Community Heart & Soul program explained
The Red Oak City Council is considering a proposal for grant funding. At the regular city council meeting on Jan. 17, the council met with Michelle Franks, executive director with Golden Hills Resource Conservation and Development. Franks was on hand to share details of the Community-Heart and Soul program.
According to communityheartandsoul.org, Community Heart & Soul is a “resident-driven process that engages the entire population of a town in identifying what they love most about their community, what future they want for it, and how to achieve it.
Developed and field-tested over a decade in partnership with over 100 small cities and towns across America, Community Heart & Soul is a proven process for engaging a community in shaping its future.”
“I came across this opportunity, and it piqued my interested because I saw it as a potential tool for my toolbox that would benefit rural communities in Southwest Iowa,” Franks said.
The grant, Franks said, serves as a framework that communities can use to identify what matters most in the community.
“It can help city governments develop connections with citizens, and at the end of the day, it will allow them to come up with a collaboratively-developed vision for the community with action steps to move forward. It’s not a comprehensive plan, it’s more of a grassroots process that focuses on several areas,” explained Franks.
Ultimately, Franks said the goal is to improve engagement and input from people from all walks of life, and gain feedback, and then it sets forth a community engaged process that will address what is noted as most important too community members.
Franks said she has developed her skills as a coach, and would work with Red Oak and other communities to help translate, train, and help mobilize the community members to make a plan.
“I’m not an outside consultant coming in and creating a plan, then giving it back to you. This is something built in the community, and requires community interest and a core group of leaders who want to move forward,” commented Franks.
The process takes around 18-24 months to complete. Franks said what she has seen from other communities that have participated in the program in the past are increased citizen engagement, a stronger sense of community pride, community togetherness, and economic benefits.
There was no cost to hire Franks as a coach. Additionally, Franks said there was a community seed grant available of up to $10,000, with a one to one community match, available to communities of 2,500 or more.
“Red Oak is the perfect size for this, and there is still plenty of funding available, which they are looking for towns and cities to apply for. The money would then be used how the leaders of the local Heart and Soul program saw fit. It could be used for staff, marketing, events, whatever they feel is the best way to engage the community and bring people together,” advised Franks.
Councilperson Jeanice Lester raised the question of how they would attract involvement from people who normally aren’t active in the community. Franks stressed it would probably require the formation of a core group of people who wish to move the program forward.
“There might be people who want to share ideas, but can’t attend, so instead of expecting them to come to a community meeting, we would bring the questions to them, be it interviews, or surveys, and gather a solid percentage of every demographic,” Franks said.
Additionally, Franks said the program, once completed, was a done deal, and would not be in place for a long term. Councilman Brian Bills asked if there were any downsides to the program. Franks said the main issue was having people that wanted to do it.
“You have to have a committed group of people that will see it through for the two-year process. It won’t require all of their time, but you will need to have people that will champion it, move it forward, and help draw others in; that’s the only downside I can think of,” advised Franks.
Red Oak Mayor Shawnna Silvius said she had a group of between 12 to 20 people who were interested in being involved in this.
“We’ve been looking for ways to bring unity and inclusion into the community, and I felt this was a perfect opportunity to utilize a program that would help make that happen and is already successful,” said Silvius.
Lester said her biggest concern involved the grant, and how the city would go about securing the matching funds.
“I don’t want to go out and ask for money, as I’ve already done that with the Grand Theatre. I’m not sure we want to go out and ask for money, and yet I’m not sure it should just fall on the shoulders of the city if others want to be a part of it,” Lester stated.
Franks said one of her jobs was finding grant resources, and targeting places for fundraising so it was not all out of the city’s coffers. Also, the program itself wouldn’t require the grant funding, it could be implemented without funding, with committed residents.
The council will have a resolution of support to apply for the $10,000 grant on the council’s next agenda at the first February meeting