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Designed for education and engagement, the debut DLE Listening Session on July 24th earned enthusiastic accolades for creating a safe and respectful environment for DLE members to connect with a civic leader about pressing topics in the Berkshires.
Pittsfield Mayoral Candidate Pete Marchetti became the first guest leader to listen and learn at this first-of-a-kind open forum with 15 DLE members, who shared their candid views on the current state of Pittsfield and ideas for revitalizing the community.
Pete, in a conversation with DLE President Linda Dulye several months ago, expressed a need to broaden his outreach and feedback intake. Specifically, he wanted to hear from under 40 Pittsfield residents, professionals and business owners.
The mayoral candidate and current Pittsfield City Council president acknowledged that the DLE community represented an important citizen group to connect with. “I wanted to hear directly from them about issues that most concerned them, changes they’d most like to see and opportunities that would get them involved in local government,” Pete explains. “I thought it was vital to engage with all ages in Pittsfield to ensure that a voice that is not always heard was heard. We talk about the past often but we must build a future.”
Linda’s creative wheels began churning. The result was a new in-person forum designed for active conversation with a curated group of participants at the intimate DLE HQ setting in Downtown Pittsfield. “I personally invited each attendee knowing they had genuine interest in the topic and an eagerness to share their views,” notes Linda.
She adds that clear ground rules were established for the event. “It was paramount for attendees to know that the purpose was for education, not endorsement. This was not a political event, nor did it serve as a campaign platform. Pete recognized the distinctive dynamics of the DLE community as a valuable resource for learning. Our members represent a critical constituency whose voice is not readily tapped into or amplified in local government.”
Attendees spanned several decades in age, starting with the youngest—Anthony Telladira, an Engineering major at UMass Amherst. They also represented 13 different businesses and organizations, including General Dynamics Mission Systems, Adams Community Bank, CompuWorks, Interprint, Inc., Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and Premium Waters, Inc. Another diverse dynamic was participants’ residency in the Berkshires, which ranged from less than 2 years to an entire lifetime.
Driven by an advance agenda with open-ended, discussion questions, time stamps and an icebreaker to quickly strike up conversation, the Listening Session fostered an active and inclusive dialogue for more than 75 minutes with Pete attentively listening and taking notes.
“It was awesome to have the ear of a political leader and share without fear of judgment our thoughts, ideas and concerns,” notes one participant.
Another attendee shares, “Everyone felt comfortable being honest and open, even if there was a disagreement of opinion or criticism. People genuinely wanted to understand other sides, even if it wasn’t their view.”
Impact of the lively exchange was significant for Pete. “It was great to hear the passion and concerns from each attendee. The conversation was different from other conversations I generally experience, mostly because it was forward thinking rather than focusing on the past,” explains Pete. “If we are going to move forward we must engage in more of these types of conversations.”
Based on the rousing success of the first curated Listening Session, more are expected. 91% of attendees rated the event’s effectiveness as excellent in a follow-up evaluation. A list of local leaders who would be ideal candidates for future conversations has been compiled from attendees’ feedback.
“We are going to make this learning and networking service available, without cost, to civic, business, government and other leaders of Berkshire organizations to help expand their perspective and network by raising the thoughtful insights and ideas from our unique and diverse community,” confirms Linda.
Additionally, by raising awareness of Listening Sessions through publicity, posts and word of mouth, Linda looks forward to hearing requests from other leaders, who are keen on exploring issues, growing perspectives and expanding their network with the DLE community.