Be Here: Heart & Soul—Going Far by Going Together

The Venango Area Chamber of Commerce is excited to receive PA Community Heart & Soul’s designation. The Heart & Soul initiative is a community engagement program facilitated by Pennsylvania Humanities. This initiative is designed to empower communities to explore, celebrate, and amplify their unique stories, values, and aspirations.

Every town has its own unique heart and soul, reflecting what residents love about their community and why they choose to call it home. This platform empowers municipalities to collaboratively shape their future, honoring their distinct identity and heritage. Through storytelling, dialogue, and collaboration, the initiative aims to build stronger, more resilient communities.

Unlike traditional top-down decision making models, the Heart & Soul program employs a barn raising, resident-driven approach. It encourages active participation and engagement from residents, fostering a sense of ownership and empowerment within the community.

Developed and tested over a decade in partnership with over 100 small cities and towns across America, Community Heart & Soul is a proven process for engaging a community in shaping its future.

Community Heart & Soul is an ongoing practice that provides municipal officials with a clear understanding of what matters most to their constituents and forges a partnership that builds on the first thing everyone has in common: they all live here.

This initiative is guided by a four-phase process to identify, celebrate, and act upon what matters most to the community.

Heart & Soul communities have experienced a range of social and economic benefits: pride grown, civility and respect increased, connections created, volunteerism increased, new young leaders emerged, more residents ran for local office, economic conditions improved, investment in the town increased, new local businesses opened, town officials gained a deeper understanding of what matters to residents, and towns are better prepared to respond to emergency situations.

Community Heart & Soul is unique in how it engages residents. Instead of bringing residents to the table, Community Heart & Soul brings the table to residents at community events, neighborhood block parties, schools, businesses, and virtual gatherings. The anticipation of engaging in storytelling workshops, community gatherings, and collaborative initiatives fills the air with a sense of purpose and possibility. In Venango County, we have a unique opportunity to collaborate between three population centers connected by state routes 322, 62/8, and 257 that create a triangle of network in the center of our county –– Franklin, Oil City, and Cranberry Township.

Through the Heart & Soul process, having a multi municipality effort will help create better relationships between elected officials to better understand what resources each community has and how they can work closer together.

Creating space for more citizens and leaders of local communities to come together and create positive change in their lives truly aligns with the Be Here mission, and guidance from a Heart & Soul coach will help us turn the next page of our community focusing on bringing people together to find common ground and deepening connections between people who call the same place home.

Pictured (left to right): Matt McSparren, Cranberry Township Supervisor; Jessica Carroll, Northwest Commission; Sam Breene, Venango County Commissioner; Chip Abramovic, Venango County Commissioner; Doug Baker, Franklin Mayor; Ashley Smith, Be Here Program Manager

This article was published in the Venango Chamber’s December 2023 VenangoWorks! Newsletter.

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