The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) is currently working with cities and towns across the state to put people first in community development and planning processes through Community Heart & Soul®. The program’s innovative approach uses the tools of the humanities to creatively engage residents in planning and decision-making processes as a way to strengthen a town’s social, cultural and economic vibrancy.
The Cameron County Community
Cameron County sits in rural north-central Pennsylvania, in the heart of the PA Wilds region, a scenic day trip away from Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Erie. The region is renowned for its natural beauty and boasts some of the best outdoor recreation in the state. Residents and visitors trek throughout the county to hike, hunt, fish, paddle or enjoy a quiet night under the stars. There is fun to be had indoors too at local restaurants, retail stores, and cultural sites.
Established in 1860, Cameron County is nearly four hundred square miles and is home to three popular state parks while being surrounded by the Elk State Forest and several State Game Lands. Throughout the year there are activities and events for people of all ages, including lively annual festivals and parades. The most famous is Weekend in the Wilds, held each July in the county seat of Emporium. This event draws in both locals and tourists with its fireworks, crafts, food and the always-popular Bigfoot Hunt.
According to a 2017 US Census estimate, Cameron County is now the smallest county in the state with a population of 4,592. Like much of rural Pennsylvania, the region faces the challenge of a shrinking and aging population. The loss of manufacturing firms, which had historically been economic anchors, has proved a persistent challenge. Recently, county stakeholders began looking to direct community engagement as a way to identify assets, increase awareness about existing problems and better inform and support the process of community development.
The Cameron County Project was founded in 2017 and started implementing the Community Heart & Soul® model on its own with the mission of discovering “the themes in our community that unite us and highlighting them through a campaign of storytelling and resident driven visioning.” It later joined other Pennsylvania towns in receiving support and guidance from PHC and the Orton Family Foundation. The Cameron County Project is already seeing significant success. Responses poured in to their appeal for stories about the community. Residents were eager to be part of the process and wanted their voices heard about the past, present and future of Cameron County.
That process is still ongoing, but by putting the humanities at the heart of their community development work, Cameron County is now looking to a future sensitive to the experiences of all residents -- a future that listens, engages and inspires.
Long Term Goals
- Encourage residents to re-engage and own our communities by taking part in the decision-making process.
- Build trust through activities meant to make residents feel heard, increase attendance at decision maker meetings, increase volunteer opportunities for all residents.
- Encourage new voices to create and implement channels for change that highlights residents' values.
Complete a two year, county-wide visioning survey and produce a report summarizing our findings of what residents value about the county and how they would like to see their values honored, developed, or capitalized.
Cameron County Community Chest
Cameron County Chamber of Commerce
Additional information is available at the Cameron County Project web site.
- Pennsylvania Heart & Soul Communities
- Community Heart & Soul (Orton Family Foundation)
- From Stories to Community Action
- ‘Stories are universal’: Q&A with Jessica Herzing of The Cameron County Project
- Each One of Us is a Grassroots Advocate
- Uncommon strategic partnership advances applied humanities work in PA
- Pennsylvania Humanities Council And Partners Bring $130,000 In Funding, Training And Technical Support To Upper Chichester and Cameron County
- Heart & Soul Hero Award: Gary & Tina Solak