In a couple of weeks, residents of  the Philadelphia region will have two big opportunities to make our voices heard.  On Election Day, Nov. 6, we can exercise our most important civic responsibility by casting votes for the candidates of our choice.  Two days later, at the second annual On the Table Philly, thousands of our neighbors around the region will come together to talk about topics that matter most.  For both occasions, the stakes are high and every voice counts.

One of my core beliefs is that we create the communities in which we want to live.   Communication is key to shaping a shared vision and making it happen.  That's why last year, the Philadelphia Foundation jumped at the chance to partner with the Knight Foundation to bring On the Table to Philadelphia.  Our initial goals were realized when more than 2,000 people across the city and suburbs broke bread in small groups and said what was on their minds and in their hearts about the places where they live, work, and play.

What did they talk about?  Some of what you might expect — education and youth development, economic issues and poverty, public safety.  And maybe some subjects you might not — social equity and inclusion, arts and culture.  The point is that participants discussed what was important to them — now and for the future — and listened to each other.  Their thoughts carried beyond the tables and were shared with policymakers, funders, and media.  Feedback from the event told us who joined the dialogue, their happiness (or lack thereof) with specific conditions and institutions in their communities (e.g. local government, schools, health care), and what they wanted to learn.  Mostly we heard a hunger to continue the conversation and take action afterward.

So our hopes and aims for On the Table Philly 2018 are bigger and better. We'd love for even more people to pull up a chair. It's easy to get involved.  Check out the On the Table Philly website for complete information and to sign up at onthetablephl.org.  Individuals or organizations can host a table, invite guests, and plan the conversation starters.  A "how to" tool kit plus an in-person orientation will be provided. The food offered can be as plain or fancy as you want.  (A new partner, Brown's ShopRite, is helping with special menus at two discounted price points.)  Any time of day or evening on Nov. 8 goes. Activate your social media accounts and spread the word about what your table is saying.  If you cannot host but want to join a conversation, let us know and we'll guide you to a nearby table.

This year, the Philadelphia Foundation will help On the Table Philly participants move their conversations to action.  We are offering Activate mini-grants to spark implementation of selected ideas.  Up to $50,000 will be available in maximum amounts of $1,000 each through a partnership with Philadelphia Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC).  We are confident that grantees will do a lot with a little and are eager to follow the results.

We are grateful to those joining the Philadelphia Foundation and Knight Foundation in steering this year's effort to organize and promote On the Table Philly 2018.  They include the Free Library of Philadelphia, Urban Affairs Coalition, the YMCA, the Chamber of Commerce, PACDC, Reading Terminal Market, the Inquirer, the City of Philadelphia, Peco, the Foundation for Delaware County, and United Way.  Diversity of participants in all its forms, reflecting the makeup of our region, remains a high priority for us.  That includes residents already engaged in their communities and those who see On the Table Philly as a good way to get started.

Last year I had the great privilege of visiting seven On the Table Philly sites, and came away energized and inspired.  A smile never left my face as I spent time with Philadelphians from all walks of life doing some of what we do best — talking and eating.  So, for all of the serious and important civic reasons there are to participate in On the Table Philly, trust me that you will not want to miss out on the fun.  I can't wait to make the rounds again next month.

Change happens in many ways, but the first step is to get connected.  We can move our region forward, one conversation at a time.  Please make your voices heard.  On Nov. 6 in the voting booth and on Nov. 8 at On the Table Philly.  For yourself and your family.  For your neighbor.  For our community.  #Let'sTalkPhilly.

Pedro A. Ramos is president and CEO of the Philadelphia Foundation. pramos@philafound.org. The parent company of the Inquirer is owned by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism, which operates under the auspices of the Philadelphia Foundation.