do it every other year so we could implement ideas,” she said.

Lewis said the topics for the summit were chosen over five months based on feedback received from the Operation Healthy Communities Web site, newspaper ads and presentations to civic groups. She also said the group conducted meetings with about 100 key community stakeholders representing a wide array of community members.

“We tried to get a good cross section of the community,” she said.

Once all the results were in, Lewis said they were narrowed down based on a certain set of criteria. The main criteria was that the topic be something that can be worked on at a local level.

“In choosing topics we had to ask ourselves, ‘Is it actionable locally?’” she said.

For example, Lewis said although something like the Animas-La Plata project is important to local residents, there is not much that can be done about it at a local level since it is overseen by federal agencies.

“We really have no control over something like that,” she said.

Along that vein, topics were also chosen if a local entity exists to work on implementing any plans for action that come out of the summit.

And thirdly, Lewis said the selection committee looked at topics that needed to be “jumpstarted” – i.e. those that have been recognized as problems but have not yet been addressed.

“We looked at whether there was anything that we know is an issue, but nobody knows where to start,” she said.

The topics for this year’s summit include crystal methamphetamine, child care, water, school safety, health care and community planning. The daylong event will kick off with a briefing on what has happened since the last summit as well as a community video presentation. After that, participants will break into small groups to discuss one of the six aforementioned topics. As in years past, Lewis said she expects the summit to meet its 300-person capacity and then some.

“We’ve been getting about 300 every summit, and even more show up the day of,” she said.

Due to facility limitations, the 4 summit is not be able to accommodate all willing participants, but Lewis said nearly all residents will feel the long-term impacts of the event. Several organizations are outgrowths of summits past, including the Regional Housing Authority; the Mental Health Summit Partnership, which trains law enforcement in handling crisis calls; and the Affordable Housing Task Force.

“All this stuff comes out of the summit and makes it all worth it,” she said.

However, she did note that ironically, the ultimate goal is to someday not need such a summit, or an organization such as Operation Healthy Communities.

“It’s kind of like a soup kitchen,” she said. “The goal is that you won’t need it some day.”

But until that day, Lewis said it will be the summit’s job to help the community recognize the areas it needs to improve upon and harness that momentum.

“Not only do you have to know what your issues are, but you need to know how to get people to mobilize,” she said. “It’s all about facilitating the flow of communication.”






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