The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

David Knepper

August 1, 2010

Hills, valleys alive with the ‘sound of conversation’

— “They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”

– Andy Warhol, Pittsburgh native, artist, 1923-1987

A new “score” is being sung throughout the Allegheny Region, particularly in the Johnstown area, by a chorus of new- generation “movers and shakers.” 

The sound of their conversations is distinctively different than any of us have heard before.

The tempo is upbeat and fast-paced, with a flair that is stylishly imaginative and creative.

It is a music that can lift up our spirits. It is a sound that is sure to reverberate throughout our hills and valleys, that is sure to strengthen and reinforce the message that our region is alert, alive, awakened and enthusiastic about its future.

Take a bow, those of you who are now getting engaged in this “new sound.”  

There is a sense of urgency and determination on the part of these new community leaders to reach out to those who are seriously concerned and ready to be engaged in the future of this region, especially in laying the cornerstones for the next generation.

No doubt they have not forgotten those stirring words of President Kennedy in his 1961 inaugural speech: “Let the word go forth … that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.” 

We do see evidence that the work has already begun, but there is much more to do when all resolve to place community first and not to perpetuate their own self-perceptions or self-interests.

And, yes, those who volunteer their talents and time, be prepared for criticism and failure and little praise. If you are looking for credit or recognition, you probably need not apply.     

It is a marvelous symphony led by stakeholders who are, at this moment, conducting  provocative, stimulating conversations throughout our region on new strategies to improve our standing on the “charts” as an outstanding destination to live, to work and to visit.

Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

One regional initiative – which may seem overly ambitious at first glance, but has tremendous potential – is Power of 32. It has as its overarching goal to harness the power of 32 counties and four states that comprise 4.2 million people into a partnership to take a new approach toward the future.

Included on the eastern border of the targeted area are the counties of Blair, Bedford, Cambria and Somerset.

The steering committee is searching for ideas from the public and private sectors on everything from business, education and transportation to tourism and quality-of-life issues through community conversation workshops.

According to Allen Kukovich, a former state senator and now executive director of Power of 32, “More than 75 community conversations will take place across the 32-county region this summer.

“Each event will create a forum where residents gather around tables to review information about the region and brainstorm on the assets, challenges and opportunities that they think are most important for our future.” 

This past Wednesday morning in Johnstown, I attended the first in a series of public workshops to be held in Cambria County. Those in attendance were engaged in conversations that focused on the region’s challenges and strengths, possibilities to be pursued to ensure the region thrives, and what makes us most proud of our region.

I can’t wait for the next meeting, which will be held soon in northern Cambria County. Come join us.

For more information about  Power of 32, go online to www.powerof32.org.

Adia Dobbins, a volunteer facilitator for Power of 32, believes that “now is the time; the circumstances are ripe for a change, and the people are ready to take action.”

She is just one of the many new “stars” I have met who are truly making a difference in reshaping this region’s future.

When we look around the room at who is there, remember who is not,  and ask yourself: Why not?

Perhaps, it’s time for all of us to experience that stimulating sound of conversation that is now being generated throughout our region.

If you haven’t tuned in to its power – you need to.   

David A. Knepper is president of Allegheny Development Group LLC and is currently the executive director of the Forest Hills Regional Alliance. He holds a doctorate in educational administration from Penn State. His column appears the first Sunday of each month.

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