Listening is the first step to community

by Leslie Ann Jackson

I don’t do resolutions. But every year I pick a word to focus myself.

This year, I picked listen because it’s the action I’ve found myself returning to most as I’ve entered my new role.

I am honored to have been named vice president, leading our newly created Community Investment & Engagement Department. The work of this department includes grantmaking and scholarships, community leadership and donor relations, combining those areas in a way that develops and strengthens their connection. 

Stepping into this role continues to be more energizing than it is exhausting, but there is no question that it has taken a toll on my calendar.

Still, I have found that it is always worthwhile to listen.

Recently, I spent a half hour on the phone with a woman in Nash County. She’s involved with a scholarship fund supporting the alumni of her beloved high school.

In the first 2-3 minutes of our conversation, we’d cleared up the issue she called about. Rather than wrapping things up efficiently and moving on to the next item on the to do list, I spent the next 28 minutes listening to why she cares so much about her school.

I got to hear her story and it was a privilege.

I know now why education matters so much to her and how that’s deeply rooted in her community. I now understand on a different level why this scholarship fund is so significant to her.

Because I took the time, I know why her community and the people committed to her school are so unique in how they love education and believe in the history of the school. And I know why they chose to demonstrate that through a scholarship fund.

If you had looked at my calendar, you would not think I had 30 minutes to spend on the phone with her. But I am convinced it is the best 30 minutes I spent that day.

Stories like hers are why we do this work.

Connection to community is the building block for our entire Foundation. We succeed because people like her know that our staff and board members care about her community and often live and work in her area.

Although I live and work an hour away from her, I’m able to serve her community and others like it across our state because of how people like her keep me connected. We’re able to do this work because we listen.

What will happen to the history of our communities if we aren’t listening to people’s stories?