Before August 12, 2017, the Charlottesville area was known as one of the great places to live. Countless magazine articles celebrated our beautiful scenery, cultural amenities, and thriving economy.

Long-time residents know there’s another side to the Charlottesville story. Sure, life here is great for some, though surely not for all.

Our post-August 12 civic story is a work in progress. How do we work together to understand and solve our problems?

Let’s start with a conversation around a Community Table.

What is a Community Table?

It’s a simple idea: bring people in our community together to share a meal, a conversation, and build common ground.

First UWTJA Community Table Event October 15, 2017


Our first Community Table event was held on October 15, 2017. The United Way convened a host committee of African-American pastors, leaders of the synagogue and mosque, community leaders, our Board members, and staff. Together, we welcomed about 700 people to a meal at the Jefferson School City Center.

“I don’t think we have to look at the bad things that have happened. We need to accentuate the positive in the community and take that positive and use it to turn the negatives into positives, and this event did that,” Leah Puryear told the Daily Progress in 2017. “If people can begin to understand what it means to be overlooked, disrespected or under-valued, then we can begin to rise above it,” she said.

Our second Community Table was held on April 8, 2019, as part of the Tom Tom Festival. The Paramount hosted the event at no charge to the United Way. A diverse crowd of 107 people gathered around 12 tables.

The April 8 event was the first in a series of smaller Community Table events to be held this year. In preparation, the original host committee was expanded, and it decided to include a conversation facilitator at each table.

The goal of the smaller-table concept is to provide an intimate setting in which relationships can gain traction, and discussions can focus more on solutions. The 2019 events will focus on the United Way’s Impact Areas of School Readiness, Self-Sufficiency, and Community Health.

The new relationships and new perspectives gained from the Community Table events will inform how the United Way identifies solutions to the issues challenging our community’s most vulnerable residents.

“All positive change – whether in civic life, business life, or personal life – begins with members of a community feeling as though they have equal access to and agency in a shared conversation. It’s what’s always been true about America, and Charlottesville in particular,” said Rishi Jaitly, a member of the United Way TJA Board of Directors and CEO of Times Bridge.  “The United Way’s 2019 Community Tables are an embodiment of this truth — and I’m delighted that they will not only extend the impact of the United Way’s focus issues but also help realize an even more inclusive Charlottesville,” he said.

The next Community Table is being planned for August 8, 2019.  To sign up for future Community Table events, please submit your information via email to

PS – Want to learn more about the challenges facing our community? Try reading the Friendship Court series by Charlottesville Tomorrow. Alternatively, study the Orange Dot report.