Canby Leaders Open Dialogue at Community Summit

The first-ever Canby Community Summit, hosted at the Willamette Valley Country Club by Canby Rotary Club last week, was not about solving all of the community’s problems in one night, organizers say.

It was about starting a process.

“No doubt, some will say of this evening that we are reaching too far, and others will feel like we’ve come up short and haven’t done enough,” Canby Rotary President Ray Keen said in an address that concluded the evening’s festivities. “But it won’t be said of us that we were unwilling to begin.”

The event invited many of Canby’s movers and shakers to the table, including representatives from city government, the police department and fire district, school district, churches, civic organizations, businesses and the news media — more than 50 different groups in all.

The guest list also featured elected leaders from the Canby City Council and School Board — though organizers stressed the night would be decidedly nonpolitical.

Instead, community leaders shared a meal, some laughs and a captivating performance by acclaimed pianist and composer Michael Allen Harrison, who has been a staple at the Canby Pioneer Chapel in recent years — particularly during the holiday season.

Acclaimed pianist Michael Allen Harrison captivated with a spellbinding performance. Photo by Tyler Francke.

The agenda also included some light table talk, with leaders encouraged to dialogue over questions about personal accomplishments, community values and strategies for fostering goodwill and stronger relationships.

Organizers collected highlights from these discussions and shared them at the end of the evening, pointing out common threads that emerged from the diverse collections of experiences and perspectives.

Community characteristics that leaders highlighted included care for the vulnerable, a welcoming, “small-town feel,” support for local jobs and businesses, overcoming challenges, and values such as acceptance, tolerance, inclusivity, respect and temperance.

DirectLink President Paul Hauer shared emcee duties with the City of Canby’s Jamie Stickel. Photo by Tyler Francke.

“Temperance, again, where the volume doesn’t always dictate what the real issue is or what the position is,” said DirectLink President Paul Hauer, one of the night’s emcees along with Canby Economic Development Director Jamie Stickel. “A lot of the communication lines get filled up with loudness.”

Many remarked on the examples of the previous two years in which community members repeatedly set aside their differences to support one another through crises such as the 2020 wildfires and the February ice storm.

Keen spoke on personal challenges he faced during this time in his role as director of The Canby Center, which saw demand for its weekly food program more than quadruple in the early weeks of the pandemic.

Canby Rotary President Ray Keen organized and spoke during the community summit. Photo by Tyler Francke.

“From the time of about February 2020 to May, our food pantry visits increased by 406%,” Keen said. “Just imagine going to your job on Monday and seeing your workload increase by 400%.”

Keen also gently unpacked some of the psychological roots of community division and online toxicity, explaining the harmful effects of unknowing biases like the Dunning-Kruger effect, which suggests that those with a low degree of knowledge in a particular subject or ability can often hold far more confidence than those with greater expertise.

At one point, he traced the connections between anger, harboring hostility and ultimately, verbal or even physical violence, using historical examples like apartheid in South Africa.

Tables were decorated with paper cranes, a universal symbol of peace and healing. Photo by Tyler Francke.

“Why am I sharing this with you?” he asked. “I’m sharing this because it’s important for us to recognize this pathway and these signs as a community. And to be committed to ensuring that we have a place where peace can thrive and where we can feel safe in our skin and in our own neighborhoods.”

While the vast majority of attendees were from Canby, a few representatives joined from other cities such as Newberg and Woodburn to learn from Canby’s example and suss whether such an approach might be workable in their communities.

Canby Rotarian Mike McNulty spoke about the organization’s mission and involvement in the event, while Canby Foursquare Pastor Ron Swor delivered the invocation.

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