SOUTH FORK—Town board trustees welcomed a new staff member, Angela Lee, during the monthly meeting on Aug. 22.
Lee will be filling the community development coordinator position created at the beginning of the year by town officials to help with the Community Heart and Soul Program the town has opted to pursue. She will also be working on Land Use Planning with the new town manager. During the meeting, Lee introduced herself to the attending crowd and thanked the board for the opportunity to be more involved in the community she has grown to love.
According to Lee, she has recently finished her Juris Doctor Law degree from Temple University in Philadelphia, having finished out her final semester at the University of New Mexico this last spring. Lee fell in love with South Fork after visiting the area for a rock-climbing adventure and meeting her partner, a South Fork local. Lee eagerly applied for the community development coordinator position in order to fulfill her personal goal of finding a meaningful connection with the community.
Lee stated that though the Community Heart and Soul program is new to her, her large city experiences and her undergraduate degree in Sociology afford her the chance to see how such a program could be successful for a small community like South Fork. Lee’s role is to help coordinate public communication in the initial stage of the program and begin by reaching out to understand what matters most to the residents of South Fork. “Our message is what matters most to residents—whether it is a new community center, a park or other projects that help with economic development and growth, that is what we want to know,” said Lee.
Lee and the Community Heart and Soul group have scheduled a series of meetings, the next of which will be on Wednesday, Aug. 30. At this meeting, the core Heart & Soul Team – made of local residents, volunteers and town officials – will develop a communications plan that will guide their outreach efforts going forward. “We are planning to have a website and social media sites up and running by the end of the year. The entire program takes an average of two years to complete from start to finish and will hopefully help engage the community in the economic growth of South Fork,” said Lee.
Many municipalities find it difficult to get residents involved in government and community activities such as regular meetings, work sessions and other such events. The program was formed by the Orton Family Foundation to help communities struggling with public involvement increase the interest from local citizens and enhance the experience so that everyone can learn and benefit from their involvement. The program has been successful with communities like Golden, Cortez and Paonia, Colo.
The program is a four-step process beginning with a phase one introduction into the remaining four steps. Phase one begins with the basic groundwork, organization and self-assessment, which allows the Heart & Soul Team to understand the demographics of the community. By doing the initial groundwork, the team can begin to form a rapport with the community and learn what it is residents think are the most important matters in the area.
For example, town officials have discussed this issue with other area organizations like the Greater South Fork Community Foundation and the South Fork Chamber only to find that they are having the same issue with getting people interested and involved in projects or meetings. In turn, these organizations are faced with choosing projects that need attention such as paved roads, water systems, rebuilding the community center or town hall facilities to better the community without knowing what the public thinks is more important than the other projects.
Community Heart and Soul reconnects people with what they love most about their community and translates those personal and emotional connections into a blueprint that serves as the foundation for future community decisions. It’s a barn-raising approach to community planning and development designed to increase participation in local decision-making and empower residents to shape the future of their communities in a way that upholds the unique character of each place. Lyman Orton, founder of Community Heart & Soul, explains it this way: “When a community takes the time to get to know itself, it gains a sense of identity and purpose that informs decisions and planning.”
The goal of implementing Community Heart & Soul in South Fork is to understand what is important to the community’s diverse demographic of individuals regarding everything from South Fork’s history, future, recreation, entertainment, culture, art, education, business and investment climate and more. Each member of the Heart & Soul volunteer team serves as the “voice” for the various demographic segments that make up our community.
“These advocates engage their respective demographics to voice their thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, ideas, hopes and dreams for their beloved town through storytelling and other forms of engagement. This information is then collected, sorted and analyzed by the team and the community development coordinator and brought back to the community in the form of several community statements, each comprised of an idea or vision for change.
These ideas are presented to and vetted by the community. Those that are most valued by the community require the community to come up with realistic action plans on those they believe can be successfully implemented. Thus, positive change occurs as a result of engagement, buy-in and commitment from the majority. Community Heart & Soul is not a “one size fits all” attempt to effect change; it is designed to engage all citizens of a community, if they want a voice at the table.”