BETHEL — As the Mahoosuc Heart & Soul project enters its fourth and final phase, two upcoming “Time for Action” workshops will take place at The Gem Theater, one on Monday, Oct. 15, from 9 a.m. to noon and the other on Wednesday, Oct. 17, from 5 to 7:30 p.m.

The workshops will offer an opportunity for public input on the creation of an action plan for the future to make the region a better place to live, work and raise a family.

Participants will learn about and vote on the impact and feasibility of 86 suggestions drawn from nearly two years of data collection in the form of personal stories, interviews, written comments and survey results.

“During each workshop, 43 ideas will be presented,” said Mahoosuc Heart and Soul coordinator Catherine Ingraham.

Among the ideas are: creating and maintaining affordable housing, improving transportation that connects people to their jobs and services, creating a “buy local” campaign to promote small businesses, expanding services for the elderly, building a multi-generational community or recreation center, and creating opportunities for public art.

“We will introduce an idea, discuss it, then use anonymous keypad polling to vote on the impact and feasibility of the idea,” Ingraham said. “The results from the audience will be displayed instantly so everyone in attendance will see how people feel about it.”

The intended result of the “Time for Action” workshops is a list of action items, generated and prioritized by the community, she said.

Both workshops will offer free child care provided by the staff of the Mahoosuc Kids Association, and the opportunity to gather with community members for a free meal catered by the Good Food Store.

Matters most

For almost two years, Mahoosuc Heart & Soul has been on a mission to discover what matters most to those who live, learn, work or play in the towns of Bethel, Greenwood, Newry, Woodstock, and the surrounding area.

In the initial phases of the project, volunteers used a variety of techniques, ranging from survey responses to in-depth personal interviews, to collect stories from a broad cross-section of the local communities.

Mahoosuc Heart & Soul also sponsored many community-gathering events that provided an opportunity for people to share their stories, including an evening with poet Richard Blanco, a storytelling program focused on “stories of kindness,” and an outdoor campfire breakfast and open-mike storytelling session.

Now the results of that work will be used to create a plan for future action, employing the resources of the community to bring about positive change and to preserve what residents value most — the “heart and soul” of the region.

The future

“During the two years that Mahoosuc Heart & Soul has been engaging community members about what they like about living here, we also have been asking people what they would like to see in the future for their community,” Ingraham said.

“What would be their one wish for their town? From this simple question, we received hundreds of ideas for projects and community actions. Our data team spent hours consolidating the list into the final 86 ideas for action that will be presented at the two events.”

The Community Heart & Soul process, created by the nonprofit Orton Family Foundation of Vermont and used by dozens of communities from Oregon to Maine, aims to engage the voices and opinions of a demographically representative base of the community, with a special emphasis on hearing from those who often feel left out of conventional strategic planning processes.

Both “Time for Action” workshops are free and open to everyone, and people can choose to attend one or both sessions.

“Everyone who lives in the area is welcome to attend,” Ingraham said. “Please invite your friends.”

Many previous Mahoosuc Heart & Soul events brought together people to discuss the meaning of community and to share their stories. Two upcoming workshops will give people an opportunity to craft an action plan based on the work of the past two years. (A. Wight Chapman/The Bethel Citizen)

“Time for Action” workshops

• When: Monday, Oct. 15, from 9 a.m. to noon, and Wednesday, Oct. 17, from 5 to 7:30 p.m.

• Where: The Gem Theater, 23 Cross Street, Bethel.

• Why: To identify the interest, benefit and potential leadership for innovative ideas for the community. A free meal and free child care will be provided.

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