For a group that wants to foster communication, the people in charge really know how to get a conversation started.

Under the tutelage of Sara and Dudley Brown, Allen and Carol McKiel, Mary Jane Saeger, Thea Nietfeld and Bonita Plymale, Diversity in CommUNITY is sponsoring its fifth annual community forum on Thursday, Jan. 19 at 6:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church, as part of Northeastern State University’s Martin Luther King Jr. recognition week.

“We’re trying to foster a community that works well together,” said Plymale. “We’re encouraging organizations and individuals to come together and discuss issues that are important to Tahlequah residents.”

This year’s conference is different than those held in years past, with a single topic of discussion centering on volunteer efforts to help Hurricane Katrina evacuees, as well as future volunteer work.

“We’re focusing all of our attention on one evening event and discussing a single topic, instead of splitting our attention between different topics,” said Nietfeld. “We’ll be looking carefully at how other communities responded to Katrina events, and we hope some ideas will come out and this will be a catalyst to come together in a crisis.”

Mayor Ken Purdy has volunteered to facilitate the evening discussion.

“We’ll be looking at ways we can cooperate with each other during times of crisis,” said Allen McKiel. “Mayor Purdy agreed to facilitate because this is important to him, and many of the things he has articulated, we want to discuss. We want to take a look at what happened with the efforts for Hurricane Katrina evacuees, and see if we can formulate things that worked and improve on the things that didn’t.”

Rev. Kevin Stewart, president of the Muskogee Ministerial Alliance, from Muskogee Church of Christ, and Rev. David Stephenson, of First United Methodist Church in Skiatook, will share their experiences in coordinating congregations and others to help Katrina evacuees, and discuss community and congregation volunteers working together for a common goal.

“I led the effort at Camp Gruber to get churches to help sponsor evacuees from New Orleans,” said Stewart. “We networked a group together and placed around 350 families with churches.”

Stewart will also touch on efforts to help evacuees crossing both racial and religious boundaries.

“In a broader sense, we were just trying to help people,” said Stewart. “We weren’t there to preach to them.”

Along those lines, a number of local organizations have been invited to share their experiences with evacuees.

“It was great that people from different religious backgrounds could come together,” said Plymale. “It was a good step for our community. Sometimes we tend to divide things into sects and shut out the rest.”

Representatives from Help-In-Crisis, Kid Connections, American Association of University Women, Christian Children’s Fund, Senior Volunteers for American, DHS, a number of churches and anyone else who helped evacuees are invited to the discussion.

Sara Brown also hopes employees of Tahlequah Public Schools, who helped enroll students at Camp Gruber in local classes, will also provide their input.

“We’re hoping this is a big event,” said Carol McKiel. “There aren’t any Bowl games scheduled, so lots of people should come.”

Organizers hope discussing the community’s reaction to the Hurricane Katrina aftermath will better prepare them for future crises.

“With tornado season coming, it gives us something to think about,” said Dudley Brown.

The event is free of charge, and refreshments will be served. The choir from Antioch Baptist Church will provide entertainment.

Since its inception five years ago, Diversity in Community has encouraged organizations to work together on issues important to Tahlequah residents. For more information, contact Carol McKiel at (918) 456-3331.


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