Introducing “Community Heart & Soul.”

The Alleghany Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Tourism hosted a community introduction and interactive program for residents Tuesday evening at the restored C&O Depot in Covington, introducing the “Community Heart & Soul” program.

A statement regarding the program says, “The goal of this program is to help our community become stronger, healthier and economically vibrant, while discovering and honoring the unique character of the Alleghany Highlands.

Teresa Hammond, executive director of the Alleghany Highlands Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, said, “The Community Heart & Soul initiative is a wonderful tool to help identify the needs of our community and to also bring the community together to create positive change based on what matters most to our residents.”

Jessica Hartness and Doug Jackson of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, gave a PowerPoint presentation covering the program.

Following a brief video highlighting the program, Hartness and Jackson discussed the three principles of the Community Heart & Soul program.

Those principles are to involve everyone, focus on what matters and play the long game.

After sharing the principles of the program, Hartness and Jackson explained how the Community Heart & Soul Program was started by Lyman Orton of the Orton Family Foundation.

To conclude their presentation, Hartness and Jackson stressed that in addition to the three principles of the program, there were four phases that communities had to go through.

The four phases are:

— Lay the groundwork (getting organized, creating a work plan, spreading the word);
— Explore your community (gathering and sharing stories, identifying what matters most);
— Make decisions (formalize decisions, make choices, develop options);
— Take action (mobilize resources, following through, cultivating heart and soul).

It was also explained that the three principles and the four phases are all part of a two-year organizational process.

At the end of the community introduction and interactive program, Hartness and Jackson encouraged those who attended to give their input.

Clifton Forge Town Manager Darlene Burcham stated how she felt this initiative would work in the Highlands, “I think it’s an issue of trust, or a lack of trust that has to be tackled.”

Burcham continued, “I think there’s a lot of distrust in the broader community because of new people coming in with new ideas that sometimes run counter of what people are comfortable with.”

Hammond then responded following Burcham’s comments by saying, “I think the challenge is the community tends to lean toward being negative, focusing on what’s wrong with the community and what the negatives are. I think we need to change the conversation and the way we look at things.”

The next community introduction will take place Tuesday, Dec. 10, at 6 p.m. at the YMCA.

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Doug Jackson of the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development speaks during an introduction to the “Community Heart & Soul' Tuesday at the restored C&O Depot in Covington. The program assists communities in becoming stronger, healthier and more economically vibrant. (Gavin Dressler Photo)