A friend told a friend, who told a friend, and then – One Community United was born in Rome.
On Sunday, more than 250 people of all races, creeds and political persuasions gathered on the Chief John Ross Memorial Bridge for the nonprofit’s annual fundraiser, dubbed One Table.
It was a new experience for many, but conversation flowed freely between strangers during the four-course dinner served on china set on linen-clad tables spanning the Oostanaula River.
Mary Beth Gregoire was chatting with Thomas Benton. He’s a Berry College student invited by his friend Julia Churchill, a One Table volunteer.
“From the first time I saw pictures of this, I just knew I had to come,” Gregoire said as a cool breeze wafted across the bridge and Rylee Ruegger, Miss Rome’s Outstanding Teen, handed out sunglasses to diners seated on the sunny side.
The meal, in its third year, is aimed at sparking community connections. Judy Morgan of Rome got an invitation from a friend and she invited her friend Charles Lee of Cave Spring. Morgan said she’s captivated by the atmosphere.
“I’ve already talked to Sundai Stevenson about letting me know when the (One Community) meetings are,” she said, referring to one of the board members. “I really enjoy talking to different people and I’m glad to have the opportunity to come.”
A friend of Joy Jones told her about the ladies’ meetings – held at 5:30 p.m. on the fourth Monday of each month at Rome First United Methodist Church. And Jones invited Sam Finster of Summerville to the One Table event.
“I’ve lived in Rome all my life and I just love the idea of the community coming together like this,” Jones said.
Finster said he likes the premise of the meal: When you buy two tickets, a third ticket is given to a student or someone else who wouldn’t normally be able to attend.
“And we get to have dinner with someone we don’t know,” he said with a smile.
Chris and Chrisha Jenkins said this is the first year they haven’t had a scheduling conflict but it’s been on their list.
“Rome’s like a family and it’s nice to be able to come out here, enjoy the company and make a donation to a good cause,” Chris Jenkins said.
That was the feeling shared by Detrice Ferrell, who came from Ohio 16 years ago to be with her first grandchild and never left. Ferrell said One Table is at the same time as her traditional birthday cruise, but this year she scheduled the trip for a different date.
“I love Rome and I love the idea of getting people from different backgrounds together,” Ferrell said.
Not all the diners were new to the event. Al Hodge was one of the many who come every year. Asked if he’s a member of One Community, he shrugged.
“It’s not structured that way,” he explained with a smile. “I go to Troy’s Bar-B-Que on Saturdays.”
In addition to the ladies’ group, One Community has small group meetings that are open to all who want to drop by and spend some time together.
Two are at Troy’s: at 9 a.m. on the second Saturday of each month and at 7:30 a.m. on the second Tuesday. There’s also one on the third Wednesday, at El Zarape at noon; one on the first Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at Las Palmas on Shorter Avenue; and on the fourth Thursday at 1 p.m. at KaleidoSno on Broad Street.
The organization also has quarterly large group dinners and sponsors a community-wide Hearts United Gathering in February.