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Jefferson Regional Foundation Initiative Hopes to Create More Community Engagement

Residents and workers from across the south hills gathered at various meeting locations to share ideas ‘Around the Table’ on ways to work together to make the south hills and mon valley communities stronger.

Around Table1
Around Table 1

Throughout the south hills from October 15 to 19,the Jefferson Regional Foundation hosted over 100 community conversations over a meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner) in an exciting new initiative called ‘Around the Table South’. The effort is designed to make connections, share ideas, and inspire action by people who live and work in the South Hills and Mon Valley communities.

The conversations were held at area libraries, churches, schools, organizations and businesses, totaling 1,000 people in a series of 100 mealtime conversations sharing their thoughts and ideas on how to better our community.   The discussions were led by “Hosts” that the Jefferson Regional Foundation recruited - local business leaders, school officials, librarians, healthcare leaders, pastors and nonprofit staff throughout the south hills and lower mon valley.

Site hosts invited ten guests to breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and during the meal guided thought-provoking table conversations by asking questions such as, “How can we work together to make a stronger and healthier community?”

Mary Phan-Gruber, Executive Director of the Jefferson Regional Foundation, was pleased by the overwhelming response to this effort.

Around Table2
Around Table 2

“A good conversation, like a good meal, is inspiring,” said Phan-Gruber. “We are taking this simple idea, listening across the community, and – most importantly – sharing the themes and ideas that emerge from the tables. Our tagline for Around the Table South is Conversations that Build Community!”

This community engagement approach was developed in 2014 by the Chicago Community Trust as a program called ‘On the Table’. In Chicago, it now attracts thousands of participants for its one-day annual event and the concept has spread to 30 other cities. This is the first replication of the model in the Pittsburgh area.

“This is a unique way to tap into the community,” noted Paula Kelly, Director of the Whitehall Public Library and an active leader in the Jefferson Community Collaborative. As the director of one of eight local libraries that committed to host tables for this project, Ms. Kelly immediately saw Around the Table South as a chance to launch the library’s strategic planning process.

“Around the Table South is a creative approach I can use to bring together a group of people to talk about the community,” she said. “I’m inviting people to the table who represent varied needs and use the library in different ways—people of various ages, perspectives, and backgrounds.”

Around Table3
Around_Table 3

The Jefferson Regional Foundation is compiling survey results from all the tables and will publish the results of the table discussions in early 2019.   For additional information, or to learn more, please visit the website



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