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Listening sessions in Dawson Springs let community share hopes for the future of the city

Dawson Springs is continuing to recovery from the devastating December tornado outbreak as community members look for a way forward.
Lily Burris
Dawson Springs is continuing to recovery from the devastating December tornado outbreak as community members look for a way forward.

The city of Dawson Springs held listening sessions last week to allow community members a chance to share what they want for the future of their city following a December tornado that devastated the community.

The sessions were coordinated by the Kentucky League of Cities, a nonprofit organization that provides a variety of support services for member cities across the state. KLC got involved with the recovery process through the city’s long-term recovery committee. Tad Long is the community and economic development manager at KLC.

“As [the committee] were talking about the long range recovery, they identified several areas that they wanted to address,” Long said. “They felt that it was critical that the citizens and residents of Dawson Springs participate and have a role and a voice in that plan because it impacts them directly and also to achieve community buy-in to the plan.”

The sessions were held all day in city hall from Monday to Friday, giving people the opportunity to come by before or after work or during their lunch. People were encouraged to come and go as they pleased. Long said KLC realized it wasn’t realistic to assemble everyone in one place at one time due to many factors including displaced community members being in a variety of locations and no ideal venue for a large community meeting.

“We wanted to make it as convenient as possible,” Long said. “People would just come if they had time and we would sit and talk and ask them questions about the future of the community and what they thought Dawson Springs needed to do and the areas that needed to be addressed and what were their ideas and also what role would you like to play.”

Long described the process like sitting at the kitchen table and having a conversation, different from what can sometimes be a rapid flow of ideas common at a normal town hall meeting. Long said the listening sessions showed community members really just wanted the chance to talk and maybe even just someone to listen.

KLC staff also went to Dawson Springs High School to talk with the juniors and seniors about what they wanted to see in the future of their city.

“The high school students were incredible,” Long said. “When you talk with them and you realize that every single student there was impacted personally – either through loss of property or friends or family members and that sort of thing - their ability to see the future clearly and how proud they are of their hometown and how close those classmates are is really inspiring, and that was a very moving and inspirational experience in and of itself.”

Long said two things came up in nearly every conversation - housing and jobs. There was a lot of discussion about what kinds of jobs the community needed, mostly focused on good-paying jobs that could support families and encourage people to move to Dawson Springs.

The conversation around housing focused on the variety of housing that could be built and what would be best for the city, Long said. The importance of maintaining the Dawson Springs Independent School District was something Long saw people hold as a mark of success and pride for the city.

Long said part of Dawson Springs’ long-term recovery efforts is to come up with the broad strokes of what needs to be focused on as the city moves forward. The comments received from the listening sessions will provide some ideas on strategies and tactics the city can use moving forward.

“Everyone has to recover at their own pace and as they're ready,” Long said. “I think that people are in the mindset of, ‘We need to get rolling and this is what we're faced with. This is what's happened, it’s time to move forward.’”

’They started evaluating what's really important and doing what [is needed] to stay there, and how are we going to rebuild our town and how are we going to get our kids educated and how are we going to create jobs. And that piece in and of itself takes a while.”

Lily Burris is a tornado recovery reporter for WKMS, Murray State's NPR Station. Her nine month reporting project is supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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