Wharton Civic Center

From left, Billie Jones, Mickey Reynolds and Debbie Cenko discuss a project during a community training session Tuesday at the Wharton Civic Center.

Earlier this year, the Houston-Galveston Area Council came to Wharton to find out what local residents thought about how to handle growth over the next 30 years.

The group was back in town Tuesday night for another meeting, but this time officials presented a program on public participation.

“These are tips and tools you can use in everyday life to engage others,” said Perry Franklin, a consultant with Franklin and Associates.

The program looked at helping residents who have a cause or concern within the community and are looking to also get their neighbors involved to try to solve the problem.

“You are trying to get everyone on the same page,” Franklin said. “It’s not us vs. them. It takes a lot of work to get that culture shift. It takes a lot of work getting the public involved.”

During the evening, participants worked on two projects. One involved indentifying community strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The other involved listing a community concern and how to get the message across.

One participant, Billie Jones, brought up a concern of needing sidewalks in the community for children going to and from school.

A goal of effective involvement, Perry said, is increasing two-way involvement so that voices are being heard.

Core principals were discussed, along with tips and other helpful items. In addition to telephone calls, sending out letters and printing flyers, other methods were discussed. Some of the ways people communicate now include social media and other online programs.

The Wharton meeting was one of several planned at different locations in the region during the month. After the last program is presented, it will be posted online at www.ourregion.org.

Officials who presented the program said they plan to return sometime in the fall for another program that would involve more participation from the audience.

Four million new residents are expected in the 13-county Houston-Galveston region — which includes Wharton County — in the next 30 years.

“This is a very diverse area,” said Amanda Thorin with the Houston-Galveston Area Council. “There are a lot of rural areas, like here, plus urban areas. The cities come in all different shapes and sizes, and there are a lot of gulf area ports.”

The plan won’t be a government document, Thorin said, but it will be a resource for local governments, “to plan the future as they see fit.”

“The region is among the fastest growing and most diverse in the nation,” she said.

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