Cityfolk seeking safety, diversity

Williamsport Sun-Gazette, April 27, 2017

Richard Hosch could see a common theme developing on his table at the Heart of Williamsport “Summit Up” event Wednesday night.

The theme was the transition of the city’s downtown as a destination with more attractions, such as the Susquehanna River Walk, and a myriad of restaurants and specialty shops connected by a network of streets and nearby neighborhoods.

Hosch, a chef with a catering business on West Fourth Street in the Historic District, was one of about 50 individuals who gathered for a few hours inside the Cochran Primary School to go over the results of a communitywide survey. It included the thoughts of 944 respondents who explained what was important to them about the city and what changes they wanted to see.

Ruth Keller, a former public relations director, said the summit was “good to get people out.” She said she has a special interest in seeing neighborhood watch groups spread throughout the city to deter crime.

A fun time for all

Participants first filled out a demographic chart listing details such as their age, housing status, gender, ethnicity and household income.

The returned data from the survey was organized by themes for groups on the tables. They included educational assets, activities and events; opportunities and economic growth; urban amenities and recreation; arts, culture and heritage; small town feel and location; beautiful natural environment; health, safety and welfare; and diverse community.

“I enjoy taking part in the ‘Safe, Clean and Green’ in my neighborhood,” said Margaret Tupper, of Arch Street in Newberry, who was on the education assets table. The event she referred to is a bi-annual litter collection promoted by the Newberry Community Partnership.

The collection often brings people together, but more volunteers are needed, said Alannah Gabriel, a longtime coordinator of the group, who joined her friend Tupper for the summit.

David Defebo, of Woodmont Avenue in the Vallamont section of the city, sat on the opportunities and economic growth table. He read dozens of the responses, breaking them into sub-sections. They included ideas such as the city’s low-cost living compared to places such as New York or San Francisco, and its educational opportunities, with a college on either side of the city.

One response focused on the connectivity of the arts, culture and opportunity as a means for quality of life.

A predominant theme was the changing look of the downtown since 1999 and how its revitalization continues to bring opportunity for employment, entice new developers and improve neighborhoods.

Tradition rules

Some 109 of the 944 responses involved Little League — not just for a superior form of supervised recreation and sport but also as a measure of the importance of Little League in the city’s heritage, as the place where Carl E. Stotz grew up and as the site that was the birthplace of the game, said Alice Trowbridge, of Susquehanna Greenway Partnership.

“Organized youth baseball and softball is a recreation, but Little League is so much more,” she said. “It is part of our heritage and our tradition.”

The community’s small town “feel” and short driving distance from metropolitan areas were among the favorites for one person. The city’s short distance from state parks, hunting camps, fishing streams, hiking and biking paths, skiing and canoeing and paddling on rivers and creeks was the lure for another.

Many families valued the children’s library at the James V. Brown Library and a responsive city government that makes itself accessible by holding public meetings and hearings.

Another table received numerous responses on the diversity of the community, which is one of its stronger points because of the younger generation that visits and uses businesses, some of which have been developed by young entrepreneurs.

Others valued the city and region’s public transportation system, one that is “cost-efficient and easy to use,” and still others saw value in the shopping district and its outreach toward customers, especially with many big-box stores closing their doors.

At the end of the activity, the responses were collected and placed into two categories: What people value about the city and why it is important. These will be used to create a vision statement, Trowbridge said.

Adding to the delight of the event, a mural created by students in pre-school through third-grade was shared.

The children drew images of what they thought was the ideal city.

The mural showed colorful flowers, happy babies, recycling bins, shade trees growing, baseball played, rainbows in the sky and a house where children could play in safety and secure from harm.

For the past year, Heart of Williamsport has used the content of 72 video stories to identify the common values people share, and develop vision statements that reflect these shared values.

The data along with the survey responses will be shared with city and county planners and may be adopted as guiding principles for decision-making.

The group is identifying projects and/or programs that will support the vision and “sense of place” that people hold dear for Williamsport and build bridges between groups of people who may not know each other.



If you were to peel back the layers of the vibrant downtown, the local construction of the neighborhoods, and the booming developmental actions being taken to bring different aspects of industry to Williamsport, you’d find a town rooted in rich history. If you take a walk down Millionaire’s Row, you’d see the complex architecture of mansions that used to once house visitors such as Singer/Actress Lillian Russell and Author Mark Twain. Once touted as the “Lumber Capital of the World,: Williamsport used to be home to more millionaires per capita than any other U.S. city. Not only that, but a majority of the beautiful buildings downtown such as Eagle Rock Winery are original structures that have been re-purposed.


StephanieYoung_StillRevitalization is something that is found at the core of a lot of our conversations with residents, especially City Hall employees John Grado, the Community Developer Director and city engineer, and Stephanie Young from the Community Development Department. “I think if the history were to be lost, it would change the whole fabric of the city. If that somehow were no longer to exist, Williamsport wouldn’t be what it is today,” Young says.

Grado also has worked extensively to keep the natural beauty and resources of the urban landscape alive. He said he believes in finding a balance between that metropolitan development and keeping landscape a focal point.He would love to see trees dispersed among the downtown and the neighborhoods in order to have a compliment between urban and rural.  “We need to get the people involved., You can’t plant a tree with only 30 inches between a curb and sidewalk, and people don’t always value it on their property, but they should,” he says.JohnGrado_Still

Something else that both Grado and Young hope for the city is to make it a place where younger people have an opportunity to find work, but also so that the older generation can still stay in city without having to leave due to economic struggles. Grado says that losing the connectivity between the older and younger generation would be a shame to the city, because he feels a great importance in keeping that history strong while also bringing in a new generation of workers and families. “It’s a very secure feeling to feel that you are so rooted,” says Young, who has found herself constantly circling back to her family’s foundation in Williamsport, and now lives in her childhood home.

Both Grado and Young either came or returned to Williamsport because they felt so connected to the community and the environment. That kind of emotional pull and attraction is something they hope Williamsport upholds in order to sustain a historic and robust community. Young then concludes, “A lot of people move away and then come back because they’ve missed it, and sometimes you have to go away to understand the value of what’s here.”



Story by Sophie Herzing

Video by Christopher Cizek
Want to share your story with us? Take our survey: or contact us about setting up an interview by sending us an email here:

What’s New

What’s new with the Heart and Soul Community in Williamsport, Pennsylvania?  The Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Employers, (PennACE) a statewide organization that “provides professional growth and networking opportunities for career development and recruitment professionals to enhance practices that benefit  Pennsylvania college and university students and graduates” has chosen two Lycoming College students for their JoAnne Day Student of the Year for Liberal Arts Award.

Students Christopher Cizek and Sophie Herzing participated in Lycoming College’s WISE (Williamsport Intern Summer Experience) Program for 10 weeks during the summer of 2016. The students worked with volunteers of the Heart of Williamsport community engagement program, an initiative supported by Susquehanna Greenway Partnership, Pennsylvania Humanities Council and the Orton Family Foundation. The stories will be used to craft vision statements as guidance for policymakers in the city and region.

Lycoming College students win award
Lycoming College students win award

Cizek and Herzing, working with their mentors, conducted video recording interviews, transcribed the stories and produced promotional films and online ads for the Heart of Williamsport group. The students also participated in disseminating and gathering over 900 data rack cards at public events. Traveling across the city, the students interviewed over 70 Williamsport residents during their internship.

To be eligible for the JoAnne Day Student of the Year Award Cizek and Herzing must have completed an internship or co-op assignment that was related to: educational services, social science/service, humanities or human services, government, communication, arts, or entertainment. Each student will receive a cash award of $250.00. Both students are in their senior year at Lycoming College.

The interns were also interviewed at the end of their internship. Sophie Herzing spoke about all the different people she met, I think they are what make it the Heart of Williamsport and what makes it so wonderful… makes it such a wonderful place to live.Christopher Cizek appreciated the experience of perfecting his filmmaking skills, I know the basics but had I not been with the Heart of Williamsport, I could have never approached my senior film at all…”

Sophies and Chriswork can be viewed on the Heart of Williamsport website,

Heart & Soul Method

The step-by-step framework outlined in this section describes a model Heart & Soul process using four phases and eleven steps. Each phase is built around specific learning, capacity building or engagement goals, and together they lead to the overall project goals.



Phase 1. Lay the Groundwork

Laying the groundwork is about getting organized to conduct a successful Heart & Soul process. This is when you gather partners and a team of volunteers, figure out how they will coordinate with each other, set goals, and establish what will be included in the process. It is also an important time to find out who lives or works in the community and set up a communications strategy to reach them.

Below are each Step of Phase 1 in the Heart & Soul method. Download the complete Field Guide below for more details and specific guidance on using Heart & Soul in your town.

Step 1. Get Organized

This is when you assemble a team, size up your community’s strengths and weaknesses, and set goals. Take this step seriously. Each of its tasks plays an enormous role in the overall success of your Heart & Soul project.

Step 2. Create a Work Plan

A roadmap, or project work plan, is a basic requirement for good project management, and it also works as a communication tool that helps people understand what will happen when. The roadmap should include specific activities and tasks, timing, and budget.

Step 3. Spread the Word

This step is about building public awareness, interest, and good will for your Heart & Soul project. Community members will want to know about the Heart & Soul principles and the particular details of the project. Before you start getting the good word out, assemble all the tools, information, and people-power required to support communications.

Phase 2. Explore Your Community

Explore Your Community is the heart and soul of the Heart & Soul approach. It is about discovering what your community cares about—its shared values—and building a vision for the future based on those shared values. Activities in this phase focus on bringing a broad mix of people into the process to help identify these values. Telling personal stories about local experiences is a key engagement strategy in this phase, bringing people together and helping them to find common ground.

Below are each Step of Phase 2 in the Heart & Soul method. Download the complete Field Guide below for more details and specific guidance on using Heart & Soul in your town

Step 4. Gather and Share Stories

Before you start throwing around ideas or crunching data, take some time to simply hear what people have to say about their community and what questions they might raise. In this step, stories are gathered from a broad range of community members. This very intentional and active listening helps you discover what is important to people, what they value, and what they are concerned about, which sets your Heart & Soul work off on the right track—as open, inclusive, and worthy of trust.

Step 5. Identify What Matters Most

This is the cornerstone of Community Heart & Soul. In this step the Heart & Soul team and community members compile the stories and harvest information and data about what matters most, from which they develop a set of community values. These values provide the starting point for discussing issues, opportunities, and ideas for the future of the community.

Phase 3. Make Decisions

Making decisions is about figuring out how to protect and enhance your community’s values and how to build toward a future that honors them. What are the options available to your community and which should be pursued? Also important to the decision-making process is figuring out when things will be done. What will you do this year and what will you work on later?

Below are each Step of Phase 3 in the Heart & Soul method. Download the complete Field Guide below for more details and specific guidance on using Heart & Soul in your town.

Step 6. Consider Context and Develop Options

This step involves generating ideas, turning them into options, and developing criteria to evaluate and prioritize those options. Whether you’ll use your community values to inform an economic development strategy for the Chamber or land use plans for the City, you need to know your options. You also need to know how to weigh those options and choose the best ones.

Step 7. Make Choices

This is the step where you make choices to narrow down the options. In order to do this effectively, you’ve got to think about which options will lead to the best results, which are most needed, and which will take years to put in motion. It’s time to do a cost-benefit analysis, prioritize, match actions to local capacity, and stay realistic about timing.

Step 8. Formalize Decisions

This step is about turning the recommendations into formal decisions and an action plan, and ensuring that commitments are secured to make things happen. Commitments could include the local government adopting policies or civic and non-profit organizations formally adopting ideas for actions.

Phase 4. Take Action

Taking action is about following through with the action plan and doing the work needed to produce results. A particularly important action is to create a stewardship team that will keep watch on how the other actions are progressing. This leadership team coordinates the work and communicates progress to keep community members engaged and decision-makers accountable. This team also looks for ways to infuse civic culture and any community decision-making process with the principles of Heart & Soul.

Below are each Step of Phase 4 in the Heart & Soul method. Download the complete Field Guide below for more details and specific guidance on using Heart & Soul in your town.

Step 9. Mobilize Resources

In this critical step, your team needs to shift resources and leadership toward long-term follow-through and implementing the action plan. Without an organized, deliberate effort to transition the leadership to stewards who can make the actions happen, even the most dynamic community plan will not be achieved. A lot of energy and good will went into the plan’s creation so make sure it doesn’t get filed on a shelf to collect dust.

Step 10. Follow Through

Heart & Soul establishes a path to the future that includes many incremental actions. It also establishes a compass that helps the community reorient itself as circumstances change. This step is about initiating that first set of actions and then keeping an eye on the compass to be sure that you are heading in the right direction.

Step 11. Cultivate Heart & Soul

The Community Heart & Soul process is about inclusive and meaningful community participation and using community values to inform decision making. You are cultivating the heart and soul of your community by encouraging these concepts to spread and by building capacity where necessary to help make it happen.

Orton Family Foundation founder Lyman Orton on the history and mission of Community Heart & Soul

Have you watched this video yet? Don’t miss Orton Family Foundation founder Lyman Orton speaking about the history and mission of Community Heart & Soul

Subscribe to the Orton Family Foundation’s YouTube channel to watch dozens of inspiring stories, organized by areas of impact, show the many ways Heart & Soul transforms communities. These include insights from people in Heart & Soul towns sharing first-hand knowledge of how the process shifts the narrative in communities and triggers positive change.