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  • Writer's pictureCameron Cochran

Wilson Forward Brings Leaders Together

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

Posted Thursday, October 10, 2019

By Brie Handgraaf, Wilson Daily Times

Whether addressing career readiness among adolescents, spurring economic development or creating a community where people want to be, the bottom line is no one person or organization can do it alone.

“As children, you are told to play well with others in the sandbox,” Wilson Forward Executive Director Paula Benson told attendees at the group’s annual meeting Thursday. “The sandbox is a symbol of what we’re trying to do as collective impact organizations. We’re creating that sandbox, that place for community partners to come and work well together.”

The meeting kicked off with an opportunity for collaboration as the Wilson Leadership Institute’s graduating class shared research related to preparing the next generation through middle school outreach. As part of the group’s required research project, the class held a panel discussion with area business leaders to study challenges employers have when it comes to hiring.

“The things that popped up were normal, like graduate from high school, be able to pass a drug test and show up to work on time. Those are the prerequisites employers are looking for,” said class spokesman Rob Ferrell. “However, the part they found lacking when it comes to hiring employees was soft skills.”

The group determined middle school is the prime time to address character-building and career readiness. Ferrell said mentorships, school and summer programs as well as electives are the best outlets to teach those skills.

“I know everyone here cares about our youth and our community. It is great to see such collaboration, and we know this is something that can be continued,” he said. “We all have opportunities to plug in, and we’re all asked to do a lot, but our ask here today is for you to determine what your strengths are and where they can fit into one of these pillars. The opportunities are there, and ultimately it’ll help our young people be better prepared.”

Consultant Katherine Loflin said when people feel connected with their community, they are more likely to invest in it.

“As a social worker, I can tell you that if you look at most social issues and problems we have in our communities, I guarantee somewhere along the way, it came from falling out of connection with an environment,” she said. “That sense of not feeling connected to your environment starts you down a path where usually nothing good happens after that.”

Loflin referenced a study conducted with 43,000 people in 26 cities in 2008 to 2010 that identified three consistent components to a person’s connection to a community.

“The No. 1 thing that makes people love where they live is opportunity and access to social offerings,” she said. “That was No. 1 everywhere across all demographics.”

And while social offerings are not going to be the same in every community, it’s about having offerings that reflect a community’s identity. The aesthetics of a community and openness regardless of demographics are essential to establishing that identity.

“We’re not just one demographic and neither are communities,” she said.

Tom Looney, retired vice president and general manager for Lenovo North America, highlighted a project he worked on to make the North Carolina coast the “Napa Valley of oysters.” Growing the oyster business in coastal communities meant bringing a variety of organizations together. The holistic approach resulted in economic development and increased opportunities for tourism, which had a ripple effect on the communities.

“What we found in North Carolina is if we all work together for something, we can succeed,” he said. “And I believe there is no town that comes together better than Wilson.”

Visit to apply for the Wilson Leadership Institute, learn about ongoing initiatives and donate.

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