Making Headway in Your Community is a rural 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 the Maine Downtown Center, a program of the Maine Development Foundation and GrowSmart Maine; funds a series of three public meetings over a period of 6-8 months during which time 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.
Makingheadway.me 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. We provide 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 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”.
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 www.makingheadway.me
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 www.makingheadway.me with resources noted, so other communities can learn from the experience.
In 2015/2016, with a grant from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, we will work with two groupings of communities; three Downeast coastal towns and two rebuilding mill towns. Each town will be stronger, with a clearer vision of their future, and better connected to Maine communities facing similar challenges.
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.
Contact us if you feel your community is ready!