The Transylvania Times -

Project Empathy Stories Will Focus On The Positive – Transylvania County, NC


Last updated 9/7/2020 at 12:26pm

Transylvania County’s Project Empathy, in collaboration with The Transylvania Times, today is publishing the first in an ongoing series of articles that will highlight positive things that people and organizations are contributing to the community, while asking what can be done – and is being done – to make Transylvania better.

Each Monday, the series of articles will feature perspectives from Transylvania County residents, sharing what they are most proud of in the county and what they would like to see change.

“We’ve been working with the Times to create a series of articles where people simply explain what they like about our community, how they see ways to improve our community, and then talk a little about what they themselves are doing in that regard, or what other folks are doing that deserves to be recognized,” said Project Empathy volunteer Chuck Gilmore.

“The goal of the project is to try to help people within our community understand each other in terms of what I like to call just humanity, or human need,” he said. “Regardless of all our differences in political beliefs, or religious beliefs, or any other types of differences, we all have human needs and we all have to help each other out to make a community.”

The article series is an outgrowth of Project Empathy’s ongoing efforts to encourage civil public discourse within the community. When the COVID-19 pandemic closed down many of the traditional venues for community discussion, Project Empathy members approached The Transylvania Times about using the newspaper as a tool for reaching a broader audience.

“In a time of COVID-19 and a great deal of uncertainty, we want to lift up the positive and encourage community engagement and dialogue,” said Project Empathy’s Mark Burrows. “Our aim is to collect the stories from individuals representing the many threads that make up Transylvania County.”

The first six community responses can be found on page 12A of today’s paper. At the beginning of the responses, readers will also find the questions that form the basis of the Project Empathy articles.

Anyone who wishes to respond is encouraged to do so, keeping in mind that responses should be non-political and non-partisan in nature. (Political opinions should still be submitted to the newspaper’s Opinions of the Readers section.)

The goal of the Project Empathy articles is to help readers understand what respondents cherish about Transylvania, and to recognize the efforts of those who are trying to make the county a better place to live.

Project Empathy volunteer Susan Threlkel is optimistic that the newspaper articles will encourage participation from people who might not be comfortable going to speak in a public forum.

“Hopefully, this is an opportunity to get a good cross section of the community generationally, geographically – any way you can think of,” she said. “And I hope people will use this to acknowledge someone or some organization that’s doing something, or, you know, just give credit where they feel credit is due.”

About Project Empathy

Project Empathy, a group of about 40 individuals and local organizations, was spearheaded by Burrows as an outgrowth of his work as the county’s former director of planning, economic and community development.

While working with the planning board on the county’s 2025 comprehensive plan, he and board members heard numerous complaints from community members that their voices were not being heard. In response, Project Empathy was formed as a nongovernmental, volunteer-run organization to foster dialogue and understanding within the community.

Since that time, the group has hosted several public forums on a variety of subjects: “Living Across Boundaries,” a public health discussion led by Dr. Gary Gunderson of Baptist Hospital in Winston Salem; “Time To Talk About Guns,” moderated by Brevard Police Chief Phil Harris and featuring perspectives from both sides of the gun rights issue; and community input sessions on the county’s comprehensive bike plan. Project Empathy has also hosted lunches with local high school students to foster dialogue about social issues, and, most recently, the group collaborated with the sheriff’s department and the police department to help host two community listening sessions for Rosenwald Community residents and others to share their concerns with law enforcement.

For Threlkel, who has been an active volunteer with numerous community organizations over the years, Project Empathy strives to achieve many of the goals that she thinks are critical for a community: respecting differences and making connections, understanding and practicing empathy, affirming diversity and promoting opportunities for sharing experiences and perspectives.

She has been pleased to see how quickly the community has begun working together with Project Empathy, and how many local organizations have collaborated with the group.

“I think that people are really committed to seeing that we move this forward and are trying to become, in this day and time, more inclusive, more respectful, and a healthier, better community.”

Gilmore, who has worked with Project Empathy for two years, became involved with the group because his own personal experience had taught him that people are able to overcome their differences when they have a common goal.

“For 13 years in this county I had small engineering firm, and we worked with many contractors, individual homeowners and commercial store owners, all of us coming from different backgrounds,” he said. “We got along well, because everyone needed something from someone else. The fact that one of us happened to be a very conservative person and the other one may have happened to be a liberal person, we still had a common goal that we would operate on. When I heard about Project Empathy, I just felt that was a goal that should be carried over to the entire community. That’s why I started working with Mark.”

Burrows said the group is hopeful that their collaboration with the newspaper will allow Project Empathy to connect with people they might not have reached previously, and to do it in a way that highlights what people love about Transylvania County.

“The goal here is, ‘How do we keep this community focused on positive things that people and organizations are doing, what are the things that they would like to see change, and, then, what are you doing about it, what are you doing to make this a better place?’ That’s the impetus for this project,” he said.

To learn more about project empathy or to share your story, email [email protected]


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