Sebastopol (USA) - Promoting civil dialogue


Earlier in the month, 26 community leaders from a wide range of Sebastopol organizations met at O'Reilly Media for an evening workshop designed to help public figures manage difficult conversations. Sponsored byCittaslow Sebastopol, the workshop addressed leadership skills for gracefully handling sensitive dynamics that commonly occur in public settings.

"Our group of volunteers is very committed to listening to the concerns of the community," notes Cittaslow Sebastopol Co-Chair, Tasha Beauchamp. "As we were preparing for our Eco-Tourism Open House on the 29th, we realized we needed training to be the best listeners we can be. We discovered that many community leaders had a similar interest in being effective listeners, so we decided to open up the inservice to others. The response was incredible. We had to set up a waiting list."

Cittaslow Sebastopol is a 100% volunteer, ad-hoc committee of the City tasked with identifying gaps and opportunities for strengthening Sebastopol's stature as a "Slow City." In 2010, Sebastopol joined an international network of "Slow Cities," each committed to promoting locally made products, celebrating local culture, and strengthening community bonds. The movement started in Italy, thus the name "Cittaslow" ("Citta" means "City" in Italian.)

Randy Coffman, manager of Creative Property Services, member of the Sebastopol Downtown Association and president of Sustainable Sebastopol said, "I loved the workshop. My hat's off to Cittaslow Sebastopol for the diversity of the organizations that attended. I thought the presenters were fantastic. And the skills they gave us were right on target for handling very real situations. Plus I got to work with people I would not ordinarily cross paths with."

"Developing community infrastructure is a big part of our mission," said Cittaslow Sebastopol Co-Chair, Clare Najarian. "Bringing different organizations together and cultivating positive leadership and communication skills only makes our town stronger. We got a chance to interact with each other as people, sharing and learning together. It was very powerful."

"Keeping the Conversation Constructive" was presented by Beth Meredith and Eric Storm, advanced practitioners of a set of facilitation skills known as "Participatory Leadership." They own a strategic planning and organizational development company in Petaluma and have been active in the Cittaslow movement on both the national and local level.

Beauchamp relates, "At the end of the workshop, we asked people to say one word that described their feeling. Mind you this was after 3 hours of meeting on a Thursday night after work. They said things like 'Empowered' 'Networked' 'Enlightened' 'Energized.' With that kind of response, and with the evaluations we received, we definitely plan to do more of these."

For more information about Cittaslow Sebastopol, go towww.cittaslowsebastopol.org, or email info@cittaslowsebastopol.org.