Joseph Foran, standing, was the primary facilitator for the Community Conversation at Camp Ketcha on Monday, Dec.17, guiding the small groups as they shared their hopes for Scarborough, as well as ways to improve the community as a whole. (Abigail Worthing photo)

SCARBOROUGH – Scarborough residents took time out of the busy holiday season this week to spend the evening talking about what it means to be a community.

The event was titled “A Community Conversation,” and was the brainchild of two Scarborough residents, Janice Cohen and Dana Morris-Jones. The two both work as professional facilitators who specialize in settling disputes in a constructive manner. During the past year, they noticed that the rise of divisiveness in national politics was reflected locally, with municipal issues being handled with negativity not conducive with a healthy community.
“Look around you. There are people you know, people you don’t. We all have differences, but it’s how we resolve them together that matters,” said Cohen during her opening address.
The meeting took place on Monday, Dec. 17 at Camp Ketcha on Black Point Road, and had a turnout of about 50, with residents split into small groups. Prior to the guided conversation questions, of which there were three, residents were asked to be honest and try to find a table that was filled with people they don’t know to help make further connections within the community.
While Cohen and Morris-Jones organized the meeting, they brought in another professional to facilitate the event, Joseph Foran of Naples.
Cohen and Morris-Jones wanted the facilitators to be from outside the realm of Scarborough to ensure the event could be as neutral as possible. The desired neutrality was aided by the fact that besides offers for sponsorship, no community or municipal groups hosted any part of the event, with all costs paid privately.
Coffee, tea and baked goods were donated as refreshments, and the Holy Donut on Route 1 donated doughnuts for attendees to enjoy.
Each group was paired with a non-resident facilitator to mediate the conversation and ensure that each was following rules and guidelines provided, which included points such as speaking with respect, beware of judgment when listening and sharing, and speaking to be understood, not to convince others of their point. Residents were also encouraged to speak only on behalf of themselves, using “I” rather than “we,” a tactic to help prevent further divisions in the community.
“Everyone is here as a private citizen,” Foran said. “No one has stars on their shoulders. It doesn’t matter if you’re a member of the council or the school board or whatever. Everyone is here tonight as a private member of the community.”
Throughout the evening, questions were posed for the groups to discuss communally amongst the table, and were then called back to order where they would share their findings with the assembly. Attendees were asked to consider this event to be a jumping off point to a healthier community as opposed to expecting any solutions.
“This is a baby step. It’s not about getting to the nitty-gritty of an issue. If you’re looking for closure or a solution to an issue, I’m sorry but you’ll be disappointed. This is to create a beginning, a foundation for the community,” said Morris-Jones, a Scarborough resident for 16 years and author of “The Power of Difference: From Conflict to Collaboration.”
The first directive to the group was asking what they liked about Scarborough.
With each question, residents were instructed to collaborate as a group, and then share two points from their group discussion with the collective whole.
When the groups shared their favorite Scarborough assets, there was an array of answers, however a common theme was the town’s access to natural resources, such as beaches and trails, allowing residents to not have to travel far to enjoy the outdoors.
Others pointed out the proximity of the town to other cities, leading to a large pool of opportunities available, while some groups mentioned they enjoyed that Scarborough was a family-focused town.
The next prompt led to more in-depth concerns to be raised about the community, with the event asking, “What makes it so hard to address Scarborough issues without divisiveness?”
The common theme among answers to this prompt seemed to indicate a perceived lack of communication on the municipal level, as well as on a public level. Some groups spoke about difficulty finding information on city websites, while others complained that even when information was released, it was done in a way that was difficult to understand.
Other groups voiced concerns over the lack of respect for both each other within the community, but also toward elected officials.
The final question posed was “What can we do to resolve our differences and build unity and support for a community we all want?”
Solutions for this prompt ranged in scale, from small changes such as engaging with neighbors on a more frequent basis, to larger scale ideas, such as enlarging the sizes of committees and boards to improve the diversity in opinions.
Others pledged to spend time organizing events where people could be face to face more often, so that conversations about community issues can happen in a space other than social media.
“You are the authors of what happens next. What seeds thrown into the air tonight will come down and grow roots?” said Morris-Jones at the completion of the three-hour meeting.
As the participants dispersed, hugs were shared and phone numbers exchanged at tables, with former strangers making promises to keep in touch and the communal cacophony did not stop until everyone had left the building.
Ideas shared during the meeting will be compiled into a large study and will be distributed to those in attendance. Cohen and Morris-Jones hope to host another event in the spring.
Abigail Worthing can be reached at [email protected].

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