PUTNEY — On Monday, Nov. 14, all members of the community are invited to come together for a free dinner, live music, and the chance to help develop new ideas and focus energy for the future of their town.
The Our Future Putney Community Visit is a three-part process of facilitated discussions coordinated by the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) to engage members of the community, brainstorm ideas for the future, and identify top priorities for Putney.
VCRD Operations Director Margaret Gibson noted the program has been presented in several Windham County towns, including Guilford, Vernon, Marlboro, and Londonderry.
The in-depth community engagement process is only brought to a town that's invited VCRD to come and do so - usually by the Selectboard, as is the case in Putney.
“First, we pull together a steering board made up of diverse members of the community, and they come up with topics and outreach,” Gibson said Tuesday.
“VCRD comes as a neutral facilitator; we don't claim to know what's best for a community,” she added. “We rely heavily on the people of a town to tell us what the issue areas are that would bring people out to talk.”
The schedule for the forum, which will take place at the Putney Central School:
• 4:30–6 p.m. - Youth, Families, and Aging
• 4:30–6 p.m. - Housing
• 6–7 p.m. - Free community dinner with live music
• 7–8:30 p.m. - Community Connection
• 7–8:30 p.m. - Economic Development & Business Vitality
Community members share “assets, ideas, and challenges,” and VCRD then captures and analyzes that information into “probably 20 ideas,” she said.
“Everything kind of connects,” Gibson added.
From ideas, priorities
A second community meeting, scheduled for Monday, Dec. 12, allows for all to “read through the ideas and stand up and champion those they think the town should focus on now,” Gibson said.
The ultimate goal is to come up with three key priorities. Then, local people will sign up for task force groups to take action.
“For every step, we bring a visiting team of leaders/experts from around the state from all sectors,” Gibson said, adding that 16 visiting team experts will attend the first meeting to “listen and, at the end, share some reflections.”
Teams are made up of state, regional, federal, and nonprofit leaders, plus those from many other realms.
Bring in the professionals
At the third meeting, set for Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2023 here, the visiting team will be comprised of folks with knowledge and expertise specific to the priorities identified and agreed to by the community.
“For example, Vernon wanted to build a downtown,” said Gibson. “That's a long-range project. So you bring people to help them think long-term about how they might approach that. Or it could be a low-hanging fruit as a priority.
“And there's nothing that says the town has to spend money on anything. In Montgomery, a wastewater system for downtown was prioritized [...] and they ended up getting a very large federal grant to make that happen,” she said. “A lot of times what you find is that when towns line up for action behind an idea, resources follow.”
VCRD is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to the advancement of Vermont communities. In the past 20 years, VCRD has worked with more than 85 communities throughout Vermont to bring residents together through their facilitated and structured process to share ideas and move toward common solutions.
This VCRD service is free, said Gibson. Our Future Putney is paid for with support from the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, Northern Borders Regional Commission, the Vermont Community Foundation, and VCRD supporters and donors.
The town is asked to send a direct mailing to all residents - set to go out soon in Putney - before the first meeting and to pay for “a big community dinner,” which could be a potluck.
Masks will be optional at the meetings. For anyone unable to attend in-person, a separate virtual forum option will be available. Child care is also available.