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WILLIAMSPORT, January 13, 2015— The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) has awarded a one-year civic engagement grant of $25,000 for connecting with downtown neighborhoods to identify the shared values that reflect Williamsport’s Heart and Soul.  This resident-driven approach to community planning and development will be a collaborative of organizations including the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership (SGP), Lycoming County Celebrates the Arts Alliance, Our Towns, Short Mountain Group, Hands on Heritage, Lycoming County, City of Williamsport, Lycoming College, Penn Strategies, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, and the Orton Foundation.

Williamsport’s Heart & Soul team is dedicated to building bridges in the Williamsport community by bringing diverse groups of people together to identify shared values.  Over the next 10 months the Team will plan and facilitate public events to meet with residents, students, business owners, and municipal leaders and engage them in “story telling” about living and working in Williamsport. These stories will be recorded and analyzed to uncover common themes, desires, and needs. This information will be used to set community goals and develop vision statements that express Williamsport’s unique sense-of-place. These vision statements will be shared with City Council as guidance for making decisions that reflect a shared vision for revitalizing Williamsport neighborhoods while strengthening connections to the downtown. 

“With outreach into the neighborhoods we will be capturing the stories of people whose voices are not always heard. By making these connections we hope to identify new community leaders, strengthen neighborhood connections, and build working relationships and trust,” said Alice Trowbridge, SGP’s project coordinator. “The Heart and Soul process will bring together people who live and work in the City, many of whom may never have interacted with each other before. By understanding Williamsport’s core common values, we seek to promote a shared vision for revitalizing neighborhoods and to build bridges between the downtown and its neighborhoods.”

PHC’s civic engagement grants support humanities-focused approaches to community development throughout the commonwealth. Williamsport joins three other Pennsylvania communities that will receive civic engagement grants from PHC this year: Carlisle, Meadville, and the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia.

To achieve the greatest impact and broadest reach through the civic engagement grants it awards, PHC has partnered with the Orton Family Foundation to bring its Community Heart & Soul™ method to PHC’s grant communities. Community Heart & Soul is a proven process that empowers people to shape the future of their communities by creating a shared sense of belonging that improves local decision-making and ultimately strengthens social, cultural, and economic vibrancy.

Key to the process is learning what matters most to the community through gathering stories from and engaging as many residents as possible, including those who don’t typically participate in public processes.

“We believe the humanities can inspire people to come together and make a difference in their communities,” said Laurie Zierer, PHC’s executive director. “With storytelling at the heart of planning and development, local values and voices become the foundation for building communities that are connected, innovative, competitive, and strong.”

About Susquehanna Greenway Partnership

Susquehanna Greenway PartnershipThe Susquehanna Greenway Partnership encourages the conservation of productive farmland and natural resources, and investment in our core river town communities. We promote the exploration of Susquehanna river towns, and provide technical assistance to river town communities for revitalization initiatives.

About the Pennsylvania Humanities Council

The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) connects Pennsylvanians to each other through stories, ideas, and experiences that can change lives and transform communities. PHC champions and redefines the role the humanities play in educating citizens and strengthening communities through programs that create pathways for learning and creativity, spark dialogue and civic engagement, and encourage diversity of expression. An independent partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, PHC is part of a network of 56 state humanities councils that spans the nation and U.S. jurisdictions. Learn more at pahumanities.org.

About the Orton Family Foundation and Community Heart & Soul

With its Community Heart & Soul™ method, the Orton Family Foundation empowers people to shape the future of their communities by improving local decision-making, creating a shared sense of belonging and ultimately strengthening the social, cultural and economic vibrancy of communities. The Foundation assists the residents of small cities and towns in the use of the Community Heart & Soul™ method, a barn-raising approach to community planning and development that invites residents to shape the future of their communities in ways that uphold the unique character of each place. For more information visit orton.org

To learn more about the project visit:  www.heartofwilliamsport.org

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