Suffolk citizens get engaged

Published 8:25 pm Saturday, January 27, 2018

Suffolk residents went to the library on Saturday to learn news ways to engage with one another and become more active in their community.

Staff at the North Suffolk Library held the inaugural “Engage Suffolk,” a free and open gathering that was loaded with interactive and fun resources.

Inspired by “Engage Norfolk,” the event drew about 300 visitors who stopped by the library on Saturday to get involved, according to Megan Mulvey, library outreach and program services manager.

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“We’ve been really pleased by the turnout — but even more than that, by the conversations that have generated today,” Mulvey said.

She said visitors have learned more about Suffolk and what they can do to give back to their community.

“It’s to connect people to different organizations and causes, and also connect them to their neighbors and with somebody in Suffolk that they may not talk to every day,” she said.

More than 30 organizations and causes had tables covered in information materials throughout the library.

Visitors learned about Hope for Suffolk, a community-supported agriculture service by Westminster Reformed Baptist Church that offers weekly orders from May to October for members that pay a monthly fee.

“They get a weekly basket of fresh, local, organic, seasonally available produce,” said Hope for Suffolk Director Hayden Blythe.

They learned about Coalition Against Poverty in Suffolk resources for people in distress, and how active adults ages 65 and older can enjoy special classes, programs and field trips at the Suffolk Family YMCA on Godwin Boulevard.

“Anything that anybody has an interest in, we will try,” said Robbie Laughton, senior membership director at the Suffolk Family YMCA.

Suffolk resident Annette Simion brought her grandson Luke Hook, 7, and the 11 hats he knitted for the Genieve Shelter, which also had a table. Luke said he enjoys making things for the “less fortunate,” while his grandmother was interested in finding out what else their city has to offer.

“We like knowing that there’s other things in our community that we can get involved in,” Simion said.

Chuck Weil, 46, spent his time at tables discussing environmental issues and politics with groups like the Suffolk Democratic Committee.

“I guess I wanted to get involved with some political groups and try to make a difference in the community,” Weil said.

PFLAG, the largest organization for support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the United States, shared information on its Hampton Roads meetings the second Tuesday of each month in Western Branch and every third Tuesday in Norfolk.

HealthySuffolk advertised its 5K run and walk and 1-mile walk happening this April at Bennett’s Creek Park and discussed its 17 community gardens throughout the city.

The breadth of options at the event was impressive to some visitors.

“It’s very overwhelming, but in a positive way,” said Kaitlyn Bridgeforth, 21. She said she wanted to make the most of her semester off from James Madison University by getting involved in her home city.

The community art project inspired by Mary Corey March’s “Identity Tapestry” had numerous lengths of string around identity markers that represented each individual participant’s characteristics, combining to form a geographic outline of Suffolk itself.

That art display was beside the “Human Library” of volunteers that shared their unique experiences with visitors.

“We were looking for people who had a story to tell, who had faced adversity and prejudice,” Mulvey said. “This is a great way by talking to one another to learn more and maybe ask some uncomfortable questions to change those perceptions.”

Michael Davis, who is legally blind, and Ashton McCormick, who has autism, talked about being a marathon duo with Davis pushing McCormick in a race chair. Nansemond Indian Tribal Association Chief Ronald “Lee” Lockamy shared the history of Suffolk’s native inhabitants.

Dianna Barnett cleared up misconceptions about White Tail Resort, a nudist resort in Ivor, while Teko Wynder, a prevention specialist with the community services board, was excited to talk to people about his drug education work with former convicts and students.

As a community outreach volunteer for the Islamic Center of Hampton Roads, Saher Mirza volunteered to be a human library book to challenge people’s assumptions about Muslim culture.

“It’s just putting a human face so you can understand and identify Islam and Muslims away from the stereotype that’s being presented,” Mirza said.

Mayor Linda Johnson delivered the keynote address and focused on the brilliance of being exposed to diversity in the community and exchanging ideas.

“The only way we can improve life, improve each other’s lives, improve our community and our world, is to engage with each other, listen to each other and act on what we hear,” Johnson said.