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'What's Brewing?' organizers consider all evening sessions, scaling back to once a month, not weekly

For nearly eight years, the Crook County Foundation's "What's Brewing?" community forum has been a weekly early morning affair.

That is going to change when the long-time forum resumes later this year.

When the forum was created, the "What's Brewing?" name was meant to be a play on two themes: finding out what is going in the community and beyond and enjoying a free supply of coffee as you find out that information.

"It is for everybody in Crook County who cares about what's going on," Kristi Steber said before launching the series in September 2010. "The goal is to bring attention to the issues that are affecting our county."

Then the executive director of the foundation, Steber said the goal was to present proactive topics that are really important and provide them in a neutral, safe place where people feel free to speak and have their opinions heard.

The forum was originally conceived as a resurrected version of another weekly morning meeting that brought community groups together during the mid-1990s. Steber explained that the Chamber of Commerce had a Legislative Committee that met weekly down at the Cinnabar restaurant.

"It was a similar format. They would go around the room and talk about what was going on. Then they had the speaker. Whenever representatives or senators came through town, they showed up."

When Daleena Green became executive director in 2016, the forum underwent some changes both in its development and how it was presented. The foundation formed a new committee comprised of various local leaders who would help the organization's director and board members come up with weekly topics.

The foundation also branched out from its strictly morning format and added an evening session during the final week of each month. The evening session first took place at Crossroad BBQ Pit & Pub before returning to Meadow Lakes Restaurant, the home of the morning sessions, in 2017.

"Our goal in that is we recognize that younger professionals, folks with families trying to get their kids to school, that morning session, we're hearing is more difficult for folks to come out to," Green said in 2016 when the change was made. She added that the format change was meant not only draw more participants, but invite them to bring their families and perhaps enjoy dinner.

"We are excited about that," she remarked.

The evening sessions enjoyed enough success that the foundation had decided to shift the forum exclusively to that time of day when the program resumes later this year.

"The main reason was that we have seen a stronger attendance in the evening, as people generally have more flexibility with their time," explained Brandi Ebner, who was recently hired to replace Green, who is moving out of town. "We have seen a shift as the economy has improved, that people have less time to commit weekly to attend events."

But the time of day isn't the only change coming. Foundation leaders also plan to scale back the frequency of the sessions.

"We have seen other speaker series get started in the community, so reducing the number back will make it easier for folks to prioritize and participate in multiple programs," Ebner explained. "Fewer 'What's Brewing?' events will also allow us to focus on stronger topics every single time that will be more impactful and valuable to our citizens. For example, some of the strong topics in the past have led to the creation of Crook County On The Move and resulting in citizens getting more involved in preventing human trafficking in Crook County."

Details are still in development, but foundation leaders hope to offer around six evening sessions during the upcoming season, and evaluate how the change went at the season's conclusion.

"The 'What's Brewing?' series is, and has been, very important to the foundation, as we have spent nearly a decade bringing important and valuable topics to the citizens of Crook County," Ebner said. "We want more people to have the opportunity to participate in discussions and be inspired to get engaged in their community."

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