WIN Pacesetter: Advancing Intergenerational Well-Being in Fox Cities, Wisconsin

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WIN pacesetters are communities leading the way when it comes to creating legacies of intergenerational well-being for all. Local changemakers, as stewards, work together in these communities to steer systems and shift mindsets. By meeting shared needs today, stewards are transforming communities for generations to come.

Community member reflections. Imagine Fox Cities 2019 Summit.

Fox Cities, Wisconsin isn’t a single city. It’s a collection of towns and villages. It’s Fox River and High Cliff State Park. It’s the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Fox Cities Campus. 

The places of Fox Cities are diverse, bridging natural beauty and local industry, connecting a patchwork of communities to create home for nearly 400,000 regional residents.

In 2017, 32 of these residents launched Imagine Fox Cities to celebrate all that Fox Cities has to offer—and to imagine the future of Fox Cities not just for tomorrow, but for generations to come.

“It’s important to think about the impact of our decisions, to understand the consequences of a 50-year decision. We reflected on how decisions were made in the past and realized it was a small group of local leaders. We needed to create a platform to help us make decisions about the future that kept that generational perspective in mind—and to help us include the community in these decisions,” Walt Rugland, Imagine Fox Cities Co-Founder states.

One leader’s vision is no longer enough. One voice for 400,000 can’t capture the strengths and assets of the entire region, doesn’t know what’s working and what needs to change.

The Imagine Fox Cities team recognized that just as Fox Cities is a connected collection of unique places, the people of Fox Cities have both common goals and diverse perspectives. From Appleton and Kaukauna to Greenville and Little Chute, all residents need to have a say in their shared future, need an opportunity to tell their stories, and need the chance to create healthy, vibrant places for their children and grandchildren.

The Imagine Fox Cities team launched a six-month discovery process to do just that: listen and learn together.

“We asked everyone we could: What do you want Fox Cities to be like for your grandkids? We hosted conversations and we offered a five-minute survey on our website: How are you doing? How’s your mental health, your physical health, your economic health?” Beth Flaherty, Imagine Fox Cities Co-Chair states. 

Connect and follow Imagine Fox Cities on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter.  

Eighty-one facilitated conversations and 3,000 survey responses later, the Imagine Fox Cities team had a wealth of information to begin to understand how people felt about Fox Cities right now, how optimistic they were about their future—and what bold ideas the community could consider to increase intergenerational well-being for all.

Click here to listen to Fox Cities community members. 

Diving into the data, the Imagine Fox Cities team started to make meaning of the responses, discovering familiar stories and revealing new ones:

“Our community has a more diverse population than it did a generation ago. While many long-time residents and the majority, white population consider the Fox Cities to be an open and accepting place, racial and ethnic minorities, as well as members of the LGBTQ community, don’t always experience it this way,” Imagine Fox Cities, What We Heard

Community members often shared the same value but expressed these values in different ways. For example, strong family is important across the region. But, the definition of family needs to be more inclusive. 

“Many of the events are family-focused with narrow definition of what ‘family’ is: all related by blood, straight, with two kids,” shared one resident through survey comments.

The survey numbers mirrored these personal stories, uncovering the complexity of what people were experiencing across the region. While Fox Cities has many strengths, nearly 40% of survey respondents identified as struggling or suffering, not thriving—and not living to their full potential:

Well-being survey results. Imagine Fox Cities 2019 Summit. 

When Imagine Fox Cities surveyed residents, they were measuring self-perceived well-being: Do people feel they are thriving, suffering, or struggling when it comes to all aspects of their lives: physical, mental, emotional, financial, and spiritual health?

The Well Being in the Nation (WIN) Network defines well-being in two, related ways. Well-being is both personal—changing over time as we live our lives—and dependent on a system designed long before we were born:

  • Personal Experiences: Individual perspectives and experiences that affect how we think, feel, and function, as well as how we evaluate our lives as a whole.

  • Vital Conditions: Properties of places and institutions that we all need to reach our potential.

Click to learn more about the WIN Network and Vital Conditions

As the Imagine Fox Cities team analyzed the responses, conversations, and ideas, they discovered this same pattern. There were many thriving people and places in the region. Strengths and assets were easy to name and to celebrate:

“We have many local institutions in place to support our sense of community, such as strong local neighborhoods, community-based organizations like the YWCA, places of worship, libraries, and farmers’ markets.

“We value our arts institutions such as the Performing Arts Center and Bergstrom Mahler Museum, as well as other cultural offerings such as Mile of Music, Octoberfest, Bazaar After Dark, food truck rallies and concerts, such as PorchasPalooza in Menasha. We want to build on this culture, which is such a big part of our quality of life--and a real plus for attracting and retaining talent,” Imagine Fox Cities, What We Heard.

But, not all people and places were thriving and the 40% of people struggling and suffering surfaced in many ways:

“The Fox Cities are a wealthy set of communities, but the long-term planning for ecological sustainability is not there. We need more stringent regulations on industry in the area, including paper companies and large-scale agriculture that both have potential harmful effects to the water supplies. ... With the wealth we have we should be a national leader on sustainability.

“Everyone in the Fox Cities is ‘happy, happy, happy.’ It’s such a great place to live. I would agree, we have a good community, but many feel they need to put on their ‘happy face’ and hide all mental health issues. There are a lot of stigmas that need to be broken, and people need to feel OK to open up about how they are truly feeling. Mental health is a major concern,” Imagine Fox Cities, What We Heard.

Community members also shared bold ideas and exciting opportunities to create new legacies for living together today--and tomorrow: 

  • We need ongoing touchpoints with students as a whole to help them understand and learn that their futures are dependent on what they do now. 

  • Life skills training through kindergarten to college.

  • Build a multi-cultural community center.

Imagine Fox Cities 2019 Summit invitation. 

The Imagine Fox Cities team reflected big takeaways from the discovery phase at a 300-person Summit in October 2019, offering community members a chance to respond to the results together. 

The team summarized What We Heard and shared the following themes:

  • We have a strong sense of community but not all are feeling it.

  • We prize our cultural and natural assets.

  • We are looking for ways to ensure meaningful employment and livable wages.

  • Education is a critical bridge to our shared future.

  • Mental health in on everyone’s mind.

  • The future will require new ways of thinking, learning, and working together. 

Summit attendees sharing their ideas and priorities for advancing intergenerational well-being for all. Imagine Fox Cities 2019 Summit. 

The Summit also gave community members the chance to move toward action together, approving the Imagine Fox Cities vision and commitments. 

“Not many communities take the time or put in the effort to gather input to develop a driving visioning statement to agree on,” Mike Weller, Imagine Fox Cities co-chair says, “But the Fox Cities is doing just that.”

While the work has only just begun in Fox Cities, the deep engagement and intergenerational commitment is evidence that the Imagine Fox Cities team members are already living their vision and values:  

The overall aim of Imagine Fox Cities is to advance the well-being of our place and the well-being of our people. To create the conditions for everyone who calls this place home the opportunity to reach their full potential. We dare to imagine, and endeavor to realize, a shared future that leads to greater flourishing—for this generation and the next.

We commit: To sustain what makes this place special, to foster innovation, to be inclusive, to measure what matters, to build on and align efforts, to offer gracious space and to act with the next generations in mind.

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