What is Community Heart & Soul? Community Heart & Soul™ is community development based on wide and broad participation from as many people in a small town or rural community as possible. The idea is to allow residents to determine what matters most about their town and then encourage them to actively participate in steering change that strengthens the cultural, social, and economic vibrancy of the place.
Community Heart & Soul™ is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It focuses on the unique ideals and characteristics of each town and the inherent wisdom of the people who live there. While some community development processes focus on aspects of community planning like engagement, place-based decision-making, or stewardship, Community Heart & Soul looks at the whole picture from start to finish, from finding common cause to coming up with a plan of action, to taking action.
How does Community Heart & Soul work? Community Heart & Soul happens in four distinct phases. Each phase is built around specific learning, capacity building or engagement goals, and together they lead to the overall project goals. A demographically representative advisory team will lead the community process including:
1. Lay the Groundwork: build a foundation by identifying partners and leaders, spreading the word, and developing a road map for successful engagement.
2. Explore Your Community: gather personal stories to identify shared community beliefs and understand how those beliefs are affected by community trends and conditions.
3. Make Decisions: identify options for the future and bases decisions on what best enhances and preserves a community’s heart and soul.
4. Take Action: partners commit to action and residents take ownership. Heart & Soul principles are applied to future community efforts.
Why do this? Based on success in other towns, Community Heart & Soul has the potential to be a catalyst for positive change. Other Heart & Soul communities have seen the process build leadership, boost volunteerism, bridge divides, create partnerships, preserve historical sites, increase resources for k-12 education and strengthen economies. Because Community Heart & Soul is organized and carried out by the people who live, work and invest in the community—the people with an emotional attachment to the place they call home—Heart & Soul creates plans that lead to concrete actions that lead to positive change.
What has Community Heart & Soul accomplished in towns? Towns have used Community Heart & Soul in several ways. Some have gathered broad input before writing or rewriting a comprehensive plan. Others have used Heart & Soul to spark revitalization in stagnant downtowns. Three neighboring towns in Colorado used Heart & Soul to guide plans for building a sustainable economy. Many have discovered that Heart & Soul serves their towns by leaving a framework that helps overcome challenges and solve problems well beyond the close of a specific project.
What results can we expect? Community Heart & Soul towns have witnessed transformation. Heart & Soul gets communities to see possibilities instead of obstacles to revitalization. That transformation leads to more positive attitudes, which leads to positive change. Several towns whose economies have suffered as industry left have witnessed their downtown business districts rebound in the wake of Heart & Soul initiatives. Here are examples: In Biddeford, Maine, in the seven years since a Community Heart & Soul project started there, $21 million has been invested in the city’s downtown, a major redevelopment of abandoned textile mills is underway and 90 new businesses have come to town. Video: http://tinyurl.com/zpgg6za In Gardiner, Maine, a $25,000 investment in grants for 10 priority projects from free concerts to a public park to seed money for entrepreneurs, leveraged $400,000 in investment in the town. In Polson, Montana, a local resident started a food cooperative downtown after volunteering with Polson’s Community Heart & Soul project. Plans for the business were guided by resident input gathered during Heart & Soul. As a result, in addition to providing a market for local farmers’ produce and meat and getting healthy food to townspeople, the coop expanded to become an incubator for kids’ businesses as well as a space for performances and exercise classes. In Cortez, Colorado, the city had a difficult time passing a school bond to replace a dilapidated school. The measure failed several times. After Heart & Soul engaged the whole community in learning more about the need, the bond passed overwhelmingly.
How long does the Community Heart & Soul process take? That depends on a community’s goals. When the Orton Family Foundation was developing and field testing Community Heart & Soul in a dozen towns over the past decade, nine of them used a two-year timeline. Currently, Laconia, New Hampshire, is undertaking a project scheduled to be complete in 18 months.
What is the point? Communities are at their best when all residents have a say in their future, and when they experience the benefits of working together toward common goals grounded in their emotional attachment to a place. This approach solves real problems, improves quality of life, and results in stronger communities. Each success contributes to our vision of building economically resilient and culturally vibrant towns across America.
Does Orton help fund Community Heart & Soul? No. Orton is an operating foundation and does not award grants. We’re working with partners like community foundations, aligned non-profits, other foundations, and local and state government agencies to fund and bring technical assistance to new Heart & Soul communities. With its Community Heart & Soul Field Guide, a growing suite of resources and tools, and regular online training webinars the foundation will always be there to lend a hand.
What makes Heart & Soul different from other community development efforts? The level of community engagement. Broad—and deep—engagement with community members is a fundamental building block of a successful Community Heart & Soul project. Authentic engagement makes all the difference in building stronger communities; it is a means to an end, and it is also an end in itself for the trust it builds, the ideas it sparks, and the new connections and leadership it creates. Some of the things that make Heart & Soul unique are: Heart & Soul engages all segments of the community, including the hard to reach and underrepresented, in conversations about what matters most; Heart & Soul elicits information about a community through personal stories that paint a picture of the community’s history, priorities, and aspirations; Heart & Soul uses data collected through community engagement activities, including story sharing, to create statements that identify what matters most and that have the potential to guide future planning and decision making; Resulting Heart & Soul Statements—drafted and agreed to by participants—are adopted by elected officials and used for local planning and decision making; Through Heart & Soul, communities identify high-leverage action items that advance what matters most.
What is the Orton Family Foundation? With its Community Heart & Soul™ method, the Orton Family Foundation empowers people to shape the future of their communities by improving local decision-making, creating a shared sense of belonging and ultimately strengthening the social, cultural and economic vibrancy of communities. The Foundation assists the residents of small cities and towns in the use of the Community Heart & Soul™ method, a barn-raising approach to community planning and development that invites residents to shape the future of their communities in ways that uphold the unique character of each place. For more information visit www.orton.org