Bridge of Hope initiative aims to get people talking

Posted on January 16th, 2023 By:

The YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties, with a group of members/involved local residents, wants to get people talking. Even if they don’t agree with each other — in fact, especially if they don’t.

The Y calls the initiative the Bridge of Hope. It describes its purpose as “to gather people within Pierce and Kitsap Counties who desire to increase civility, understanding, hope, and trust by participating in meaningful civil dialogue around complex issues with those of differing experience and perspectives.”

A retired Gig Harbor doctor, Paul Schneider, helped spur the organization into action. Years of watching the rise of polarization and incivility “just really bugged me,” Schneider said.

“I think all of were aware that the political discourse was being dominated by voices at either end of the political spectrum. … I thought, we don’t have the luxury of just standing by and watching it happening,” he said.

A community dialogue 

The Bridge reaches Gig Harbor on Feb. 1. The YMCA is looking for people interested in getting together for a dialogue to increase awareness and understanding of concerns and perspectives on homelessness.

The initiative is not intended to promote or arrive at any sort of policy or position. It’s just an opportunity for people to talk.

Trained facilitators will guide the discussion and participants will have the opportunity to ask questions and express their views. There may be a later follow-up discussion or some sort of after-action report.

But, really, the dialogue itself is the point.

“We’re still production- and action-oriented” as human beings, said Janele Nelson, association mission director for the Tom Taylor Family YMCA in Gig Harbor. “But if people aren’t understanding and respecting each other, it’s not productive.”

Facilitated discussion

An earlier meeting picked the issue of homelessness as a basis for discussion. But nobody expects to solve the issue of homelessness during an hour-and-a-half meeting on a Wednesday evening in Gig Harbor.

“We believe that the meeting, in and of itself, and the people dialoguing with each other will open up spaces for more discussion and follow-up from there,” said Lew Napolitano, an area resident involved in the initiative.

Napolitano is one of locals who is trained to facilitate the discussion. The Y is working with Essential Partners, a Boston-based nonprofit whose mission includes “facilitating community dialogues about divisive topics.” 

Schneider took the same training. He said he’s a big believer in the format. It’s a “very structured (conversation) with specific questions that are formatted to bring people forward in a progressive fashion.”

Diverse backgrounds and viewpoints

The Y is hoping to gather about 30 people from diverse backgrounds for the Feb. 1 discussion. Facilitators will break the whole into smaller discussion groups that can discuss issues without worrying about someone “shouting at them or something like that,” Nelson said. 

Nelson hopes the group includes people with varied backgrounds and viewpoints — those who live in different areas of the Gig Harbor/Key Peninsula area, for instance. Business owners and activists. People who have themselves experienced homelessness. 

“There’s always diversity, even if people think they’re on the same page,” Nelson said. “There’s always more to their story and their perspective. We’re hoping to get people talking.” 

The Bridge of Hope Project 

What: A community dialogue designed to increase awareness and understanding of concerns and perspectives regarding homelessness 

When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 1. 

Where: Tom Taylor YMCA, 10550 Harbor Hill Dr. 

To register: Click here.