Pulling together the many voices of Glen Ellen
The fledgling community group Glen Ellen Forum is growing up.
In just a little over a year, the forum, a broad-based representation of Glen Ellen residents, has worked to develop priorities and ideas for the town’s present and future.
Like other unincorporated burgs in Sonoma County without local, formal decision-making structures, Glen Ellenites wanted more of a say on the county and state rules and policies that residents have to live with.
In addition, townsfolk were eager to create an organization that would work to enhance village life and preserve the town’s rural and unique character.
And the result? Ask Sonoma County First District Supervisor Susan Gorin.
“I couldn’t have asked for a more engaged, active voice for the community,” said Gorin.
It was Gorin who, in the late summer of 2016, first approached Glen Ellen resident Leslie Vaughn, an active town volunteer, about taking the pulse of the village as to its needs and wants.
Town hall meetings were held in October and November of 2016 with Gorin. A steering committee was formed, with Glen Ellen resident Michael Furlong offering to serve as chairperson. Other committees were formed to address specific areas – such as traffic and safety, community projects, community engagement, the future of the Sonoma Developmental Center, commerce and tourism, etc., – a grassroots community organization was born.
Fast forward to 2018. Volunteer community groups often fizzle out over time, but one finds that the Glen Ellen Forum is just picking up steam.
Jim Shere, long active in the Glen Ellen Historical Society and a co-founder of the Glen Ellen Forum, said the evolution process has been “fascinating” to watch.
“It’s given me a good sense of the frustrations and satisfactions our founding fathers must have gone through working to help establish a government for a diverse and vigorous community,” said Shere. “One that would be responsive to the needs and ambitions of incredibly different people.”
As the Glen Ellen Forum added more participants, and refined its structure and objectives, Mother Nature brought calamity in October of last year. Out of control wildfires hit Sonoma County hard, including Glen Ellen, where 183 residences and 192 other structures were destroyed and lives changed in an instant.
Recover and rebuild were soon added into the lexicon of the Glen Ellen Forum, with its website acting as an information clearinghouse for the community.
In addition, thanks to generous donors and a plenty of Glen Ellen man/womanpower, two community healing events were hosted by the Forum – a BBQ meal outside of the Garden Court Café in November, and a holiday turkey meal at the Valley of the Moon Winery in December. Over 300 people attended each event, which were free to all attending.
“People came out of the woodwork after the fires wanting to help,” said Vaughn. “There’s been a new camaraderie for all the neighborhoods.”
Supervisor Gorin agreed.
“They really came together as an essential organization during and after the fires,” said Gorin, “providing the voice of a calm reassuring presence that Glen Ellen would emerge from the fires stronger than ever as the community came together.”
The Traffic and Safety Committee, led by Stacey Vilas, created an extensive “Ready Glen Ellen” emergency plan, hoping to encourage blocks and neighborhoods to work together to prepare for the worst.
“Maybe another emergency is around the corner, you just never know,” said Furlong.
The goals of the Glen Ellen Forum are numerous, but there is no lack of enthusiasm to keep the momentum going.
The plan is to have community meals every quarter to bring people together, as well as a quarterly town cleanup day (the next one is April 22). The Forum has helped beautify the Glen Ellen Post Office, has plans to put benches at bus stops through the village, and maybe a community garden and a central information center.
The Forum has also been involved in providing input on the future of the lands of the Sonoma Developmental Center, a state facility which is scheduled to close by the end of this year. What happens next is a defining moment for the future of Glen Ellen, and the Forum wants to make sure the community is heard. A meeting is scheduled for April 16, 6:30 p.m. at Dunbar School.
Over the last year Forum members have also discussed the idea of the town creating a Municipal Advisory Council, a legal entity with a panel of locals that would serve as a bridge between the community and county government.
Furlong, a Glen Ellen resident since 2015 and an information technology security specialist, and Vaughn, a bookkeeper who has lived in Glen Ellen since 2006, say one of the next steps for the Forum is to keep improving the group’s operations.
To that end, the Forum recently received its approval from the IRS to be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity, and is in the process of creating a formal board of directors. Forum meetings are now being recorded for local TV, and the Forum’s website and Facebook page is always improving.
“If we want this to be sustainable,” said Furlong, “we have to try and make the organization as professional as possible by putting together structure. I think we’re on the road to doing this.”
Praising all the volunteers who have been integral to the Forum’s progress and success, Vaughn said that it’s clear everyone “really cares.”
“A key for all we do is pride in the community. A town can actually help itself by banding together,” said Vaughn.
The Glen Ellen Forum meets on the first Mondays of the month, 6:30 p.m. at the Garden Court Café. The next meeting is May 7. For more information, go to www.glenelleca.org.
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