While waiting for the start of a community discussion on issues and concerns related to Destination Medical Center efforts, Don Barlow issued a challenge. "You're not going to use the media excuse, are you?" he asked as he sat down across from me at a table in the basement of St. Francis of Assisi Church.

The Rochester Community Baptist Church minister and active participant in many community discussions challenged me to step out of the observer role and participate in the discussion. He said everyone at the table should take part in the discussion of what's happening in Rochester — without excuses.

As a journalist, however, I've been trained to adopt the manner of a well-behaved child at a dinner table: Sit quietly and pay attention.

Yet, the second In the Shadow of Growth forum was different from other meetings I regularly attend. I was there out of personal curiosity rather than seeking new information. The goal of the gathering was to define community issues and concerns related to Rochester's growth plans, with the hope that future efforts will seek ways to influence change.

Personal interest in DMC and the chance to be in a growing community is part of what brought me to Rochester, and I'm interested in any chance to see how existing residents respond to that growth. As a result, I was there to see what ideas were emerging and how the discussion was forming.

The first In the Shadow of Growth forum organized by the Justice and Peace Committee of the Congregational Church United Church of Christ sparked my interest. I attended that event specifically to hear reports regarding expected community impacts. While reports from Cheryl Jacobson of the Olmsted County Housing Redevelopment Authority, Major Jim Fye of the Salvation Army and others provided useful information, the responses from the audience were just as interesting.

Even more intriguing is the fact that participants weren't all the usual attendees of such events. Several government officials were there, but the audience also was dotted with unfamiliar faces. All seemed interested in engaging each other and participating in a discussion of what needs to be done and carefully watched as the city's center grows.

That type of engagement made it easy to take Barlow up on his challenge last month. While I'm sure none of my comments changed opinions or provided unique insight, it was good to be part of something that has the potential for great change.

During that meeting, about 100 participants helped define an informal list of top issues and concerns, which were: affordable housing, transportation, social service impact and wages.

Those issues and others, including sustainability, historic preservation and social justice, will be up for discussion during a third forum Thursday, which will incorporate efforts of an interfaith group of downtown clergy and leaders who had already begun meeting to discuss how they can be engaged as Rochester grows.

As the discussion grows, it also remains open to all with an interest in helping ensure the community's growth happens with all residents in mind. In fact, it's only through including diverse voices in these discussions that a real effect can be achieved.

Effective answers are possible only when those who need can talk to those who are willing to help. Whether it's help finding social services in a growing community or help making sure the city doesn't loose its identity, connecting those who want to help with those needing help will be crucial.

Granted, conflicting opinions will be voiced. But out of the differences, one can expect common goals to emerge. That's the nature of gathering under one roof and having candid, open conversations.

And concerns can only be fully addressed when all sides are gathered at the table.

So, weeks after I sheepishly accepted Don Barlow's challenge, I have my own challenge to issue to those who are willing and able: Join the discussion. Take time to attend Thursday's meeting to see what is happening and how community members are joining to form a voice in answer to community concerns and needs.

Randy Petersen is the Post-Bulletin's editorial page editor and can be reached at rpetersen@postbulletin.com or 507-285-7709.

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