Making Headway in Your Community

Making Headway in Your Community is a community development program that helps residents identify what they value most in their town and provides tools to protect and build on these assets. The process, lead by GrowSmart Maine and the Maine Downtown Center (a program of the Maine Development Foundation), supports a series of three community-driven meetings over 6-8 months. During the program small projects are funded with a local match to draw attention to good work and improve connection both within the community and across Maine for information and inspiration.


Making Headway Projects database: is a website designed for sharing these success stories and connecting with local, regional, statewide and even national organizations offering information and services to help communities in these efforts. Making Headway in your Community provides a spark; a connection to information and inspiration.

One of the best pieces of advice for community outreach is “don’t hold meetings, hold events.”  Having participated in the release of the locally-produced short film “Reviving the Freedom Mill” in 2013, we engaged with the film’s creator Tony Grassi to bring the movie and his story to Maine communities.  The Movie Night event kicks off the Making Headway in Your Community process, and is set up following discussions with engaged local leaders, both elected and appointed and “grasstops”.

Grounded in Smart Growth

Making Headway in Your Community is adaptable to cities, towns, and neighborhoods in Maine, supported by experienced facilitators, and lead by engaged community members. The program has its roots in smart growth and offers the following five principles as guidance to communities considering what values they share and how to build on those assets.

Community Connections– People & Infrastructure:

  • Effective & Inclusive Public Participation & Civic Engagement
  • Leadership Training for Volunteers
  • Access to High Speed Broadband Internet
  • Welcoming Schools & Local Organizations
  • Choices in Transportation Including Public Transit

Local Economy– What a Community Can Do:

  • Innovation & Entrepreneurship Training & Support
  • Targeted Small Business Development Incentives
  • Arts & Culture
  • Hospitality & Tourism
  • Farming, Fisheries & Forestry
  • Manufacturing & Maker Businesses
  • Main Street Businesses
  • Predictable & Reasonable Local Regulations

Smart Design– Thoughtful Regulations & Incentives:

  • Housing for All Ages
  • Incomes & Abilities
  • Strategic Conservation of Water Access
  • Productive Lands & Open Space
  • Brownfield Restoration & Reuse
  • Historic Rehabilitation & Low-Income Housing Tax Credits
  • Enhance Economic & Physical Connections between Downtowns & Rural Areas

Climate & Energy– Community Resiliency & Independence:

  • Minimize Risks to Infrastructure & Property
  • Improve Energy Efficiency in Municipal, Institutional
  • Commercial & Residential Spaces
  • Use incentives from Efficiency Maine to Reduce Costs
  • Local Energy Production
  • Buy, Grow & Harvest Food from Maine & New England

Healthy Communities– Encourage Smart Lifestyle Choices:

  • Physical Activity: Bicycle, Walking & Boating Options
  • Healthy Foods: Farmers’ Markets, CSAs & Co-Ops
  • Outdoor Recreation: Parks & Public Gathering Spaces
  • Green Infrastructure: Street Trees & Urban Forests
  • Self-Powered Transportation Choices: Safe Sidewalks, Crossings & Trails

The Making Headway in Your Community Process

1.    Movie Night: Showing the film in the community or region and then guiding a conversation to identify those unique assets and current initiatives that matter in their town or area. The movie is followed by a facilitated conversation about what the community values.

Our Making Headway in Your Community (MHYC) worksheet provides a base for viewing a community in four areas of community growth, Smart Design, Community Connections, Local Economy, and Healthy Communities with a pathway to get others involved to identify goals and on the ground projects. This connects to the online resource

2.    Capacity Building: Along with inspiration and information, all communities can use some nuts and bolts training for the grasstop leaders, be they volunteers, appointed, elected or staff.  There are wonderful opportunities throughout Maine for this to happen and sometimes a little encouragement and MHYC covering the registration cost are all that’s needed. We encourage several people from each community to go together, improving chances that the experience translates into constructive changes when they get home. Opportunities for the GrowSmart Annual Meeting, Maine Downtown Conference, regional technical assistance trainings and forums are offered throughout the state.

3.    Community Conversation:   In the second event, the community is empowered to vote and determine how a small amount of money will be spent to raise awareness and support for a larger initiative or project in town. Participants have the fun of using keypad polling to choose from a short list of projects developed in small group settings. Through this process they identify lead and support organizations, individuals, and matching support in either in-kind or cash.

4.    Projects and Initiatives: With budget determined and a plan developed by the participants, work begins. Our role is a balance of guiding the process while allowing it to go at their pace, with partnerships that make sense for the community.

5.    Community Celebration! : Once projects are completed, we’ll bring community together to celebrate, determine what they see as their next steps, and ask their advice on how to improve our process for future communities.

As part of the closing celebration the projects must be posted on with resources noted, so other communities can learn from the experience.

Communities We’ve Worked With

GrowSmart Maine has worked with 13 communities across Maine and helped to advance a total of 19 projects.

Community celebration in Eastport

      • Bucksport
      • Eastport
      • Katahdin Region
        • Medway
        • East Millinocket
        • Millinocket
      • Livermore Falls Region
        • Jay
        • Livermore
        • Livermore Falls
      • Lubec
      • Milbridge
      • Rumford
      • Unity
      • Wilton


Community conversation in Unity

Making Headway in Your Community Reports:

Click below to read examples of the Making Headway in Your Community program in communities across Maine.

Katahdin Region-Complete Report Compilation

Milbridge-Movie Night

Rumford-Community Conversation

Wilton-Community Celebration

We look forward to working with you as Making Headway in Your Community provides the foundation for discussions and decisions about the future of your town as well as a structure to manage and connect strategic actions at the local level.

Where to Start?

Making Headway In Your Community Worksheet

Program Overview

Contact us if you feel your community is ready!

Generously sponsored by the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, Maine Community Foundation and Wright-Pierce