Community Issues

Strangers Become Friends Around a Big Table

10 people who didn't know each other well find common ground around one table


For weeks we've been telling you about The Big Table (click here), a one day event that invited people in the Pittsburgh region to connect with each other in small groups, over a meal, to have meaningful conversations about our shared values as a community and what can be done to make us more caring and connected.

Yesterday, people gathered around 250 Big Tables around the region. At the Big Table I attended, we spent two hours getting to know each other and discussing some of the things that unite us and how we can use what we have in common to address the issues that still divide us.

Thomas Wallace, Jessica Bellas, Cynthia Cavendish, Christie Tillapaugh, Jennifer Cairns and Christopher Cavendish meet around The Big Table at Sarah Heinz House

Our Big Table was held at the Sarah Heinz House on Pittsburgh's Northside, co-sponsored by C4CS the crisis communication company I work for when I'm not here at Sparkt. Ten of us shared a dinner of lasagna and some great conversation. Three of the participants are people I work with or have worked with, one is someone I know casually. The other 6 I had never met.

KDKA Money & Politics reporter Jon Delano and C4CS CEO Oliver Schmidt learned that they live in the same neighborhood

The one thing we had in common was that we're all professionals, and all of us are involved in something that's working to make our community better, be it our jobs, or groups we serve outside of our day jobs. Seven of us are graduates of Leadership Pittsburgh, which organized The Big Table event.

We found lots about us that was different, from the neighborhoods where we grew up (including some who are not Pittsburgh natives), to what we're passionate about. We are a unique bunch! Among us we had a:

  • Champion "natural" bodybuilder
  • Pittsburgh Passion football player
  • Woman who volunteers with a "goat scaping" organization
  • Man who danced on the Berlin wall when it was coming down
  • Woman who formed a group for female lawyers to support each other
  • Guy does walking tours of downtown Pittsburgh

Christopher Whitlatch's tours include a throwback tour of the city's former red light district. I think we agreed we're going to try to go on that tour together, so stay tuned to Sparkt for a future story!

There was as much listening as there was talking. Christopher Whitlatch, Jon Delano, Oliver Schmidt

What we learned in two short hours of conversation was that there are many things about Pittsburgh we love: our friendliness, generosity, family, "six-degrees-or-less" connectedness, our civic pride and history. But there are many things that need to change: we're still an insular community that doesn't easily welcome outsiders, we don't think globally, and not everyone has the same opportunities for success.

Thomas Wallace shared how his relationship with his high school football coach steered him to Edinboro University, which launched his career with non-profits like the YMCA

Bottom line we agreed: relationships are the key . Relationships make us and our city stronger, and relationships are the first step to solving any problem we might face. Our group agreed we would make this a focus for ourselves, and start by maintaining our new relationships by staying in touch.

The conversation continued after dinner ended. (Front) Jessica Bellas, Cynthia Cavendish-Carey, Oliver Schmidt. (Back) Jennifer Cairns, Thomas Wallace, Jon Delano, Christopher Cavendish

Who knows what could come of one night where 10 people met someone they didn't know and had an open conversation over dinner? I think that was the point of The Big Table Pittsburgh 2019, and if so, our table was a success.

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