BETHEL — Selectboards from Bethel, Newry, Greenwood and Woodstock have recently signed on to a letter of support for the Mahoosuc Heart & Soul planning project, an effort that has now moved on under the Bethel Area Nonprofit Collaborative for an action plan.

Heart & Soul “was a two-year-planning project, aimed to identify shared values of people who live, work, learn, and recreate in the region and to aid in future planning on the municipal level by sharing these findings with the towns,” said H&S Director Cat Ingraham. “Through the Mahoosuc Heart & Soul Action Plan, BANC provides incubation opportunities to community-based projects. We also work with local partners to alleviate community issues that are not adequately addressed. We support these projects by supplying general organizational needs – this can include community outreach, convening, facilitation, fiscal sponsorship, and fundraising support to any interested individual or organization wishing to work on community-based projects.
“BANC will work with the municipalities to see if the H&S process has been helpful to them. Long term goals include engaging people to participate and getting people to serve on boards, show up at town meetings, participate in civic process.”

As part of the H&S process, community members were surveyed to determine needs in the community, and ideas/projects were vetted for impact and feasibility by the public during two events in October. Among those deemed to have high impact and feasibility were some that are already in the works or that have been completed.  Among those (with some steps already taken or planned listed): Improve communication, collaboration, and advertising of local events and organizations and community calendar for all people and causes (the Chamber of Commerce has been inviting anyone to use their online calendar for all community events);  Help reduce solid waste and litter, impose a ban on single use plastic (Bethel residents have written an ordinance to be voted on at town meeting);  Offer classes on gardening, composting, and backyard birds; Create a sustainability committee or club to look at recycling and renewable energy alternative in the area; Host community conversations where people can discuss local issues with assistance from a facilitator who ensures a safe, respectful and equitable environment; Provide safe places inside and outdoors for seniors and people to walk.

Ingraham last week provided some updates on other efforts already underway:

  • Develop and share community communication of Region 9 class offerings and marketing. SAD 44 Supt. Dr. David Murphy was in attendance at the vote where this idea was presented to the community. He said that he would talk with the Region 9 director and see what they could do. Murphy later brought the school board to Region 9 and they learned about the course offerings available. There will be some ongoing dialogue among the two boards.
  • Expand the annual clean-up day. The Town of Greenwood has established a new conservation commission initiated by Greenwood residents. They will be advised by the Woodstock conservation commission while they begin work. This spring they cleaned up Maggie’s Nature Park as well as the roads in town.
  • Expand events and programs at the library. Host a craft or game night. Offer a place for people to gather. The Bethel Library is in the process of creating a new strategic plan and has asked the public what they need and want from the library. This idea, and other more specific community requests were shared with the team working on the new plan.
  • Expand services for the elderly: meals, errands, handy people. The idea for handy people to help seniors resonated with the Age Friendly Community Initiative. They have established a new program called “handy neighbors” to help match up people in need of basic home repair/maintenance help with people in the community with the skills to help them. This spring a group of students from the Telstar Freshman Academy chose to be part of this program as part of their “Pay it Forward Project” and are working with their grandparents to help do household chores.

Among other ideas offered last fall that were judged to be high impact/feasibility were: Create a social club for young people; Build a fenced-in dog park; Improve safety in the intersection of Parkway and routes 2 & 26; Build community support around athletic programs at Telstar; Create more intramural sports leagues for adults and youth;  A Davis Park clean up and expansion of facilities; Offer childcare and food at town meetings to encourage participation of families.

Ingraham said that BANC will also work with the municipalities to see if the H&S process has been helpful to them. Long term goals include engaging people to participate and getting people to serve on boards, show up at town meetings and participate in the civic process.

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