On Sunday, January 21, members of the community were invited to an event to discuss needs within the City of Lowell, Lowell Township, and Vergennes Township. Issues such as affordable economics, housing, education, and the community has a whole were discussed by a panel of four. This was the first such event hosted by the Lowell United Methodist Church.
As Pastor of Outreach Ministries, Cheryl Mulligan says, “I started in the new role at Lowell United Methodist a few months back and thought it would be a good idea to reach beyond the walls of the church and to have a better understanding of what is going on in the Lowell Area.” That thought grew into hosting a forum in which members of the community could gather and learn about and discuss what makes the community a great place and understand challenges it faces. Mulligan, along with Pastor Gordie Barry and Reverend Ethel Stears, worked together to plan the event.
The trio’s goal was two-fold. “We have two goals, one of which is to be informed on social issues that our community may be dealing with and how the community is impacted. The second goal is [to] leave the event with action steps so as a community we can start making a difference.” Large topics, with tough ways to find solutions, were tackled. It was a start in educating the community on social and economic issues in the Lowell area.
Meet the Panel
The four member panel consisted of Liz Baker, Todd Pearson, Dawn Broene, and Nate Fowler, with each representing an area expertise.
Liz Baker is the Executive Director at the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce. She has been in this role for nearly 25 years. Through her experiences with businesses, she brought knowledge of economic development and business growth to the discussion.
Todd Pearson is a realtor with Greenridge Realty. He has experience in commercial real estate for the past 10 years and has been in his current position since 2013. He was able to speak to residential and commercial growth and development in the community.
Dawn Broene is the Executive Director at Flat River Outreach Ministries (FROM), with a background in finance. FROM is a resource used by those residing in the Lowell Area Schools footprint in need of services during a hardship. Services include, but are not limited to, food, help with paying utility bills, medical equipment loan program, and tax preparation help.
Nate Fowler is the Director of Curriculum for Lowell Area Schools (LAS). He has been the district’s homeless liaison for the past 11 years. He was able to contribute knowledge about education and the needs of students in the district.
The agencies and organizations represented by the panel often work together to help members of the community. They are also vested and interested in growth within the community and addressing needs and challenges facing community residents.
In past decades students faced being put into racial categories. Are class categories the challenge of today’s students? A thriving community should be one in which individuals from all economic backgrounds contribute and are needed. Skilled workers are still needed in industrial businesses such as Litehouse and King Milling. Mechanics, plumbers, and other trade workers are needed as well. But in order to attract people in these professions, affordable opportunities to have a home should exist.
Todd Pearson indicated many businesses in the community are faced with finding skilled workers who are dependable. Gone are the days where a person entered a job and retired 20+ years later from the same company. The school district hopes to continue working with community businesses to learn more about what skills should be taught in school, not only for a particular job but life skills.
Additionally, Pearson mentioned difficulties in bringing new, bigger businesses to the community. Within city limits there is limited space for infrastructure. The townships have land but face a lack of availability to offer water and sewer. Liz Baker added, small businesses continue to grow in the community with restaurants, boutiques, and antique shops opening their doors in recent years.
It could be said that economics is the key factor in determining the available opportunities in housing and education. Part two, the discussion on housing and education, will continue tomorrow.