Many small towns throughout the United States are engaging young people in planning and community development projects in a variety of creative ways. By recognizing and valuing the tremendous energy and optimism students bring to local development efforts, these communities are building stronger and more lasting bonds between young people and their hometowns, which is particularly important in small places that are seeing their youth migrate away after high school.
Biddeford, Maine, provides a useful case study of how students can be genuinely involved in a wider community visioning process while also gaining a new appreciation for the history and potential of their hometown.More
As students returned to school this fall, I began to notice things were just a little bit different.
There were all the usual signs of school starting up: sidewalks lined with young walkers, streets sprinkled with bikers, baseball hats turned backwards, colorful backpacks, glittery hair ribbons and flashy footwear.
Children not quite school-aged were walking with their older siblings, anxiously waiting for the day when it will be their turn to have a backpack over their shoulders. Flowers were blooming at school entrances, and inside, freshly waxed floors shined.
Yet something still seemed just a little bit different.More
Storytelling has caught on as a means of social change and civic engagement in the last five to ten years, and has been a popular practice for, well, pretty much forever. Consider the use of slave narratives in the US abolitionist movement, or popular theater performed from early on in the farmworker movement.
Anyone reading this blog has probably thought about how stories can motivate people to volunteer or donate money; a personal narrative tugs at your heart and compels you to help out.
Perhaps less obvious are other applications of storytelling that change the way people interact within communities: to assess a community’s needs and strengths (Orton’s Heart & Soul is a great example); to organize people in a group (consider Marshall Ganz’s “Public Narrative” method, adapted by the 2008 Obama campaign); to educate the public (such as Voice of Witness does with human rights); or to advocate a cause (examples include the grantees of the Health Media Initiative of the Open Society Foundation).More
Guest blogger Hannah Orcutt is a former Orton intern now based in the Teton Valley. She recently got in touch to let us know that the impacts of the Heart & Soul approach are still making a difference in Victor.
Victor, Idaho (pop. 1,500), one of the Foundation’s early Heart & Soul project towns, is home to the Teton Valley Community School (TVCS), where I currently work. A central tenet of the school’s philosophy is that community involvement is important.
The Victor community serves as a dynamic classroom for our Pre-K through 6th-grade students. TVCS’s unique project-based curriculum lets teachers harness regional expertise and events as learning tools. The community benefits from our projects, and students learn to be engaged citizens.
It’s a win-win that has resulted in a young generation of active movers and shakers in the Teton Valley.More
The death of Maurice Sendak this week has gotten me thinking about why his books have made such an impact, and why as a nation we are registering his passing as a significant cultural loss.
I think, in large part, it’s because his books are not about a world in which there is obvious good or obvious evil, where the bad guys get outwitted and it all turns out okay in the end. His heroes are often misbehaving misfits of one sort or another who do what they can to escape the confines of their particular reality.
In short, he writes from a place of difference or disadvantage. We are invited to sympathize, and even root for, those least acceptable to society. For children, who are so often misunderstood, there is something very gratifying about this.More
This post is the fourteenth in a month-long series hosted by PlaceMatters on the impressive diversity of participatory decision-making tools that communities can use for land use plans, transportation plans, sustainability plans, or any other type of community plan. The series covers the gamut, from low-tech to high-tech, web-based to tactile, art-based to those based on scenario planning tools, and more. Along with PlaceMatters, we welcome your feedback and would love to hear about the participatory design strategies that you’ve found to be the most useful.
Everyone has a story to tell about his or her community. It doesn’t matter whether you are young or old, native or newcomer; we all have personal experiences that connect us to our city or town. Stories tell us a lot about what we value most—the customs, characteristics and special places that make our community unique.
There are many examples of how stories have been used to understand community, such as Why Here Why Now or Saving the Sierra, and there is also great potential to apply personal story in community planning efforts.
The Orton Family Foundation’s Heart & Soul Community Planning approach uses personal stories to identify what people value in their community. We rely on personal stories for three key reasons:More
I taught a class on the American Dream while student teaching last year. I gave students markers and giant pieces of paper and asked them to draw whatever popped into their minds when they thought of the “American Dream”.
Nearly every student’s paper included a simple drawing of a house—a square with a triangle roof attached, four little windows and a front door. This should not have surprised me; my drawing also had a house. But this caused me to wonder: is single-family home ownership the ultimate expression of the American Dream?More
In a room filled with artwork, news clippings and photos, interested citizens spent the evening of November 15th celebrating Starksboro’s Art & Soul Civic Engagement project, which used art and storytelling to identify and enhance the community’s shared values.
The event, hosted in Bristol, Vermont’s Town Hall, aimed to share the stories and successes of the project, thank the key movers-and-shakers, acknowledge valuable partnerships, and inspire other communities to start their own creative community explorations.More