BETHEL — The Board of Selectmen invited residents to a presentation by Community Heart and Soul during a public hearing Monday at the Bethel Town Office.

Jane Lafleur, executive director of Friends of Midcoast Maine and a coach with the Community Heart and Soul program, explained that the program was part of the Orton Family Foundation, a Vermont-based organization that helps small communities find ways to deal with change and develop plans for their futures.

According to the Orton Family Foundation website, the Community Heart and Soul program takes what residents “love most about their town and translates those personal and emotional connections into a blueprint that serves as the foundation for future community decisions.”

Lafleur said that several Maine towns had participated in the program, including Damariscotta, Gardiner and Biddeford.

“The town of Bucksport decided that they wanted to start the process after what happened to their mill,” Lafleur added.

She said that the Community Heart and Soul program relies on four steps: laying the groundwork, exploring the community, making decisions and developing an action plan.


“The first thing a community has to do is lay the groundwork for the rest of the process,” Lafleur said. “The community needs to organize a team with broad representation of the different types of people in the town.

“The idea is to figure out the different types of groups in the town, and how to get them involved,” she continued. “It’s especially important to reach out to the groups that may be difficult to reach, such as single mothers or students.”

Lafleur said that the second phase — exploring the community — involved residents gathering stories from residents and determining common themes.

“The idea in listening to people’s stories is to see what the community means to them,” Lafleur said. “The stories could be about anything. The idea is to figure out what brought people to this area, what keeps them here and what they love about it. What makes the community special or unique?”

Newry resident Steve Wight asked Lafleur how the community could reach out to groups that may be more difficult to communicate with.

As an example, Lafleur pointed to when the town of Damariscotta was participating in the Heart and Soul program.


“The team developed a survey that asked students different questions about their community, and what they like about it,” she said. “They ended up distributing the survey to the students at the school. Usually, the hardest age group to reach in a community is ages 13 to 17, and ages 18 to 25.”

Lafleur said that the third and fourth steps — making decisions and developing an action plan — involved whittling down the common themes extrapolated from the stories and figuring out which projects would be feasible for the community.

“The idea is to look at the ideas you get from the stories and ask, ‘Does this sound like Bethel?’” Lafleur said. “You figure out the values that you want to showcase in your action plan and narrow them down. After that, you make an action plan to accomplish those goals.”

When one resident asked about the cost of the project, Lafleur said that it would be up to the town to raise the money, whether through the general fund, or through grant money and volunteers.

“Every town involved needs to hire a Heart and Soul coordinator,” Lafleur said. “It’s a 40-hour-a-week job. Generally, towns should budget $100,000 over two years.”

She added that there were other expenses, including paying to rent out venues for meetings and providing food for the meetings.

“It’s a lot of work,” Lafleur said near the end of the meeting. “It’s not for every town. However, I’ve seen firsthand how the program can help a community develop a plan for their future.”

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