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Inaugural CommUNITY Forum fosters community engagement

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Attendees gathered in the Agate Room at the Wilson Hotel to hear the five-minute presentations from each organization. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – Welcoming an audience made up of the who’s who of Big Sky, Sara Blechta, chair of the Big Sky Resort Area District board encouraged attendees at the Inaugural Big Sky CommUNITY Forum to “be curious, not judgmental.”

The forum gathered community leaders and residents in the Wilson Hotel on Tuesday, Oct. 26 to hear presentations from 38 local organizations and to have the chance to engage directly with presenters.

“Think of this as community speed dating,” said Daniel Bierschwale, executive director of BSRAD, referring to the hybrid nature of the event that allowed attendees to hear from presenters and speak with them one-on-one.

A BSRAD community survey sparked the idea for the forum following the district’s June 2021 allocations process. Bierschwale said survey respondents asked for more communication from and access to the organizations that make this unincorporated community tick.

“One of the strategic pillars for the district is to engage our community,” Bierschwale said in an Oct. 27 interview with EBS. “We designed this forum as an opportunity not only for BSRAD to engage, but also all of the partners to make Big Sky better together to gain some exposure, introduce initiatives and generate an opportunity for engagement directly with the residents of Big Sky.”

Throughout the evening, attendees circulated between the Agate Room, where the five-minute presentations were taking place, and the Sapphire Room, which housed a table and representative from each organization.

Presentation topics included Public Health and Safety; Public Works; Community Support Services; Education and Childcare; Housing and Planning; Recreation and Conservation; Arts, Culture, and Events; and Economic Development.

The dull roar of conversation never ceased and if presenters found themselves without a curious community member to chat with, they made a point to greet their neighbors and speak with other organizations.

Community members and presenters mingled throughout the evening sharing valuable feedback and making new connections. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

Dustin Tetrault, deputy fire chief with the Big Sky Fire Department, emphasized the value of the event and the opportunity to connect with other organizations. He said that it can be difficult to carve out time to talk about mutually beneficial projects, but the evening provided that chance.

“I thought last night was great,” Tetrault said. “Any opportunity that we get to get out and be able to interact with community members in a venue like that is always beneficial.”

Laura Seyfang, executive director of the Big Sky Community Housing Trust, said the evening was a fabulous learning opportunity and she applauded BSRAD for putting the event together.

“I had one community member who was really concerned about the fact that we didn’t get federal funding through the [Low-income Housing Tax Credit] award and was interested to know what we were going to do about it,” she said.

That community member, Seyfang said, had a background in investment banking and offered to help the housing trust with next steps.

Taylor Rose, director of clinical services & operations at the Big Sky Medical Center, manned his table and spoke with other attendees. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

Community members in attendance also appreciated the chance to speak directly with the organizations.

“I think this kind of forum is good because it helps to see the future,” said Big Sky resident Jim Glowacki at the event. “There’s little bits and pieces of information that come in from different sources but now when you see the collective group, they can all feed to this same source of information.”

Gary and Jill Marcinick, part-time Big Sky residents for 18 years, attended the forum to take advantage of the face-to-face interaction and to learn more about the community that they are settling down in.

“We really were hoping to learn new things, which I think we did,” Gary said. “There were a couple of questions that we wanted to pose, which were answered. So, [the forum] … really exceeded our expectations.”

Anna Johnson, director of business development for the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce, shares some information about the Chamber. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

Jenny Muscat, operations director with the district, said she has heard positive feedback about the evening.

“I think it was a great event,” she said. “We went into it not knowing what was going to happen since it was the first time we’d ever done it. But it was great to see such high participation from partners and even just general community members.”

“I thought it was awesome,” Bierschwale added. “It was wonderful to hear from the boots on the ground in Big Sky that are really making things happen and engage with them one on one in the expo.”

The future of this event is unclear, but Muscat said the district will reach out to gather more community feedback on the event.

“Overall, there was a great turnout and hopefully we can do it again next year,” Muscat said. “We hope people appreciated it.”

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