Last Wednesday, the greater Grand Forks community was invited to join in on a promotion of community conversation at the Longest Table. The event was put on by the Community Foundation of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks & Region and the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals, drawing a crowd of 717 people, including around 100 volunteers, 22 of which were UND students.
In January 2018, Governor Doug Burgum visited Grand Forks in order to promote his main street initiative. After the Knight Foundation presented a grant of $40,000 from their Donor-Advised Fund at the community foundation for the Longest Table, Becca Bahnmiller, executive director of the Community Foundation, and Becca Cruger, president of the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals, were inspired and the planning process began.
From there both Cruger and Bahnmiller assembled a team of diverse community members that were passionate about the impact that the Longest Table could have on Grand Forks.
“Needless to say, setting up 750 feet of table and 750 chairs was not a quick or an easy task,” Bahnmiller said. “However, our team was thrilled with the result and the enthusiasm that the community displayed.”
The event on Wednesday began with a meal which was prepared and catered by Hugo’s Marketplace. From there, attendees were randomly assigned seating along N 3rd St. Each table was comprised of residents from all age groups and walks of life, which included a table captain who lead the group in conversation. After registration closed, the event went into full swing as speakers Dana Sande, president of the Grand Forks City Council, and James Leiman, with the North Dakota Department of Commerce, expressed the importance of the Longest Table and urged community members to speak up, share their opinions and pitch their ideas.
“The Longest Table is very important because everyone is invited to participate,” Sande said. “Serving the community is a team sport and we are all urged to play. The Longest Table is also important because it demonstrates that if you want to do something and to lead in our community, Grand Forks gives you the opportunity to do so. If you have an idea and if you want to make a difference, you can do that here.”
Community members were then urged to take a quick survey about their view of Grand Forks before starting a conversation with their team about the city. Table captains guided their groups through questions about the improvements of Grand Forks, what the future of Grand Forks might entail and once again urged everyone to speak up about their ideas. The event came to a close as attendees took another identical survey to see if their opinions on the city had changed.
“The response to the Longest Table indicated to me that despite the divides that are evident across our nation and around the world, our local community is seeking opportunities for intellectual connection and civic engagement,” Bahnmiller said. “With just a month of promotion, this event sparked real interest and enthusiasm.”
The response to the event has been felt city-wide and will continue to unravel with time. The city is also providing the funding for Longest Table micro-grants that support Gov. Doug Burgum’s Main Street Initiative.