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What are you doing this St. Patrick’s Day?

St. Patrick’s Day takes me back to when I was young.

I am excited for the day to begin and am ready for this average day of third grade. I grab my lunch box and walk down the steps into the kitchen and out the door. As I step outside I feel a pinch on my right arm, I turn around and see my dad looking displeased with me. “Go put on some green, it’s Saint Patrick’s Day,” he says.

In my mind, I associate this holiday with pinching, shamrocks, leprechauns, green beer, and my dad insisting I wear green to school back when I was about the size of a leprechaun. But, what is the history around this holiday?

According to the History Channel: “St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17, the saint’s religious feast day and the anniversary of his death in the fifth century. The Irish have observed this day as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years. On St. Patrick’s Day, which falls during the Christian season of Lent, Irish families would traditionally attend church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibitions against the consumption of meat were waived and people would dance, drink and feast–on the traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.”

In America and around the world, many people associate this holiday with drinking. This year, why not try something new and exciting for the luckiest holiday? Take some time to learn more about Irish culture and where the holiday originated. 

Here are some ways to celebrate and learn more about St. Patrick’s Day:

A screening of an Irish film at a community center or library

Learn about the Irish culture from your couch. To find some great titles check out this link: https://www.moviefone.com/2015/03/17/best-irish-movies/ 

Sharing an Irish meal or having an Irish pot luck that's public

Why go out to eat when you can cook a traditional Irish meal at home or with your community? Here are some meals to try: Corned Beef dinner, Irish Brown Bread, and Beef Stew. Check out this recipe for Beef Stew: http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=irish+beef+stew&&view=detail&mid=B1F8F95D681440ECA896B1F8F95D681440ECA896&FORM=VRDGAR

Watch a hurling game

Hurling originated in Ireland and it is about 3,000 years old. It involves two teams and 15 players. Check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgEMvRrOCRI 

These ideas are from mashable.com, to find more fun ideas check out this blog post: http://mashable.com/2016/03/17/st-patricks-day-activities/#zuxMjP_hauq7 

Town Meeting Day

If you are anything like me, the words “Town Meeting Day” don’t mean much. Up until this year I had no idea that the state where I live and was raised had such an interesting tradition.

According to James William Sullivan author of Direct Legislation by the Citizen Through the Initiative and Referendum“Town meeting is a form of local government practiced in the U.S. region of New England since colonial times, and in some western states since at least the late 19th century. Typically conducted by New England towns, town meeting can also refer to meetings of other governmental bodies, such as school districts or water districts. While the uses and laws vary from state to state, the general form is for residents of the town or school district to gather once a year and act as a legislative body, voting on operating budgets, laws, and other matters for the community's operation over the following 12 months.” 

You may be thinking, "This sounds kind of interesting but, why would I spend my time going to this?" Here are some reasons:

  1. Participate in and watch democracy at work. Plus, it is your civic duty. Making your opinion count in your local community will make a difference that you can see.

  2. Be part of the solution. We all complain about things in our community but you can’t complain if you haven’t bothered to make your opinion heard. Maybe many people in the community agree with you about an issue but nobody will vocalize their opinion.

  3. Meet your neighbors. There are so many types of people in a community, and it is refreshing to hear different opinions.

Vermont’s Town Meeting Day happens the first Tuesday of March. Go find out if and when your state has a Town Meeting Day. Better yet, join your fellow community members and go make your opinions heard.

To hear more, watch this video from an expert of Town Meeting Day, Frank Bryan, Professor Emeritus, University of Vermont.

10 Ways to Share the Love in Your Community this Valentine’s Day

It’s that time of year again, Valentine’s Day. This day is filled with flowers, chocolates, and cards from that one special person. Did you ever wonder how this tradition got started?  And who is Valentine anyway? 


Here’s what the Huffington Post had to say: “The most popular account of its origins date back to a temple priest named, not surprisingly, Valentine, a later-to-be-canonized saint who was executed in 270 A.D. by Emperor Claudius II for performing illegal marriage ceremonies on the Roman battlefield. Back then, as the story goes, the military-minded Claudius believed connubial bliss was bad for war and made it illegal for soldiers to wed. Imprisoned for his battlefield-betrothing ways, Valentine, a man of many talents, supposedly healed the blind daughter of his jailer while incarcerated and, the night before his execution, gave the newly sighted young lass a hand written card signed — you guessed it — ‘From Your Valentine.’”

Saint Valentine clearly touched many lives, so why do we think of this day as a time to celebrate the love of one person? Why not make Valentine’s Day a great excuse to highlight what we love about our communities?  Remember-elementary school, when we had to bring in valentines for the entire class. Why not extend our sharing of kindness and appreciation to our entire communities? Showing your community that you love and care can build a stronger sense of pride and respect in your town.

Here are some ideas for bringing bring Valentine’s Day to your community:

 1. Think like a kid

  • Get Valentine’s Day cards from a local store and bring the past to the present. Give a card to everyone you work with just like you did back in elementary school.Better yet, make homemade cards.

 2. Host a Red Ball

  • Have a get together at a local venue and invite the community to celebrate Valentine’s Day dressed all in red.

 3. The food we love

  • A community potluck isn’t just a fun summer event. Have people in the community sit down for a delicious meal in the winter. Bonus points if all the dishes are prepared in the shape of a heart.

 4. Guess again

  • Fill a jar with candy conversation hearts. Put the jar in a local community gathering place and ask community members to guess the number of hearts. The closest person to guess the correct amount, without going over, wins the jar.

 5. Let’s play games

  • Hide heart-shaped candies around town and have community members go on a scavenger hunt to find them. This would be a fun event for all ages.

 6. A service of love

  • Bake a cake or cookies and bring it to the local fire and/or police station. It is easy to forget that people are always watching out for you and protecting you. Bake some goodies and show those hardworking people that you care.

 7. What do you love?

  • Make a giant paper heart and put it downtown. Have community members each write down what they love about the community. Put the heart on display for everyone to see after it is finished.

 8. Some puppy love

  • Go to the local humane society and help take care of the dogs. Take them for walks and give them love. Who knows? Maybe you will end up with a new member of the family.

 9. Racing with love

  • Start a Valentine’s Day run in your town. It will be fun for people of all ages to come out and support their loved ones and community members as they run. It’s heart healthy too!

 10. Wine in the Library

  • Cocoa Beach, Florida does a Valentine’s Day wine tasting in their downtown library. This is a fun way of getting the community engaged while also introducing new people to the local library.

Whatever event you choose to do this Valentine’s Day, have fun and remember to show people in your community that you appreciate them. To see some creative ways towns have celebrated Valentine’s Day, check out this blog post: http://www.orton.org/blog/this_valentines_day_wear_your

Does your community do something fun for Valentine’s Day? Share it with us on social media. And don’t forget to follow The Orton Family Foundation on Twitter and Instagram @Ortonfoundation and Facebook @OrtonFamilyFoundation. Also, use the hashtag #CommunityMatters.

9 Ways to Get Public Input: Thinking Beyond the Survey

We are always amazed by the creative ways Community Heart & Soul® towns gather input from residents. In the process they not only get quality feedback, they also create opportunities for residents to engage with one another and build community. Here are nine examples we find especially compelling and fun!

1. Block party with a story booth

  • Golden Vision 2030, a Community Heart & Soul project, held a block party that drew more than 1,000 Golden, Colorado residents to have fun and discuss the future of the town. A pop up tent at the party was designated as a place where residents could tell stories and share what they love about Golden, and what they would change. This was a great way to receive public input while also enjoying a BBQ, drinks, and prizes.

2. Window graffiti in prominent public places for all to see

  • Writing on a public building with washable marker was a great engagement idea used by the Gardiner Heart & Soul Team in Gardiner, Maine. Temporary “graffiti” was a way for the whole community to see what their neighbors were thinking and stimulated conversation!

3. Capturing ideas on drink coasters

  • The North Folk Valley Heart & Soul Team, North Fork Valley, Colorado, used coasters to get public opinion by having residents write what they loved about their community and what they would leave behind. To celebrate they created their own locally made “Lovett or Leave It” beer (that won a best pale ale award!).

4. Photo contest with community discussions and an award

  • As part of Cortez Heart & Soul, the residents of Cortez, Colorado, were invited to take photos that showed off the both beautiful places in their town, and the not so beautiful places in a photo contest called “The Good, The Bad, the Ugly.” The photos were exhibited in local cultural center for the community to see.

5. Youth murals

  • Galesburg on Track, the Heart & Soul® project in this Illinois town, turned to children for help to figure out what was loved in their community. Volunteers took big sheets of paper to classrooms and the children drew what they loved about Galesburg. The results were colorful, insightful, and creative!

6. Post cards/rack cards

  • The Greater Carlisle Heart & Soul Team in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, placed post cards around town, in libraries, and churches. People were asked what they loved about their community and could weigh in on the back of the cards. The cards were then displayed so that everyone could see all the reasons their community is special.

7. Heart Spots phone line with locations throughout the town

  • Biddeford Heart & Soul gathered stories about what people loved about Biddeford, Maine. The Team kept hearing about locations around the town that held special meaning. So, they hung signs in these “Heart Spots” with a phone number to call and leave a voicemail about what this one place means to them. The voicemails were turned into an mp3 recording so everyone could hear stories about their community.

8. Candy corn in jars to identify priorities

  • In Damariscotta, Maine the Heart & Soul Team used candy corn, that popular seasonal Halloween candy, to entice community members to give their opinions. At the annual Pumpkin Fest, which draws thousands to the town, attendees could vote on what makes the town special by putting candy corn in jars. This offered a fun and light way for residents to get involved and learn about the Heart & Soul project.

9. Remote polling using cell phones

  • Re-imagine Laconia a Heart & Soul project in Laconia, New Hampshire, posted signs asking people to text in something they liked about their town. They also asked community members to text a headline that captured something they envisioned for the future. “Colonial Theater Reopens as Community Arts Center” was one example of a headline one resident wanted to see.

The number of ways to engage the community are about as limitless as the imagination. Hopefully you found some helpful hints in this post to try in your community! Follow us on Facebook (The Orton Family Foundation) and Twitter (@OrtonFoundation) for updates on Heart & Soul towns and our organization.

To read more about effective engagement check out this blog post on Top Ten Best Ways for Inclusive Engagement. http://www.orton.org/blog/top-ten-tips-inclusive-engagem Or check out our resource for public engagement methods: http://www.orton.org/sites/default/files/resources/public-engagement-methods.pdf.

#DowntownDecorations Winners

Over the past few weeks we have asked our friends on Facebook to send in pictures of their dressed up downtowns. We want to thank everyone who submitted pictures from Millinocket, Maine to San Elizario,Texas and in between. All of your towns looked beautiful all decked out for the holiday season.

From the submissions we randomly drew three lucky winners of a Vermont Country Store gift card.


  • Jim Brett of Paonia, Colorado

  • 125th Birthday Celebration of New Kensington, Pennsylvania

  • Patti Spencer- Yost with the Brunswick Downtown Association, Brunswick, Maine

The three lucky winners of #DowntownDecorations!  Please continue following the Orton Family Foundation for more fun contests, interesting stories, and ways to make your communities thrive.

To see all of the submissions go to http://mydowntowndecorations.tumblr.com/