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IN THE KNOW: Taking action in the new year

I look forward to celebrating the New Year with my family each year. The festivities begin on New Year's Eve and always include a gathering of friends, good conversation, games and activities, more food than we could ever eat and of course party supplies! We love to go over the top with decorations and party accessories. You're sure to see hats, necklaces, noisemakers and party poppers to bring in the New Year as the ball drops and the calendar rolls out of one year and into the next. This energy and enthusiasm is exactly the way to kick start another year!

As the new year begins, I often reflect on the year that has concluded. It is important to celebrate the many relationships formed along with both personal and professional accomplishments achieved, but also to set goals for the year that we are to begin. Many individuals will make New Year's resolutions to lead a healthier lifestyle, save money, spend more time with others or volunteer for a cause that they care about. As part of a business or organization, New Year's resolutions may involve creating new business strategies, increasing revenue, engaging in continued education or finding ways to give back to the community. Improvement and positive change could be identified as common denominators in all of these examples. I believe that is important for all of us to look for opportunities to grow as individuals but also as a community. This is exactly what we have begun to do through the Community Conversations organized and facilitated by United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties.

Throughout 2017, United Way hosted Community Impact Coalition meetings in both Douglas and Pope counties. The goal was to identify some of our community's most pressing needs with the intention of working towards response and prevention.

In each county, United Way Community Impact Coalition members identified community needs and dedicated a monthly meeting to discussing each topic. Douglas and Pope County community needs included: childcare, children and special needs/disabilities, housing, human trafficking, hunger, mental health, transportation, senior services and water, sewer and yard projects.

A common agenda was used at each meeting that included identifying and discussing needs, resources, gaps, barriers and potential solutions to each of the community needs. Through information provided by stakeholders and community members, data sheets were developed that would lay the groundwork for a community conversation.

A community conversation was held where attendees were informed about the process by which information was gathered about each of the community needs. Participants chose one area of particular interest or expertise and then broke into small groups with a facilitator. A group discussion was held on the challenges and opportunities our community faces with regard to each topic. As part of this discussion, each small group determined priorities within their area of interest and worked together to identify possibilities to address these needs and developed actions steps to create a healthier community.

Over 70 Douglas County residents and over 55 Pope County residents invested in making a difference by participating in these community conversations. A plan was developed that not only reflects each community but that would propel people into attainable action in 2018 and beyond!

Action teams within each of the community needs topics will continue to carry out the work plans by engaging other partners in the work that will need to be done. Consider making your New Year's resolution to connect with one of these action teams to make a difference in our community and improve the lives of our friends, family and neighbors!

Let's kick off a new year with energy and enthusiasm to create positive change! I look forward to continued collaboration with many community partners and am committed to working on this endeavor in 2018. I invite you to join us in making a difference. Together we can inspire hope and create opportunities for a better tomorrow. At United Way of Douglas & Pope Counties, we believe that when we bring people together, great things will happen!

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Jen Jabas is the executive director of the United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties. "In the Know" is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.