Mahoosuc Heart & Soul, Maine
Mahoosuc Heart & Soul includes Greenwood, Woodstock, Newry, Bethel, and the surrounding townships. The process involved over 100 volunteers who contributed over 10,000 volunteer hours to the process. Through one-on-one interviews, group storytelling events, coasters in restaurants, story circles, poetry nights, online surveys, and classroom assignments the team heard thousands of responses from community members. Mahoosuc Heart & Soul followed the four phases of the Community Heart & Soul method while tailoring activities to meet the needs of the Mahoosuc community.
The Western Maine Mountains have been a seasonal vacation spot for generations. However, the development of Sunday River Ski Resort and the closure of local forestry operations and other smaller businesses affected the region, shifting the local economy from manufacturing to service-based jobs.
Many multi-generation residents feel deep connections to this place that no longer holds many of the same characteristics they remember growing up with. Changes in tourism, tax bases, land use and a stalled town comprehensive plan all led locals to look for an alternative way to gauge citizen interest and input for planning purposes.
Volunteer and Community Response:
Many longtime community members were involved in the outreach and communication of the Mahoosuc Heart & Soul project. They were able to activate community connectors with ties to many of the different groups and populations within the towns. Targeted and intentional invitations were made over the multi-year process to meet people where they gathered and explain the project and the goal. Transparency about process was integral to the success of Mahoosuc Heart & Soul.
Heart & Soul Outcomes
• From hundreds of interviews and thousands of ideas and comments collected during 2016-2018, a team of dedicated volunteers drafted the Mahoosuc Heart & Soul Community Statements. In the spring of 2019, all four town boards signed a letter of support to recognize the findings of the project and use them in municipal planning.
• Ideas from the 87 projects for action, collected and vetted by the community during two keypad polling sessions, have been distributed to the vast nonprofit network in the area and many of them are in varying stages of completion.
• The Heart & Soul planning effort helped identify larger issues during the process, such as the need for affordable housing and a more sustainable year-round economy. There is funding and energy around addressing these larger ongoing problems in a holistic way that builds upon the work done by Heart & Soul.
• In January 2020, all four towns’ board members, managers and clerks gathered in one room to discuss the challenges and opportunities of working together. This had never happened before. At the meeting, the boards agreed to discuss cost sharing measures and continue to meet in the future.