Sense of belonging is key to heart & soul program
forge plans that will better the city. The group is part of “Community Heart & Soul,” which seeks to help people to shape the future of their communities by actively seeking the collective wisdom of all residents, improving local decision-making, creating a shared sense of belonging, and ultimately strengthening the social, cultural, and economic vibrancy of each place.
The group had its first public meeting on Nov. 12. A total of 25 participants attended. Cynthia Bangston and Beau Boeye are two of the members helping kick off efforts in Red Oak. Bangston said ultimately, they are seeking advice and input of Red Oak residents by reaching out.
“We’re looking for them to tell us what they see, how we can grow Red Oak, and what the future of Red Oak could be. Mayor Shawnna Silvius first found out about the organization while she was executive director of Montgomery County Development Corporation,” Bangston said.
Boeye said in 2020, Community Heart & Soul coach Michelle Franks spoke during the Red Oak Chamber and Industry Association’s annual meeting. However, further progress was delayed.
“At the time, we were really excited about it, and really wanted Red Oak to be involved in it, but then the pandemic happened, and so it’s nice to see that we’re starting on this journey this year,” commented Boeye.
Franks spoke before the Red Oak City Council in February of this year, and received a resolution of support for the project. Since then, organizers have been working to collect a group of volunteers and collect $10,000 to match a $10,000 seed grant from Community Heart & Soul. Bangston said those funds have been received.
“We received a $10,000 Seed Grant from the Orton Family Foundation (dba Community Heart & Soul. The letter from Community Heart & Soul states, ‘On behalf of the Orton Family Foundation, I would like to congratulate you on receiving a $10,000 Seed Grant and officially welcome the Red Oak Community Heart & Soul Team as our newest Heart & Soul community,” Bangston said. “I will notify the businesses and individuals who have pledged funds toward our $10,000 match as to how and where they can send their donation to Red Oak Community Heart & Soul in the coming days.”
Bangston, who lived in Washington state prior to moving to Red Oak, said she became a member of the team because she saw a lot of value in the project.
“I’ve been an outsider in Red Oak for quite some time, and I’ve been quiet. I’ve heard from a lot of people who feel their voices are not heard. There are a lot of people I’d like to reach, to get advice and input from to see what Red Oak can be. I think there’s a lot of potential here,” Bangston explained.
Boeye said he’s been looking to become involved in the project for quite some time, as far back as when the organization was first introduced.
“I’ve seen the success that other communities have had with this program, and at a lot of these meetings, we see a lot of similar faces making decisions for the community. We want to try and turn that around and get more people involved, more voices heard, different demographics, and get them all at the table and give everyone a voice. This is a program that can bring everyone together,” Boeye said.
Currently, they are in phase one of the project, which involves bringing a core team together to start functioning more as a board. The next phase involves connecting with residents and gathering stories from throughout the community. The third phase involves creating a strategy for widely sharing adopted heart and soul statements gathering and prioritizing action ideas. The final stage will include a Heart & Soul stewardship plan, establishment of a stewardship team, and an implementation strategy for the developed action plan. However, Bangston said things will be determined as they proceed.
“I don’t yet have a clear view of what this is going to look like, because it’s all so dynamic, and depends on how the community of Red Oak comes together to do this. And while we’ll establish a board, I feel it’s going to be a lot more free-flowing and flexible, and everyone will have an equal voice,” stated Bangston.
During the phase one period, Boeye said the biggest thing they’ll be working on is the network analysis.
“We’ll be creating a database of the names of different people of the community, and trying to reach the segments that aren’t represented well, and then determining who is the best person to tap into each of those groups. The question is how to reach people who don’t regularly attend meetings that have a different perspective, and get feedback from them, which leads us into phase two, where we capture people’s stories,” explained Boeye.
Bangston added she’s looking forward to interviewing residents of Red Oak and having those stories saved.
“We’re going to hear the stories of why they live here, how they came to be here, what Red Oak used to be, and what it can be. Those interviews will be recorded, and it will be fun to hear the stories of these residents, and create the archive, and reflect it back to people. There’s a lot more here than people are aware of, I think,” Bangston stated.
Bangston and Boeye said neither are trying to have any preconceived ideas in mind once the group reaches phase four of the project.
“This is a community thing. I don’t want to lead this in one direction or another. I’m holding a place for the community and [will] be very stubborn about that. There are so many people in the community that go about their business, and now they will no longer have to shrug their shoulders and feel like no one is going to listen to them. We want to reach those people,” Bangston advised.
Boeye was in agreement that he wanted to see people come together, have a voice, and be happy about the process and make it work.
“A lot of times when the community has done these visioning processes, they bring in an outside entity, get some feedback, put together a plan, and ultimately the plan sits on a shelf and collects dust. I’ve come across a lot of these different plans, which have had great ideas, but many weren’t acted upon. With Community Heart & Soul, the importance is creating a grassroots effort, so more people can get invested in the process and see these plans played out. A lot of communities that have gone through this process share a similar story, but they’ve come to see how this plays out dramatically different than what they have done in the past,” Boeye explained.
Bangston agreed, and said the people she’s talked to who have been involved with those prior plans have been frustrated it came to no purpose.
“We can’t put this plan on a shelf. I don’t feel we can do that anymore. People talk about wanting Red Oak to be what it used to be. I don’t think we can go back, per se, but I feel like we can create a new version of that with this Community Heart & Soul process,” Bangston commented.
Bangston and Boeye encourage everyone to come out and give whatever time or ideas they can. As the project gets moving, efforts will be made to give people numerous opportunities to voice their opinions, be that by attending meetings or filling out surveys from the convenience of their homes.
“We want people to voice their opinions, and know that their opinions matter, and that we’re listening,” Boeye said.
Anyone who missed the first meeting but wants to become a volunteer with Community Heart & Soul in any capacity is encouraged to call Bangston at 360-239-1109, or email firstname.lastname@example.org., or they can call or email Boeye at 712-370-2371, or email email@example.com.
For more information about the Community Heart & Soul program, visit communityheartandsoul.org/, youtube.com/c/CommunityHeartSoul, or facebook.com/CommunityHeartandSoul/.