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New ECHO chief targets communication

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Natasha Gore

Natasha Gore

Todd  Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — In the 12 months before its launch in May, the StoryLine project of the ECHO Council collected 16 life stories from people who live and work in Forsyth County.

In the three months since the launch, the project collected another 16 stories.

Collecting and sharing those stories, one of which is broadcast each week by four radio partners, will continue to be a big focus of the ECHO Council, a group formed
in 2003 to strengthen civic connectedness, or “social capital,” in the region, says Natasha Gore, the group’s new executive director.

The project, she says, aims to collect and share the stories of “everyday people” who may be “overlooked in other kinds of media.” And as it builds its library of stories, which it records in a mobile van equipped with digital gear, the ECHO Council also is developing new efforts to connect people.

Those two efforts, both of which could be launched in 2010, include a series of community forums that would aim to stimulate debate on social issues, and a “time-banking” initiative.

The community forums will build on “Winston-Salem, Can We Talk?”, a series of social events designed to bring together people who are not necessarily like one another.

At those events, held on the second Thursday and third Wednesday of each month at a variety of locations such as community centers, neighborhood associations, nonprofits and churches, the ECHO Council provides lunch or dinner and a “safe atmosphere” in which people “can see we have differences but are more alike than different,” Gore says.

While the community forums will focus more on social issues rather than just on social networking, she says, they also will aim to engage people and provide them with a place to “share information and learn from each other.”

The time-banking initiative, using a time-bartering system developed by TimeBanks.org, will let people donate their time and expertise in exchange for time and expertise
donated by other people.

Someone who is skilled at gardening and needs some legal advice, for example, might “deposit” an hour of gardening time that someone else could use, and in return “withdraw” an hour of legal-assistance time donated by a third person.

“You don’t have to get services from the person you provided services for,” Gore says.

Funded mainly by the Winston-Salem Foundation, the ECHO Council operates with an annual budget of $200,000 to $250,000.

The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and Blessings Project have provided funds to support individual projects of the ECHO Council.

Gore, who for nearly three years served as community education coordinator at Smart Start of Forsyth County and before that served four years as a program officer at the
Winston-Salem Foundation, is the first executive director at the ECHO Council.

The organization, which previously operated with contract staff, also has hired a part-time coordinator for its time-banking program, and is considering hiring a program manager.

The council shares office space with HandsOn Northwest North Carolina, the volunteer center for Winston-Salem and Forsyth County.

Gore says the council will launch its own website and will develop a fundraising strategy for the council, which also will be submitting an application to the Internal
Revenue Service for charitable status.

She says the council aims to diversify its funding base over the next few years and could launch an annual-giving appeal as early as 2010.

The council’s priority, she says, will be to convene and connect people.

“I’d like to see more people talking about what’s important to them and not just to the people that are important to them,” she says.

“The community has a long way to go in terms of some honest dialogue and some honest conversation,” she says. “We have a lot of after-meeting meetings. Those don’t
do very much to build trust.”

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