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Community engagement leads to community ownership

Dr. Larry Calhoun, Guest Columnist • Apr 29, 2018 at 7:45 AM

I was fortunate to have had a front row seat to one of the region’s best examples of community engagement that resulted in community ownership.

The story of the establishment of East Tennessee State University’s Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy is well documented. The energy, interest, support and dedication of this region to bring a new, privately funded College of Pharmacy to a state institution is a glowing example of community engagement. We were challenged both financially and politically, but the community met and exceeded those challenges on all levels. And since the pharmacy school’s opening in 2005, the faculty, staff, and students of the College of Pharmacy have been recognized locally, regionally, nationally and even internationally for various areas of excellence. This initiative is the perfect example of community engagement leading to the community proudly “owning” the college.

Today, I am once again fortunate to be close to another example of community engagement that is leading to community ownership — the initiative of making Johnson City a destination, particularly downtown Johnson City. I have had the privilege to serve in various leadership roles for the Chamber of Commerce, and in those roles I have been able to observe a new segment of our population step up and take on new responsibilities and initiatives on behalf of our community. I’m referring to the “30-something” group.

Historically, leadership positions (both formal and informal) have been reserved for those who have earned consideration through years of service; thereby holding back some young and energetic talent until they were “ready.” Those days are over! While there is still a place for us “seasoned” leaders, our community is blessed with a large and growing number of young and energetic professionals willing and able to step up.

At the risk of leaving out numerous individuals, let me provide specific examples: Andy Dietrich, currently serving as chairman of the Johnson City, Jonesborough, Washington County Chamber of Commerce; McKenzie Calhoun, who is leading the Government Relations initiatives for the Chamber; Grant Summers and Summers Taylor, who are investing in the future of downtown Johnson City through revitalization of the mill property; Leigh Johnson, a family physician who has been recognized as a leader in medical education; Kenny Shafer, an administrator in the new Ballad Health organization; Abraham McIntyre, Jenna Moore and Joy Fulkerson, all of whom are serving on the Sesquicentennial Commission helping us celebrate the 150th anniversary of Johnson City; downtown business owners like Randy Almanzor of C.S. McCullough’s; and Seth Thomas, co-owner of Skillville. For each and every example above, I could mention 10 additional young people who exhibit outstanding leadership potential in support of our community.

However, here’s the point: Just as the community “engaged” to help make the College of Pharmacy initiative a success that resulted in essential “ownership,” we have the opportunity to help these young people continue to grow and engage in community leadership because they are ultimately going to “own” the outcome. How does this happen? It happens by supporting their ideas and initiatives. It happens by supporting their businesses with our dollars. Most importantly, it happens by helping them find new and exciting leadership opportunities well in advance of their perceived age of readiness. Only then will we be able to ensure not just community engagement, but community ownership, too. Our future is bright!

- Dr. Larry Calhoun is special assistant to the president and vice president for Health Affairs at East Tennessee State University and dean emeritus of the ETSU Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy

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