image of court house

Community Heart & Soul Launches in Georgia


CONTACT: Leslie Wright, senior associate, 802-495-0864 or



SHELBURNE, Vt. (March 26, 2018)—The residents of the Thomaston, Georgia, area have kicked off Community Heart & Soul, bringing Orton’s community development model to the Peach State.

Thomaston-Upson Community Heart & Soul includes the city of Thomaston, which is in the west central part of state, along with surrounding communities in Upson County.  The local electric utility provider, Upson Electric Membership Corp., is a partner in the resident-driven project.

“Congratulations to the Thomaston-Upson community. Not only is Thomaston-Upson Community Heart & Soul the first in the state, the partnership between residents and the local electric cooperative, Upson EMC, represents an innovative alignment with potential to be a model for future projects. Electric co-ops have long anchored their communities and have a vested interest in seeing their service areas thrive for the betterment of all their members. Partnering on resident-driven Community Heart & Soul is a natural fit,” said David Leckey, executive director, Orton Family Foundation.

Upson EMC is supported in the project by the community development team at Georgia Electric Membership Corp., the statewide trade association that represents Upson EMC and 40 other electric co-ops across the state.

“I am honored to facilitate the first Community Heart & Soul program in Georgia,” said Jenny Robbins, manager of Georgia EMC’s community development team. “More importantly, Georgia EMC is delighted to support Upson EMC and the leaders of the Thomaston-Upson community. We look forward to watching all they will accomplish through this innovative program.”

Community Heart & Soul is a community development model developed by Orton as a catalyst for positive change in small cities and towns. By actively seeking the collective wisdom of all residents, including those whose voices are often missing, Community Heart & Soul brings people together to build stronger, healthier and more economically vibrant communities. This resident-driven model helps build trust while taking into account the unique character of a town and the deep emotional connection of the people who live there—a town’s “Heart & Soul®.” These collective insights into what truly matters most guide a community in making the best decisions about its future.

“Upson EMC is delighted to be a part of Thomaston-Upson Community Heart & Soul. We view our organization as a key partner in the community. Community Heart & Soul offers a way for us to work together with residents to engage everyone, recognize our strengths and achieve positive change,” said Neal Trice, president and chief executive officer, Upson EMC.

Among Thomaston’s chief challenges is filling the void left when textile manufacturers closed.  Thomaston Mills, founded in 1899, which made cotton sheeting and B.F. Goodrich’s Martha Mills, which made cotton tire cord, were among the major closures that wracked the economy. Thomaston Mills declared bankruptcy in 2001. Martha Mills has been vacant for more than a decade. Other challenges for the area include reaching and engaging voices that have often been unheard in the community and bridging longstanding, historical divides.

“Our community has been through some hard times. We’re at the point where we are ready for positive change. We’re embracing what we have in common and we’re going to involve everyone and really delve into what matters most,” said Jennifer Rogers, project coordinator, Thomaston-Upson Community Heart & Soul.

Community Heart & Soul continues to gain momentum across the country. The addition of Thomaston-Upson brings the total number of communities that have engaged in Community Heart & Soul to 44 in 17 states.  States with Community Heart & Soul towns are: Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont and Washington.

About Orton Family Foundation: The Orton Family Foundation is focused on building stronger, healthier and more economically vibrant small cities and towns across America. Founded in Vermont in 1995, the foundation devoted more than a decade to working with small towns to create a community development model that helps build trust and empowers residents to shape the future of their communities. Community Heart & Soul projects are underway across the country creating positive change that is resident-driven and recognizes the value in the unique character of each place and the deep emotional connection of the people who live there.

About Upson Electric Membership Corp.: Incorporated in 1937, Upson EMC is a member-owned electric membership cooperative serving portions of six counties including Upson, Pike, Talbot, Meriwether, Crawford and Taylor. It has over 1,352 miles of line serving 9,102 meters and 6,800 members. Upson EMC is one of 41 electric cooperatives in Georgia. Cooperatives in Georgia serve 1.4 million meters and nationwide serve 12 million meters.

About Georgia Electric Membership Corp.: Georgia EMC is the statewide trade association representing the state’s 41 electric membership cooperatives (EMCs), Oglethorpe Power Corp., Georgia Transmission Corp. and Georgia System Operations Corp. Collectively, Georgia’s customer-owned co-ops provide electricity and related services to 4.4 million people, nearly half of Georgia’s population, across 73 percent of the state’s land area.

IMAGE CAPTION: Upson County Court House, downtown Thomaston, Georgia. Upson-Thomaston Community Heart & Soul launched in early 2018 and is the first such initiative in Georgia.

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