Everyone who lives in Davie County knows what a special place it is. Soon other communities around the country will know it as well. Last month, the National Civic League selected Davie County as a finalist for this year’s All-America City Award. We will now compete against 19 other communities in Denver, Colorado, June 9-11, 2023.
This year’s theme is “Creating Thriving Communities through Youth Engagement.” The 2023 award seeks to identify communities that are breaking down barriers to meaningful youth participation and enacting programs that will improve the quality of life for youth and, by extension, all members of the community. Davie County’s application focuses on youth programs that build the civic capacity of young people, increase job readiness and employment opportunities and provide leadership opportunities.
This is the second in a series of articles that will be published each Tuesday, sharing a different section of Davie County’s All-America City Award application. While the application was compiled by a team of county and municipal representatives and community leaders, the story is about all of us. As you read, you will revel in Davie County’s accomplishments and learn more about innovative programs in your own backyard. Take a bow Davie County; you have much to be proud of.
Strong civic capital creates the capacity for inclusive, collaborative decision-making and problem-solving. Communities with this capacity have authentic civic engagement in which there is a reciprocal relationship among local institutions and residents for identifying and solving problems together. The National Civic League views engagement as more than presenting information or having people respond to questionnaires (though both are important); instead, we promote efforts that seek to listen to and learn from residents in ongoing conversations and leverage those insights to shape the way programs are administered, designed and executed.
Civic capital is composed of: shared vision and values, a culture of engagement, engaged residents, inclusive community leadership, embracing diversity and equity, authentic communication, and collaborative institutions. Communities that exhibit these qualities have the ability to maintain a good and equitable quality of life and to tackle difficult challenges like achieving good outcomes for all.
Davie County’s application shared how we, as a community, exhibit each of those qualities.
Davie County and its municipalities have a successful history of community engagement and healthy strategic/comprehensive planning processes. The 2018 Davie County Strategic Plan (DCSP) – Moving With Purpose resulted in a shared vision of “Davie County is a vibrant, prosperous, and dynamic county committed to building a sustainable future for generations to come while celebrating its rural heritage and enhancing its quality of life.” In order to facilitate this vision, the 2018 DCSP also established the Davie County government’s organizational mission to “…provide superior public service offering all citizens the opportunity to improve their quality of life while enjoying the benefits of a safe, healthy, and vibrant county.” The plan lays out specific objectives and action items that are in line with the 2023 All-America theme, including “Deliver quality classroom and vocational experiences which open various avenues for individual success from cradle to career.” and “Grow the talent pipeline by increasing career pathways from middle school to post-secondary education.” This plan is augmented and supported by other organizational and municipal plans, including the 2017 Bermuda Run Comprehensive Plan, 2019 Mocksville Comprehensive Plan, 2022 Mocksville Strategic Plan, 2022 Davie County Schools Strategic Plan, and 2021 Davidson-Davie Community College Strategic Plan.
The 2018 DCSP included robust and diverse community engagement with public meetings held from April – September 2018 in different locations throughout Davie County and at different times so residents would have multiple opportunities to provide input. The 2018 DCSP is complimented by the 2019 Davie County Comprehensive Plan – A Development Guide to 2040 (DCCP). This planning process also included a diverse group of Davie County residents with a steering committee and open house meetings across the county. Under Economic Development, the 2019 DCCP established goals including “Promote Leadership Development” and “Implement Workforce Improvements” These goals included specific action items to:
Davie County and its municipalities and public organizations offer a wide variety of opportunities for public engagement and shaping the future of our community. Formal opportunities include county and municipal elected boards as well as advisory boards whose members are appointed. These include, but are not limited to, Planning Boards, Boards of Adjustment, Board of Elections, Parks & Recreation Boards, Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, and Aging Services. It is not uncommon for former members of advisory boards to seek and win elected office in Davie County. This was the case with Jenny Stevenson, who served on the steering committee for the 2019 Mocksville Comprehensive Plan and went on to be elected as the town’s first African-American commissioner in 2021. Formal opportunities are also built into every public meeting of elected and appointed boards through the public comment portion of the meeting, where residents can speak about any issue, and during the public comment section of all advertised public hearings, where residents can speak for or against a specific issue under consideration. Another important formal opportunity is the survey. Davie County organizations regularly use surveys to solicit input and feedback from residents for customer satisfaction, strategic & comprehensive planning, and to rank desired services and amenities, etc. Davidson-Davie Community College (DDCC) takes the survey to the next level by administering a second survey to students who are part of historically underrepresented groups. Informal opportunities include taking advantage of Davie County organizations and municipalities’ “open door” policies, where residents are encouraged to bring their concerns to individual elected officials and/or managers. Two of the three programs that will be discussed later in this application started when residents approached Davie County leaders with their ideas. Mocksville takes the open door policy one step further by sending a quarterly newsletter with job announcements and a community calendar to all minority churches with a specific invitation to come and share any concerns over a cup of coffee. Another extremely important informal method is intentional access, where elected officials have a booth at festivals and other public events or hold “listening” / “roundtable” meetings around the county. These events are usually hosted at churches or community centers like the annual Senior Center Roundtable. Our Davie County Schools superintendent and DDCC president also intentionally include students in regular roundtable discussions to solicit feedback and ideas.
Davie County works well with our community partners to address difficult issues. Here are just a few examples:
1. Community Opioid Forum – In November 2022, the Davie County Health Department and Leadership Davie Class of 2022 hosted a forum for the community, service providers, and people impacted by the opioid crisis. The purposes of the meeting were to raise public awareness, take ownership of the problem as a community and provide a networking opportunity for service providers.
2. Hate Speech Response – In August 2022, racially charged violent hate speech was spray painted on a popular walking trail. Town of Mocksville leaders condemned the action on the Town’s Facebook page and reaffirmed the community’s commitment to diversity and acceptance. The post was shared, liked, and supported by many residents and other local authorities.
3. What Keeps You Up at Night – A Listening Event for the African American Community – In August 2021, Davie County United Way hosted and facilitated this event, and community leaders’ only role was to listen and learn about the experiences and perceptions of African-Americans in our community. The meeting was well attended by leaders throughout the county and sparked some powerful follow-up conversations and relationship building.
4. Child Abuse Prevention – During the pandemic, The Dragonfly House Children’s Advocacy Center saw a dramatic increase in sexual abuse, child abuse, and severe neglect cases. In January 2021, along with its partners from law enforcement, social services, and the health department, it hosted a virtual “town hall-style” conversation to discuss child abuse and the growing mental health crisis.
5. George Floyd – In June 2020, local law enforcement and youth held a community unity rally against racial violence.
6. Me Too Movement – In August 2018, law enforcement held a rally supporting women in policing after a vulgar Facebook post.
Davie County and its partners also do a good job engaging residents in accessible and familiar locations, including government buildings, community centers, churches, etc. When public input is sought, organizations do a good job of offering multiple ways to participate. However, meeting times in the evening can be a barrier to participation for many people, and this is something we need to consider moving forward.
This is an area where we can do better as a community. Part of this issue is due to generational changes, with many leaders transitioning to the next stage of life or passing away and new leaders taking their place. We see this as both an opportunity to take a fresh look at how we engage our community and invest time in the challenging job of building trusting relationships from scratch. With that said, Davie County has a wealth of trusted leaders at most levels of the community who help new leaders get acclimated and engaged. Leadership development is essential in any community, and we realize the importance of providing potential leaders with experiential opportunities, including boards, commissions, and steering committees, as well as development and networking opportunities like Leadership Davie, a program of the Davie County Chamber of Commerce. Local foundations, including Mebane Foundation and Davie Community Foundation, offer leadership development and capacity-building grants. We recognize our need to be intentional in identifying potential leaders from traditionally marginalized communities and removing financial barriers to leadership development opportunities. One necessary change we have identified while going through the All-America process is offering scholarships for Leadership Davie, as this program has been a stepping-stone for future elected leaders.
Engagement is a challenging moving target for our community. In the past, building personal relationships with local church leaders was the best way to inform, involve and engage marginalized communities. The second most reliable method was traditional media. However, declining church attendance means that a significant part of any community we try to engage through this avenue will not be reached. The splintering of traditional media into a myriad of platforms and editorial leanings also makes direct communication that much more challenging. Therefore, Davie County and its municipalities use a variety of strategies to maximize community outreach. These include relying on personal relationships with community leaders, the local newspaper (Davie County Enterprise), digital and mailed hard copy newsletters/notices, flyers, social media, website, the Davie County Blog, DavieLiFE magazine, radio, and television. Creating and building relationships with every resident is not possible, so working with organizations like our local chapter of the NAACP, church leaders, the Chamber of Commerce, business leaders, nonprofits, and schools helps get the message out to those most impacted. Two recent examples of this are:
1. Environmental Justice Rezoning – This involved a controversial 2021 industrial rezoning in a historically African-American neighborhood. The local government sent letters out to all property owners, including churches and community members, and asked the NAACP to facilitate a meeting. Once the elected board was aware of community opposition, it delayed the decision until the community group and developer could meet to resolve concerns. The end result was an approved rezoning that addressed all of the issues raised by the stakeholders.
2. Trail Feasibility Study – A trail to connect a local school and a community park was being considered. Parental input was desired, and we engaged them through the school’s phone tree notification system, which reached all parents. Public input sessions were set for times that parents and other community members could attend during the school day or in the evening.
Community leaders understand some of the historical barriers that limit participation, inclusion, and employment. These include mistrust, the time and day public meetings are generally held, the perception that input is not wanted or will not change outcomes, etc. Davie County does a good job seeking input and participation for various community plans but needs to consider and address some of the other barriers to participation.
Davie County is a relatively small community that is blessed with a local newspaper and larger regional papers, as well as several traditional television news stations that do an acceptable job of news coverage. Media fragmentation and the advent of niche news sites make authentic communication challenging at times. That is why the Davie County community also receives governmental news and updates in a variety of formats, including telephone/text notifications, website resources, social media posts, blog posts, digital and hard copy newsletters, and direct mailers. Davie County also engages the community in two-way conversations through public roundtable/input meetings, surveys, community meetings like the recent Opioid Forum, and one-on-one meetings with elected representatives and staff.
Davie County is home to several organizations that have helped facilitate community conversations among stakeholders. Each graduating class of the Leadership Davie program undertakes a community project, and one great example of a project that brought people across dividing lines was the 2022 Community Opioid Forum mentioned previously. This meeting brought in elected officials, residents, recovering addicts, and representatives from all of the programs that serve those suffering from addiction. Another project Leadership Davie is proud of is the 1992 homeless outreach project that led to the formation of a Habitat-Davie 501c3. Habitat Davie engaged people across the community in addressing homelessness by building affordable homes in the community. The Davie Community Foundation has served on several occasions as a respected facilitator of difficult / highly political community conversations. Another trusted organization that has brought people in the community together to discuss uncomfortable topics is the United Way, as illustrated in the What Keeps You Up at Night Listening Event previously mentioned. A final example is the NAACP candidate forum which encourages civil discourse with candidates with all residents of our community.
The third section of the All-America City application highlighted programs that will improve the quality of life for youth and, by extension, all members of the community. Next Tuesday’s article will focus on IGNITE DAVIE.