What are your dreams for your community?
That was a question posed and answered when the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee invited community members and religious and civic leaders to a special dinner in the Discovery Room of the Center for Educational Technologies on the Wheeling Jesuit University campus Monday, Jan. 21.
In recognition of this year's 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, the Rev. James O'Brien, S.J., a member of the Jesuit community at the university and a leader of the local MLK Committee, asked dinner guests to reflect on their own dreams and to dream together for the future of the community. O'Brien chose this thought as the focal point: "To dream by oneself is merely to dream, but to dream with others - aah, that is the beginning of reality!"
Speakers at the dinner shared their dreams and those of their organizations and reflected upon their successful partnerships and ones that are envisioned in the community. After the brief presentations, guests at each table talked about dreams and hopes for our local area.
During the program, Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie presented a proclamation - declaring the day as Martin Luther King Jr. Awareness Day in the city - to O'Brien, who accepted for the MLK Committee. Referring to the evening's theme, McKenzie commented that "to dream with others is the beginning of a new and vigorous reality."
Saying "I am a big dreamer," the mayor remarked, "One of the problems with society today is we're so afraid to try new things." McKenzie added, "In Wheeling, we're really trying to change." Referring to renewal efforts in the city, he said, "Sometimes you have to start anew."
The Rev. James Fleming, S.J., executive vice president of Wheeling Jesuit University, related that university officials are working with the Regional Economic Development Partnership in an effort to move Wheeling Jesuit's physical therapy program to a location in downtown Wheeling. A pro-bono physical therapy clinic would be part of the downtown presence, he added.As for dreaming, Fleming said that university officials would like to see residential housing, such as apartments, in downtown Wheeling for its graduate students. He explained that there is no housing available on campus for graduate students, and many potential grad students have been unable to find adequate housing in the community.
Illuminating his remarks about the downtown area, Fleming noted that St. Ignatius, founder of the Society of Jesus, always encouraged the Jesuits "to be in conversation with the city" when choosing their location to settle.
Dr. Dianna Vargo, superintendent of Ohio County Schools, outlined the school system's efforts "to inspire dreams in our students." She spoke of the partnerships that exist between Wheeling Park High School and West Virginia Northern Community College in the vocational and technical education programs. She also cited the expansion of online courses for high school students and the school district's commitment to the arts, demonstrated by the opening of the J.B. Chambers Performing Arts Center.
"By offering these options, our students are able to dream and achieve," Vargo commented.
Speaking on behalf of the Upper Ohio Valley Clergy Alliance, the Rev. Dr. Darrell W. Cummings, senior pastor of Bethlehem Apostolic Temple in Wheeling, remarked, "We have a great community. We are moving in the right direction."
Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner, rabbi of Temple Shalom, Wheeling, and a member of the Wheeling Human Rights Commission, said King "had a dream, a beautiful vision." She declared, "Dr. King's dream is still alive in Wheeling."
P.J. Reindel, director of Catholic Charities Neighborhood Center, and John Moses, director of Youth Services System, shared their dreams for community organizations to work together more closely to solve problems in Wheeling.
Citing an example of a family in immediate need being helped through a bureaucratic maze, Moses posed the question, "Can systems think outside their proverbial boxes?" Reindel replied that conversations have been started locally to address the needs of families with young children who are vulnerable to being out on the streets.
Reindel related that Catholic Charities has purchased an empty house between the neighborhood center and the adjacent Laughlin Memorial Chapel and has plans to make the house available for a family in desperate need.
Reindel then encouraged the dinner guests and their faith communities to be "a part of that dream" and "to be different spokes in a wheel to create very good, positive solutions."
Linda Comins can be reached via email at: Comins@news-register.net