South Fork Heart and Soul Initiative on hold

SOUTH FORK— After several months trying to jump start the Community Heart and Soul Program in South Fork, officials have announced that the program is going to be placed on hold.

Several residents in the area have complained about the program and the fact that funding that was used for marketing prior to the launch of the program was set aside for a community development coordinator instead.

Now, according to sources, the community development coordinator hired for the position resigned and the town has opted to put the program on hold. Program Advocate Becki Helmstetler stated that though she thought the program would be great for South Fork, she feels the town is not ready to make the commitment needed to see the program through to completion. 

In a letter submitted to the surrounding community Helmstetler wrote, “The South Fork Town Board made the decision to put the community development initiative known as South Fork Heart and Soul on hold. However, insights gained from launching this nationally recognized and proven community development model, founded by the Orton Family Foundation over 20 years ago, will live on and be leveraged in the ongoing quest to make our community better for everyone.

Heart and Soul was introduced to the greater South Fork community by hosting a public information meeting. The intent of the kick-off meeting and media coverage was to create awareness and draw interest for the purpose of forming a core Heart and Soul team comprised of a range of individuals – each of who represent a distinct demographic in the community. Over the next several months team members were trained on Phase 1 of the Heart and Soul model, called ‘Lay the Groundwork.’ This phase is designed to take six to eight months to complete and is comprised of three distinct actions: Get Organized, create a work plan and spread the word.

During this phase, the team was tasked with recruiting additional members who were not yet demographically represented on the core team as well as conducting a readiness assessment, developing a community network analysis and hiring a community development coordinator.  While the team made progress, other priorities came to light.

Although the Town of South Fork operated under a non-balanced budget in 2017, the priority for 2018 was to balance it. As a factor in the town’s annual budget, the decision was made to eliminate of the community development coordinator position and associated costs of implementing the Heart and Soul project and set the stage for the Town of South Fork to focus on specific projects and strategic initiatives within a fiscally responsible framework. 

Throughout the development of the community network analysis, the Heart and Soul team learned first-hand just how broad, diverse and passionate are the people of this community. And by surveying residents on what matters to them most about South Fork, it confirmed key reasons why so many individuals live here; they love its natural beauty, family-friendly environment and hometown feel. These are insights to be honored and preserved in the long term.

Thank you to the South Fork community for its interest and willingness to explore and participate in this initial phase of the Community Heart and Soul initiative.”

Town officials hope to bring the program back when the time is right and pursue the community growth that it entails.


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