Member Highlight: Betsy Covington
Earlier this month SECF took the wraps off the first episode of its new podcast, The Bridge, which shares stories of how foundations are using various forms of philanthropic capital to bring people together and spark dialogue that leads the way to solutions.
Sparking dialogue is quite literally the goal of On the Table, the initiative that forms the basis of the first episode of The Bridge, which features SECF President and CEO Janine Lee in conversation with Lisa Adkins of the Blue Grass Community Foundation and Betsey Covington of the Community Foundation of the Chattahoochee Valley.
Covington, president and CEO of the community foundation based in Columbus, Georgia, told Lee that On the Table is not only fun, but that “you really start seeing change across your community” once people come together for small group conversations.
“The amazing thing is when you weave bonds closer in a community, people get to know folks they didn’t know before. They hear stories they’ve never heard before,” she said. “We believe that fosters empathy, shared connection, a sense of community – we’re in this together. It’s ‘us' rather than ‘us and them.’”
Covington’s foundation helped organize Columbus’ third annual On the Table event in October of last year. The event’s ongoing success, she said, is partly attributable to the community foundation’s partnership with the Knight Foundation based in Miami.
“They believe very strongly that they want to foster informed and engaged communities because they believe that those types of communities are essential for a healthy democracy,” she said.
Much of the foundation’s work in starting On the Table was informed by where it was first offered, in Chicago. Covington and her team worked with The Chicago Community Trust to learn how to make On the Table an effective platform for community conversation. She said the Trust taught her foundation and important lesson: “trust the table.”
“You have to trust that every table conversation is going to be really different, but they’re all going to be valuable in some way to build bridges between folks who didn’t have those bridges before they sat down together,” she said. “People are really hungry for this kind of interaction that is, I think, a little more deep and rich than what people get in everyday life.”
The community foundation has eagerly shared its approach to On the Table, and what it has learned, through the On the Table Network. While the conversations in Columbus are unique to that city, Covington believes many communities can benefit from doing On the Table in their own way.
“I think we, like lots of cities across our country, are experiencing divides that are not healthy. I think we’ve got to find ways to focus on what draws us together rather than what divides us,” she said. “I just believe in the value of people coming together. I think when we create healthy situations where people can come together in these kinds of small groups and actually break bread together, that’s when you weave the bonds of community more tightly.”