The Meadville Heart & Soul team is hard at work, having recently relaunched their project under the name My Meadville. This relaunch, along with expanding their ranks and partnership development efforts, has enabled them to garner the community support and buy-in that is crucial to the success of Heart & Soul. My Meadville has successfully integrated their efforts into preexisting community development efforts and serves as a unifying force among them.
“It’s all about having your finger at the pulse of the community, from the grassroots level to the top,” says Autumn Vogel, the Project Coordinator of My Meadville, “and about building relationships and having the time and effort to support that. There’s a particular energy and excitement here.”
This excitement is why My Meadville has been able to forge a wide variety of partnerships with organizations and individuals across the town, including a notable partnership with the Meadville Medical Center Foundation. The Foundation is sponsoring a full-time Americorps VISTA position for the My Meadville team, who will work on further developing the team’s Community Network Analysis. This analysis will provide a crucial insight into who lives in the community and the connectors between them-- a vital resource not just for the Heart & Soul project, but for organizations like the Medical Center Foundation who want to better serve their community.
Other partners include Meadville’s City Council, Crawford Area Transportation Authority, the Meadville Public Library, Allegheny College, Crawford County Systems of Care, Grow Meadville, a variety of local businesses that offer products in exchange for time residents spend on the project, and many others.
While partnerships are a vital way to ensure community support during this process, Vogel’s team commits to the idea that the people involved in the Heart & Soul project are involved as unique individuals, and not just as representatives of other entities. This team brings a variety of skills and perspectives shaped by professional and personal experience. Data Team Leader Stephanie Martin, for instance, is an Economics professor at Allegheny College, and leadership team member Zach Norwood serves as Crawford County’s Deputy Planning Director. The team is also aided by City Council Member Nancy Mangilo-Bittner, who offers the team a key connection to local government. Many members of the leadership team are able to incorporate Heart & Soul work into their professional lives and have been indispensable in forging the partnerships that have given My Meadville community-wide credibility.
The team holds a thoroughly non-competitive view towards other community efforts, focusing their time and energy on building relationships and earning trust so that they can build on the momentum and drive that already exists in Meadville. “People recognized there were a lot of community efforts, but they needed to be aligned,” says Vogel. “We are joining conversations that are already happening.”
The My Meadville team is working hard not only on developing multiple partnerships within the community, but on appearing at events to gather stories from a diverse array of participants and organizing story circles so that residents can hear each other’s stories face-to-face.
With over two hundred interviews and eight hundred surveys completed, Vogel and her team have found consistently that the community values the community of Meadville and town life, as well as the natural resources in the area. Through their storytelling work, the team has also heard about the value of civic engagement, economic opportunity, and health and safety, and have been listening to the citizens’ concerns and possible solutions with regard to the change they want to see in Meadville. The team’s work has been bringing the community together through their shared values, a discovery that will lead to productive, citizen-centered change in the future.
“You can’t argue that one group is driving the ship,” says Vogel. “And it’s not about being competitive with other community efforts, but about building relationships and earning trust, so you can utilize the momentum and the drive that is already happening.”