On October 7, 2021, 200 AIM leaders joined together on Zoom for an evening of community and commitment to kick off our Listening Campaign. Since then, our congregations have listened to over 400 Montgomery County residents and counting, asking: what is getting in the way of you and your family thriving?
AIM leaders at Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Silver Spring lead a listening session with food pantry clients in November 2021.
What is a listening session?
As we work towards building a countywide issues agenda during a listening campaign, our member institutions hold listening sessions where participants share—usually in groups of 8-10 people—what they most long for and the issues on which they are motivated to act.
At AIM institutions like Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist, Bethesda Friends Meeting, River Road Unitarian Universalist, B’nai Israel, and Washington Hebrew Congregation, leaders are facilitating listening sessions with small groups of congregants to learn what needs exist within their communities and identify leaders to take action on these issues.
AIM institutions are also adapting the listening session format to their own institutions, finding innovative ways to welcome community members into the listening process. At St. Camillus Catholic Church and Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Silver Spring, leaders are holding listening sessions in English and Spanish with individuals in line at community food pantries. At Harvest Intercontinental Church, Olney, leaders are meeting with each of Harvest’s ten care groups, where members meet weekly to build relationships and grow in their faith. And at Wheaton Woods Elementary, leaders have held outdoor playdates where parents can share their concerns and their hopes for the future while picking their students up after school.
What we’re hearing in our listening sessions
Listening Session Issues: December 2021
AIM’s issue agenda will be shaped by conversations that take place in our member institutions throughout the entire listening campaign process. The chart above highlights some of the major issues that have emerged during the first months of our listening campaign. Many of these issues have clustered around the themes below.
Affordable Housing and Cost of Living in Montgomery County
This theme includes the issue of affordable housing, as well as healthcare, childcare, food insecurity, and transportation. Many participants have raised concerns about affordable housing and homeownership, including their ability to age in community after retirement; being unable to afford a home when downsizing or moving; and relatives and adult children being unable to afford living in the area without financial support from family members.
Participants have also raised concerns about the cost of living in Montgomery County, expressing a longing for affordable, quality rental options, adequate transportation, health and dental care, and affordable childcare and elder care.
Concern for Children’s and Young Adults’ Futures
Many participants have expressed concern about their own futures, or the futures of their children or grandchildren. These concerns centered around climate change, student debt, the difficulty of finding well-paid work, affordable housing, and mental healthcare.
COVID-19 and Social Isolation
Many participants described experiencing feelings of isolation and loneliness due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has made it difficult for many to gather with faith communities, family members, and friends. Seniors are longing for senior programs to meet their physical, social, and emotional needs during this time, and parents and grandparents are worried about the effect of the pandemic on children’s mental health.
All together, many participants expressed a longing for meaningful connection and community as so many of our usual ways of gathering continue to be strained by the pandemic.
What’s next for our listening campaign?
Throughout January and February, AIM members will continue to hold listening sessions to find out what our communities are longing for most, identify potential leaders, and determine what issues we are ready to take action on together.
As the listening campaign progresses, we will begin holding issue- and region-specific listening sessions to invite additional input on specific topics and begin refining large-scale issues into actionable agenda items. Issue action teams will begin research to identify specific policy objectives.
In early spring, AIM institutions will review a draft agenda based on the feedback collected during the listening campaign. Then, AIM institutions will ratify our People’s Agenda at a countywide meeting. This agenda will identify our 2022 issue priorities and provide a roadmap for our 2022 organizing and get-out-the-vote efforts.
Hosting your listening session
Ready to host your own listening session? Visit our Resources page for a step-by-step guide for listening session facilitators, a template for notetakers, and more!