Skill Transfer: Two Women Whose Past Experience Helped Move Their Towns Forward

By Leslie Wright

Callie Black brought a well-honed ability to navigate networks and connect people. Nancy Minott brought a natural talent for keeping the big picture in focus while taking lots of small steps to get there.

The two powerhouse women found themselves at the helm of Community Heart & Soul® in their towns in Maine. Black’s background is in social work. Minott was a school teacher. Both are passionate about making their communities better. Heart & Soul® in their communities gained from their skills and passion, and they, too, gained by deepening their relationships in the community.

Black served on her town’s comprehensive planning commission when the plan was due for revision. Public input was a requirement for the revision. In Rockland (pop. 7,100), the past few years had been challenging, five city managers had cycled through in seven years. Attendance at public meetings didn’t reflect the diversity of the community.

She easily convinced her fellow commissioners that the revision was an opportunity to reengage the community. Black wound up as one of the co-coordinators of Rockland Heart & Soul.

Black’s social work skills made her a natural for seeking out community networks. Community Network Analysis, a key aspect of Heart & Soul, was something she understood. Interviewing is another skill that was transferable when it came to story gathering. Her co-coordinators, a grant writer and an administrator with a public relations background, had complementary skills.

From getting a sharper picture of the challenges faced by those who are often unseen in the community, to discovering people with an array of talents, the experience has been rewarding and has widened her view of the community, she said.

“It’s pretty remarkable the number of people I’ve met. The things I’ve learned about Rockland are phenomenal. I’m blown away,” Black said. “I knew from my previous work as a social worker that everybody has a story, and those stories can be fascinating, but the people I met during Heart & Soul have been just amazing.”

Discovering talent in her town was particularly enlightening. An Emmy award-winning TV producer was one, and she has proposed making a short film about Rockland Heart & Soul. A former Smithsonian Museum employee who helped design and install exhibitions is helping with a festival booth display.

About 50 miles away in Bucksport, Maine, Nancy Minott was taking her first year of retirement from elementary school teaching to figure out what her next chapter would be. In a matter of months, however, she was recruited to be project coordinator for Bucksport Heart & Soul.

Bucksport (pop. 5,000) is working to redefine itself in the wake of a papermill closure in 2014. When the mill closed, the town lost 44% of its tax base and 600 jobs. Minott found her pedagogical ability to see the big picture while taking the many steps along the way a helpful skill that helped the project sustain momentum.  Community Heart & Soul appealed to her creative side, as well, particularly when it came to planning events and making them fun, including resident engagement and story gathering events.

Minott also took advantage of her skills as a people person, reaching out to those who might not have been included in the past. As a result, through asking people to share their stories, frustration with town politics would be transformed into ideas for action to move the town forward.

For her part, Minott, who has lived in Bucksport for four years, also came to feel more a part of the community.

“Now I know so many people. I can go to the grocery store and chat with people in the aisles. That was a gift for me,” Minott said. “I can claim this community as my own, and I’m a part of it in a different way than if I hadn’t been part of the project.”

Image: Nancy Minott, project coordinator, Bucksport Heart & Soul speaks with a reporter at an engagement event in Bucksport, Maine.

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