Tackling Grand Challenges: Building Connections through A (Virtual) Community Table

By: Katie Kleinhesselink, DU Grand Challenges Program Manager, CCESL

If you read our last newsletter, you know that it was dedicated to A Community Table, the University’s DU Grand Challenges’ annual community-building event that promotes solution-oriented conversations on the issues that matter most to us and our communities. We were excited. We imagined thousands of people gathered in cafes, classrooms, and dining rooms across the country, engaged in transformative dialogue and problem-solving. One week, 500 conversations. That was our goal.

Within days of the newsletter’s publication, we found ourselves in a very different reality. As the coronavirus swept the nation, it was clear that A Community Table would not move forward as we’d hoped, and, for a moment, we considered cancelling it. But then it dawned on us. This is the time when we—all of us—need community and connection more than ever. Humans are social creatures, and sustained isolation can be devastating. Cancelling wasn’t an option. Neither was waiting until April 20th. We pivoted quickly to a virtual model and launched the program on March 30th, the first day of Spring quarter.

Will A (Virtual) Community Table do the things we want it to? Will it foster the same sense of connectedness and kinship we’ve seen in its past in-person iterations? Yes, I believe it will. Here’s why. In the two weeks it took us to adapt the materials, create facilitator trainings, and develop resources, I spent hours in Zoom meetings with colleagues from CCESL and DU DialogUes. Even as we worked diligently on the program itself, we processed our shared (and our unique) experiences of adapting to our increasing physical isolation. We offered one another support. We told jokes. We reflected critically, and we held one another accountable. And here’s the thing—I feel closer to these wonderful folks than ever. I don’t just know them better, I am invested in their well-being in a way that I wasn’t before. I am connected.

I’ll be hosting several conversations over these next couple of months, and I can’t wait. I hope each of you will sign up to host too. We need positive, forward-thinking conversation. We need community. Come build it with us!

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