Community Meeting Sets Goals

Walla Walla residents prioritize education

Elizabeth Friedman, News Reporter

The Walla Walla Community Council and the non-profit Commitment to Community hosted a meeting and dinner on Monday night at the Walla Walla fairgrounds. This is the fourth event in a string of monthly meetings organized for local community members to gather and discuss the issues facing the region.

Commitment to Community and the Walla Walla Community Council both gather local residents to discuss issues of community importance. According to their website, Commitment to Community’s mission is to “Build a Strong Community through Building Strong Neighborhoods.” They emphasize wanting to build community through individual connections and trust.

The Walla Walla Community Council’s goal is to unite citizens to create community change to help local communities better prepare for future growth and challenges. In the past, the two organizations have worked on projects like enhancing recreation opportunities and increasing food security.

The idea for these meetings began in Milton Freewater, where residents gathered to voice concerns and within months began to see progress on their community relations and the issues they raised as a collective. From there a few people decided to lead a similar workshop at the Walla Walla prison. Finally, the idea reached the Walla Walla residential community.

The purpose of Monday’s meeting was to narrow down a list of 13 possible projects to 5 projects. As the group sat down to begin the meeting, the project goal for the evening was announced: identify community treasures, develop regional priorities, and initiate activities that support the vision.

Once seated, audience members were asked to write down their top priority projects on note cards which were later tallied. The top priorities were, in order from most important to least, access to education, strong and diverse economy, health, safety, and care for nature/commitment to diversity tied for last.

After the tally, attendees were invited to gather into smaller groups based on the issue they were most interested in discussing. An organizer led the conversation in each of these groups and residents came to conclusions about what the source of the issue was and where to go from there.  

According to Community Council President Roger Esparza, “we’re prioritizing our goals” by gathering monthly to discuss issues facing Walla Walla and work to move forward.

Kyle Mcfarley, a community member at the event, said that while the meetings sometimes feel like a meet and greet for “business people,” he’s excited if any of the ideas discussed in the meetings come to fruition. He’s been coming to the meetings for the past couple of months and said “the proofs in the pudding” when asked if he thought the meetings would make a productive difference to life in Walla Walla.

Mcfarley was excited about the “recreation implementation plan” which will help clean local habitats, a goal that would have taken years to accomplish without the help of the community meetings. Even if the town isn’t awarded a federal grant for the project, Mcfarley is appreciative for the meeting’s ability to bring like-minded people together. He noted that the meetings are good for reaching out to other community members and discussing change.

“It’s all about getting people’s input into what the Walla Walla community will look like in 10 years,” said Andrew Rodriguez, director of Commitment to Community.