History of Winchester Civic Gatherings

On November 20, 2016, at the behest of several residents, the Winchester Multicultural Network (the Network) convened Civic Gathering #1 at the Winchester Public Library to discuss strategies for promoting social justice and protect civil rights in Winchester.  Led by Aba Taylor, Network Executive Director, and Tom Howley, Network community advisor, a standing-room only crowd shared experiences of living, working, and worshipping in Winchester. The passion and sincerity underlying individual stories moved everyone there. The community needed to continue this public conversation.

Following those conversations came Civic Gathering #2, held on February 17, 2017, at the Jenks Center and jointly sponsored by the Network, the Board of Selectmen, and the School Committee. Tom Howley led attendees in compiling an inspiring list of groups already at work in Town supporting constructive causes, and demonstrating values to which residents aspire, after which participants moved into self-selected roundtable topics to explore issues and organize themselves toward action.

Moving to historic Sanborn House, Civic Gathering #3, on May 18, 2017, provided an opportunity for 15 to 18 newly formed active small civic groups, as well as older established groups to report on successes and challenges. A printed listing of groups with contact persons was distributed to encourage future collaboration and resource-sharing.

This Town Common Task Force, a loose-knit alliance of individuals and groups that arose out of Civic Gathering #3, led Civic Gathering #4 on September 18, 2017, at the Sons of Italy Hall. Front and center was an image of the iconic Town Center red oak tree. Participants discussed the mission and principles of a proposed “Town Common,” envisioned as both a live convener and virtual space for community engagement. Participants expressed a particular desire for a Town Common website and online calendar for support and information sharing.

Civic Gathering #5 continued the tradition of convening in person and was dedicated to fostering constructive collaboration. Essential Partners, a nationally-renowned nonprofit facilitation group, led a skill building exercise designed to enable groups and individuals in Winchester to have more constructive conversations.  The evening will featured reports from several relatively new community groups, and solicited input about the work underway to establish a digital platform for the Town Common initiative.

A List of Civic Gatherings

1. "Now What? Building Community After the Election," December 1, 2016, at the Griffin Museum of Photography. A workshop sponsored by the Winchester Multicultural Network and the True Story Theater Improvisational Company, which created performances informed by the real-life stories of audience members. The workshop stemmed from a forum on November 20 at the Winchester Public Library led by Network Executive Director Aba Taylor which was attended by over 100 people.

2. "A Civic Gathering: Strengthening Winchester," February 2, 2017, at the Jenks Center. A community meeting hosted by the Winchester Multicultural Network, the Board of Selectmen, and the School Committee., attended by about 130 people. Speakers were State Representative Michael Day, Network Executive Director Aba Taylor, Selectman Mike Bettencourt, School Committee member Susan Verdicchio, and former Selectman Tom Howley. Participants worked in small, self-selected groups on a wide range of initiatives.

3. "Building Momentum in the Service of a Caring and Connected Community," May 18, 2017, at the Sanborn House. Sponsor was the Winchester Multicultural Network. Speakers and facilitators were Aba Taylor, Tom Howley, Michael Bettencourt, Susan Verdicchio, and Hillary Turkewitz, and representatives of over a dozen resident-led activist groups reported on their activities. It was here that the concept of "The Town Common" was enthusiastically adopted.

4. "Advancing the Progress of Building a Caring and Connected Community," September 18, 2017, at Sons of Italy Hall. Sponsors were the Select Board, the School Committee, and the Winchester Multicultural Network; Network’s director Aba Taylor moderated. About 60 residents attended. With a painting and a large photograph of the iconic oak tree in the Winchester Common in the background, the Members of the Town Common Task Force were introduced and described their goals. New and continuing action groups described their activities. The group then formed smaller groups to discuss Youth and Schools, Economic Justice, Interfaith, Refugee and Immigrant Rights, Environmental Justice, Civic Involvement and Education, and Diverse Winchester.

5. "Fostering Collaboration in the Service of  a Caring and Connected Community," March 22, 2018, at the Griffin Museum of Photography. Sponsors were the Winchester Multicultural Network, the Town Common Task Force, the Winchester Board of Selectmen and the Winchester School Committee. About 75 people attended. The gathering included updates about three local initiatives and the work the TCTF has been doing to further the goal of online information sharing, and a workshop provided by Essential Partners. It also included expressions of support for the families and all affected  by the fatal stabbing of a young woman in the Public Library just three days previously.

6. "Connecting Anew for a Caring and Connected Community," October 17, 2018, the Jenks Center.  It began with presentations by outgoing Town Manager Richard Howard, incoming Town Manager Lisa Wong, Director of the Council on Aging Phillip Beltz, School Committee member Michelle Bergstrom, and Committee Chair of the Winchester Archives Advisory Nancy Schrock, moderated by Finance Committee Member Samantha Allison and Winchester for Educational Excellence (WFEE) Executive Director Caren Connelly. Participants then gathered at  tables to discuss topics that included environmental concerns, public safety, cultural life, schools and youth, and the aging population.

7. "Civic Gathering: Winchester's Master Plan," May 14, 2019, at Winchester High School. A discussion and workshop of issues related to the Master Plan, with the collaboration of J.M. Goldson consultants, who are working with Winchester town planners to construct the first master plan in some 65 years. Town Common Task Force member Susan Verdicchio gave an overview;  John Kilborn of Mystic River Watershed described environmental issues; Peter Pulsifer of the Winchester Cultural Council urged that cultural infrastructure be part of the plan. Participants then worked in small groups to provide input to planners on their priorities for the future.