'Community Visit' in the works

MANCHESTER - Sometime in early 2013, the Town of Manchester will participate in the Vermont Council on Rural Development's "Community Visit Program," an initiative geared towards connecting community building efforts in Vermont towns with state-wide resources.

Lee Krohn, planning director and zoning administrator for the Town of Manchester, said that this idea goes back to late summer.

"Last year or so some members of the community brought this idea up. Having known about the VCRD and this program we approached them about a project and had some discussions with them and made our pitch," he said. "With Bennington just receiving the program we were pleasantly surprised they decided to choose Manchester as their next destination."

The Community Visit Program is a way for towns to engage and bring together their residents, set common goals and directions in a neutral and facilitated structure, and access resources that will help them take action on those goals. Provided at no cost to communities, the program gets citizens engaged in working for their communities and connects them to the resources they need to be successful.

Paul Costello, the executive director of the VCRD, was unable to be reached for comment as of press time.

The Community Visit Program occurs over a four month period with a series of public meetings, facilitated discussions, and community events. The VCRD raises funds for this program and there is no cost to the community except time and energy.

The VCRD has conducted 24 community visits since 1996 and usually works with two communities each year. Earlier in 2012 the VCRD was in Bennington and helped them create a Bennington Community Center and focused on economic development and growth.

The Vermont Council of Rural Development raises funds from business, private, philanthropic and state sources to be able to sustain this program. Communities are asked to contribute their time, energy and skills to make sure the process is well-attended and capacity is built locally to follow through on the identified priorities.

To a degree, some feel Manchester has already seen some significant changes with the long-running Roundabout project nearing completion, a new park house at the Dana L. Thompson Memorial Recreation Park, upgrades to Adams Park at the intersection of Main Street and Center Hill, more improvements in store for the historic Depot area around Elm Street and Highland Avenue.

More improvements may also be in store for Depot Street corridor.

The intended design of the program is to help residents find the needs of the community and move forward from there, Krohn said.

"There is no precise date this will start," said Krohn. "However we are looking at sometime around the middle to late January."

The community visit program splits the process up into three steps. The first is to host a community visit day that helps the local community share challenges and ideas in focus forums. Second is a community meeting day that helps residents prioritize their actions items and sign up for task forces. Thirdly is the community resource day which allows task forces to create action plans and work with the resource team to identify the next steps to take.

VCRD is a neutral, non-profit organization that brings Vermonters together across political lines and organizational boundaries to advance rural community and economic development throughout the state.

To find out more information on the VCRD and their Community Visit program visit www.vtrural.org.


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