Tap into the power of an active community

Adam Wells


New Economy Program Coordinator
Appalachian Voices
Phone: 276- 679-1691
Email: Adam@appvoices.org



Do you think community organizing or engagement is important because of the need to write grants?
I think the community organizing aspect of economic development in small towns is critical. So many funders now are looking for an engaged population before they will release funding for any kind of project. So having that funding to get the money is really important but also having that foundation of citizen input and collaboration is important because it will make the project a lot stronger as well.

So how does a town manager or mayor go about showing that community involvement or engagement exists?
The first thing is to have meetings, have accessible meetings for people in various different venues, like farmer’s markets. Every town has informal networks of people that talk to each other. The foundation of organizing is tapping into those networks and starting there and kind of building out. I like to say you start from where you’re at. Farmer’s markets are a good way. It’s a good way to get people to come out, who are interested in the community, kind of bringing them to the next step and bringing them to a meeting.

Are you talking about practical steps such as having a signup sheet?
Yeah, showing up at a farmer’s market with a table, or having a display, a booth, a clipboard and getting people to sign up. Telling them what the project is about. Try to get them to come out to a meeting and hear their ideas.

Why is this important to getting grants?                
It’s important because funders look to see an engaged citizenship, for any kind of community project. Without that engagement they’re not going to give the funding and it’s also important just because having that strong citizen input makes the grant and the project stronger just by itself.

Have you seen towns that didn’t get grants because they lacked that piece?
Yeah, I have. I know projects that haven’t gotten funded that were otherwise awesome. They just didn’t have that engagement, and they weren’t funded.

What do you wish that towns, their leadership – what do you wish they knew about community involvement?
I wish that they knew it’s pretty easy, if you just start in the right spot. Look for commonalities, things that people want to get around that are positive.  So often when mayors or town managers hear from their populations, it’s complaining about one thing or another. But if you get people together to talk about something positive, the result could be positive, too.

Is there a community around this region that does the community organizing very well?
I think all of Southwest Virginia, right now, is doing a really great job around the Clinch River Valley Initiative. The towns along the Clinch River are really getting together and focusing on the Clinch River as an economic development nexus and it’s a really awesome project.