LA SAFE table hosts sharpen facilitation skills at workshop


Table hosts need to be well prepared for the complicated process of guiding residents through conversations about their parishes' respective futures in the face of increasing land loss and flood. Thanks to FFL's LEAD the Coast program that directly addresses such issues, community leaders learn to become better table hosts.

Nearly 20 community leaders gathered for a workshop July 8 to hone their facilitation skills as table hosts for events sponsored by LASAFE — Strategic Adaptations for Future Environments. This initiative is a collaboration between Foundation for Louisiana and the state of Louisiana’s Office of Community Development. It includes a co-design process in which residents will collaborate on a pilot project in six parishes — Jefferson, Lafourche, Plaquemines, St. John the Baptist, St. Tammany and Terrebonne — with $40 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Table hosts need to be well prepared for the complicated process of guiding residents through conversations about their parishes’ respective futures in the face of increasing land loss and flood. Thanks to FFL’s LEAD the Coast program that directly addresses such issues, community leaders learn to become better table hosts.

Leaders of the July 8 workshop, held at the Propeller Incubator in New Orleans’ Broadmoor neighborhood, helped table hosts identify successes and opportunities for improvement from the previous two rounds of LA SAFE meetings — first at the broader, parishwide level and more recently at the smaller, community level. The presentation team included Dr. Pam Jenkins, FFL’s board chair; Corey Miller, Outreach and Engagement Director at Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana; and Bobbie Hill, Director of Planning at Concordia.

Jenkins and Miller led the group through a series of exercises and presentations. In one exercise, participants constructively critique one another on how to introduce themselves to residents and make them feel welcome at the meetings; in another, table hosts performed role-playing in an engagement scenario in which they needed to ask follow-up questions to go deeper into a conversation and gain more information from one another.

“Everybody who was in this room today has had experience facilitating conversations around coastal land loss, restoration and adaptation. They’ve come into those speed bumps and found where those conversations can be difficult,” said Liz Williams, FFL’s Coastal Community Resilience Program Director. “Today was a more advanced training experience to address some of those conversations that already have happened and go over some different tactics for responding in a way that’s considerate and respectful.”

Table hosts ticked off a list of challenges they faced in their discussions residents, including resistance to change, staying focused on the task at hand, thinking more long term about a parish’s future, and ensuring that every voice at the table was heard.

Jenkins and Miller also explained the most common terminology and definitions that relate to coastal work and climate change that might come up in future community meetings. In another presentation, Lacy McManus of Greater New Orleans, Inc., offered an overview of workforce development projects and economic opportunities of southeast Louisiana.

Bobbie Hill of Concordia led the table hosts through another presentation, “Principles of Our Work Together: Planning a future for our Gulf Coast communities.”

“Not only are we inviting real people to develop solutions,” Hill said, “but we are also hopefully convincing those entities who are supposed to be doing community engagement to do it a different way and we are just scratching the surface.”

The LASAFE initiative has committed to following five principles to come up with solutions that no one has thought of before and inspire coastal communities around the world: share power, prioritize relationships, include all points of view, use all kinds of knowledge, and test solutions early and often.

One table host, Houma native Jonathan Foret, serves as Executive Director of the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center. He said including the points of view of different people is one of the most interesting parts of the LASAFE process.

“Sometimes I think I know what’s best for the community and we have these discussions and it goes in a completely different direction. It’s interesting to see people come in and give their opinion. It’s been refreshing to have people think outside of the box,” he said. “No matter how crazy the idea seems to be, there may be some inspiration that takes us to a solution.

“Foundation for Louisiana has done an excellent job with a very challenging task,” Foret continued. “The whole process has been very sobering because, for some people, it’s the first time that they’re having these discussions of what our future looks like and our future looks much different than where we are today. I’m really happy to be a part of this process because I think it’s going to make our community much stronger into the future.”

Brittany Kime serves as a table host while working on a graduate degree in environmental science at the University of New Orleans. She says she loves the idea of getting different kinds of knowledge from different people.

“At the Pleasure Bend meeting (in St. John the Baptist Parish), a lot of the older (members of the) community came out and provided their perspective on the history of the area and what they wanted to maintain.”

And there’s always room for improvement. Bobbie Hill talked about the need to test solutions early and often by doing an evaluation at every meeting: “We want to make sure if we’re not doing something right, we are correcting it as we go.”

What often comes out of these meetings is a deeper appreciation for each parish and its challenges, and the need to build stronger relationships with the residents as this planning process becomes more sharply focused.

“I loved how we gained the trust of Plaquemines residents,” said table host Patricia Davis. “We were able to bring something new to them by going to where the people are and hearing their stories. Everyone has a story about how they survive, and folks who live off the land are severely affected by changes.”

Our LEAD the Coast program is made possible through the generous support of the Ford Foundation, Surdna Foundation, blue moon fund, and Rockefeller Foundation. Thank you!

We are still recruiting table hosts for the next round of parishwide meetings (July 24 – Aug. 3). If you’re interested, contact Rachelle Thomason at [email protected].

Residents can follow the planning process and receive updates on the LA SAFE initiative at, on the LA SAFE Facebook page as well as on Twitter and Instagram (all @livelasafe).

A full list of the upcoming parishwide meetings is below. All meetings are from 6 – 8 p.m., unless otherwise noted. Food will be provided. Anyone requiring special assistance, due to a disability, to participate in a meeting, or who requires childcare or transportation to attend, should contact Foundation for Louisiana at 504.517.5292 at least five working days prior to the meeting.

Wednesday, Aug. 2 — Mel Ott Recreation Center, 2301 Belle Chasse Hwy., Gretna

Wednesday, July 26 — Mathews Government Complex, 4876 La. Hwy. 1, Mathews

Monday, July 24 — Port Sulphur YMCA/Community Center, 278 Civic Drive, Port Sulphur
Monday, July 31 (4 – 6 p.m.) — Vietnamese community at Buras Community Center/YMCA, 36364 U.S. Hwy. 11, Buras
Monday, July 31 (6 – 8 p.m.) — Cambodian community at Buras Community Center/YMCA, 36364 U.S. Hwy. 11, Buras

Thursday, Aug. 3 — St. John the Baptist Parish Community Center, 2900 U.S. Hwy. 51, LaPlace

Thursday, July 27 — Lakeshore High School, 26301 La. Hwy. 1088, Mandeville

Tuesday, Aug. 1 — Houma-Terrebonne Civic Center, 346 Civic Center Blvd., Houma

About LA SAFE —LA SAFE is a planning process to develop a common vision with coastal residents intended to guide parish-specific decision-making in coming decades relative to projected flood risks. The Louisiana Office of Community Development’s Disaster Recovery Unit, in partnership with the Foundation for Louisiana’s Coastal Resilience Leverage Fund and the elected leadership of the parish, is coordinating the LA SAFE planning initiative. The planning process is a key step in the implementation of LA SAFE, a $40 million initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Once plans are developed, the LA SAFE team will use the balance of funds to invest in proposed programs and projects. LA SAFE is a community-focused resilience and adaptation policy framework complementing the state’s Coastal Master Plan.

About Foundation for Louisiana —The mission of Foundation for Louisiana (FFL) is to invest in people and practices that reduce vulnerability and build stronger, more sustainable communities statewide. FFL’s partnership with the State of Louisiana on the launch of the planning process of LA SAFE builds on FFL’s extensive work in coastal communities and its commitment to equitable and inclusive planning. Working within the Coastal Resiliency Leverage Fund and through the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Foundation began work in the summer and fall of 2016 on its LEAD the Coast initiative, which supported Plaquemines Parish residents in the design of their own coastal community engagement and planning process. Since its founding in 2005, FFL has invested $41.5 million in more than 200 mission-critical nonprofit organizations working throughout the state towards rebuilding a better Louisiana.