As synonymous with summer as ice cream and swimming holes, outdoor concerts are a sure sign of longer days and kinder temperatures in this part of the country. In Gardiner, Maine, they also signal revitalization in a town that, like many throughout the region, has struggled for decades to fuel its economy and keep its downtown vibrant.
The waterfront concerts aren’t the only thing rocking in this small town (pop. 5,700) on the Kennebec River, 45 minutes north of Portland. The new local food co-op just got a grant to fund educational programs, farm-to-table efforts continue to grow, and the arts are thriving as documented in a newly released film. Gardiner wrapped up a two-year Community Heart & Soul™ project in 2014.
"It's clearly momentum and it's palpable," said Gardiner Mayor Thom Harnett. "I feel this is the most exciting time in the city of Gardiner since I moved here in 1992. What's great is we are seeing it throughout the city."
Here are a signs of Gardiner's new found momentum:
Putting food from local farm fields onto dinner tables in Polson, Montana, (pop. 5,000) is about healthy eating and a whole lot more.
The Polson Food Hub, part of the Montana Co-op, is a place where people not only pick up locally produced food, they might also stop by to take boxing lessons, make salsa, learn how to mix and record music or try traditional tribal dance.
The community-minded approach at the Co-op was guided by the Community Heart & Soul™ project that took place there from 2012 to 2014, said Jason Moore, president and founder of the Co-op.
“During my first few meetings as a Heart and Soul volunteer, I kept hearing the word ‘collaboration.’ This has a very similar meaning to cooperation, so I felt the importance of working on this project,” Moore recalled.
Moore headed up a Heart & Soul committee that held 19 neighborhood gatherings, and he observed lots of overlap between what the Co-op aspired to and what Polson residents envisioned for their community. Better access to locally grown food was just one the shared aspirations.
“When the Montana Co-op was looking for Food Hub locations in Polson, we were looking for a building that could not just support local food growth. We looked at the values people presented during the Heart & Soul program,” Moore said. “The number one item mentioned during Heart & Soul gatherings was that Polson needed a place for the kids to hang out; an activity and event center. Along the way, we met other community partners that had a passion for health, youth outreach, and community connectivity. These people have further developed the Montana Co-op’s mission to bring people together to create easy and affordable access to local food and Montana-made products. We’re now fulfilling many other needs of the community, with exercise, education classes, and getting our youth hooked on good things.”
Here is a summary of the areas in which the Co-op aligns with needs identified by Polson residents as part of their Heart & Soul project:
Heart & Soul Action: Offer a facility that brings people together. Build an event center for year-round activities and events. Host more community-wide educational events, including art/cultural events and activities.
Jason Moore: The Co-op includes an activity center for all ages with diverse events and education programming. We have created a place for the kids to hang out and get hooked on good things.
H&S Action: Bring tribal and non-tribal residents together in economic ventures and cultural cooperation.
JM: The tribal mural on the outside of the Co-op building is one example. The Co-op is also working with the tribe on projects targeting at-risk youth and developing cultural reconnections and classes to enhance Native American heritage.
H&S Action: Develop a plan for filling up the closed storefronts downtown.
JM: The Co-op is in the early stages of fulfilling a plan to contribute to reopening more closed storefronts. This plan includes an incubator that supports new and existing businesses with all types of start-up and development services including accounting, marketing, operations, technology, and administrative support.
H&S Action: Teach job skills that can provide a local skilled workforce after
high school graduation.
JM: The Kids Co-op offers classes including music, art, robotics, aerial gymnastics, career identification, nutrition, food preparation, and business classes.
Watch a video about the Food Hub.
Does it feel like every time you walk downtown one more storefront is vacant? Combating the downward momentum of vacancy and neglect is no easy feat. Here are eleven ideas for spurring investment in downtown businesses that can put your town on a path toward revitalization.
On May 15, Rick Hauser joined CommunityMatters® and the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design™ for a 60-minute webinar. He offered new insights into a longstanding challenge for towns and small cities—getting the ball rolling to overcome vacancy and neglect in key downtown locations.
Watch the webinar recording:
Image credit: WoodleyWonderworks, Flickr Creative Commons, https://flic.kr/p/53RyB1
In Laconia, New Hampshire, nearly 100 residents turned out recently to weigh in on the things that matter most to them about their lakeside town.
Laconia is in the midst of a Community Heart & Soul ™ project called Reimagine Laconia that aims to inform the town's master plan. In the months leading up to the community meeting, volunteers fanned out across the community gathering stories and input from a broad range of residents in the city’s three main neighborhoods. The aim now was to learn how well the emerging Heart & Soul themes were aligning with community sentiment.
Using keypad polling, attendees were asked to rank ten shared Heart & Soul themes: community character; sense of community; connectivity; a healthy, beautiful environment; a strong economy; an engaging responsible accessible government; demographic diversity; a safe community; quality of life; a positive story.
Getting answers and seeing results in real time engaged the audience, turning observers into participants in a way that would have been challenging with a group this size. Keypad polling also allowed everyone and every viewpoint to be “heard,” even those not comfortable speaking at a public meeting.
The polling showed that three community themes rose to the top: a strong economy; a healthy, beautiful environment; a safe community. These were also the three areas that respondents felt the city could make progress on in the near future.
Overall, the meeting affirmed that the Heart & Soul team was on the right track in characterizing Laconia’s heart and soul. The event also yielded another positive outcome, perhaps less expected.
“Judging from our feedback, the most valuable aspect of the keypad polling event was the transparent process,” said Brandee Loughlin, assistant planner with the city. “People really liked witnessing the results in real-time, right in front of them. It went a long way to building that trust in the process and in the information we had been sharing.”
Last month the Spirit of Amercia Foundation honored Deb Files for her volunteerism in Gardiner, Maine. She was among 99 Kennebec County residents recognized. Files is active in several endeavors that support her hometown and embodies the notion that engaging community members through Community Heart & Soul™ inspires residents to get involved.
Files is a multi-tasker when it comes to giving her time. She's involved in everything from cash mobs that support downtown businesses to selling books for the local library and raising money for residents displaced by a recent fire. Files counts among her mentors Meaghan Carlson, who was project coordinator for Gardiner Heart & Soul, a two-year project that wrapped up at the end of 2014. Carlson inspired her to jump feet first into the community, Files says.
"It's all because I love where I live, I love the people and the feeling that I AM able to make a difference to someone each day," Files says." I was very reluctant to take credit at first, but I now see that by sharing, others can be inspired and the more folks who share what they have to give the greater Gardiner can be!"
Files volunteer work includes:
Read more about the award in the Kennebec Journal.
Image: Joe Phelan, Kennebec Journal
Did you catch our Heart & Soul Training: Intro to Building Better Communities on February 26th? If not you can watch the webinar. (See below.)
Intro to Building Better Communities provides an overview of Community Heart & Soul and how it transforms rural towns and small cities with our signature barn-raising approach to community planning and development.
In the meantime, here are some things you can do NOW to set you on the path to discovering your community’s heart and soul.
Here are five things you can do today:
1. Start noticing who and what makes up your community. Go outside of your usual patterns:
2. Step out of your comfort zone:
3. Start noticing how the people in your community fall into different groups, clubs, and faith based organizations, etc. Observe how and if they interact and communicate.
4. Invite your friends and/or colleagues to coffee (or even an adult beverage) to learn what they love about where they live and how they'd like to make it better.
5. Download the free Community Heart & Soul Field Guide! http://fieldguide.orton.org/main-sign-up2
Here's the webinar:
On Valentine's Day, Albert and Elizabeth Conary of Gardiner, Maine, come to mind. The couple was honored with Gardiner's Heart & Soulmate Award last year for their devotion to Gardiner. Every day, the couple makes the rounds to downtown shops. Here they are on Water Street on June 5, 2013 in downtown Gardiner. Image: Joe Phelan.
McComb, Ohio has been selected for a Community Heart & Soul™ project, the foundation’s first Midwestern town. Orton is partnering with the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation on the two-year community development project.
McComb, a small town in northwest Ohio, was selected in a competitive process to receive a $130,000 Community Foundation grant for the project. The project is envisioned as a pilot for future partnerships between the Community Foundation and towns and villages in the county, Orton Family Foundation Executive Director David Leckey said.
“I’d like to congratulate the townspeople of McComb on being selected for a Community Heart & Soul project. We look forward to working closely with McComb residents and Community Foundation staff to ensure a process that involves everyone in the community and lays a solid foundation for planning McComb’s future based on what matters most to the people who live there,” said Leckey, who is a native of Hancock County where McComb is located. “This project launches a strategy to have the Community Foundation facilitate Community Heart & Soul projects in additional towns in the county.”
Community Heart & Soul is an approach to community development and planning developed by the Orton Family Foundation that increases participation in local decision-making and invites residents to shape the future of their communities based on what matters most to them.
Hancock County (pop. 74,782) is in a predominantly agricultural area of northwest Ohio, about 50 miles south of Toledo. The county is comprised of 10 villages varying in population from approximately 200 to 1,600 that lie within 17 townships. Findlay, where the Community Foundation is based, is the county seat and the largest community in the county with a population of 41,202. McComb’s population, including another village and two townships that comprise the local school district, is approximately 4,000. The largest industry in the town is Hearthside Food Solutions, a contract maker of baked goods.
In McComb’s proposal townspeople expressed a readiness to focus on revitalizing the downtown. The Heart & Soul Committee evaluating proposals saw McComb at a crucial juncture, Community Foundation President Katherine Kreuchauf said.
“With infrastructure in place and poised for growth, including a water tower slated for completion in June and a wastewater treatment plant with ample capacity, McComb is at a potential pivot point. We felt this was a crucial moment in McComb’s history and that Heart & Soul could really help the village to shape its future with involvement from everyone in the community,” Kreuchauf said. “The Hancock County Heart & Soul application and site visit process was inspiring. Hancock County is vibrant and full of people who care deeply about their communities. Choosing the first Hancock County Heart & Soul community was a difficult decision. We are very excited about the Heart & Soul partnership with McComb.”
The McComb Community Heart & Soul project is funded by a two-year, $136,420 grant from the Community Foundation and with staff support from Orton and the Community Foundation. McComb will be eligible for training and technical assistance in addition to the grant and will contribute 1,500 hours of volunteer time as a match.