by JOHNNY WEEKSjweeks.firstname.lastname@example.orgA program that has the best interest of small communities as its focus has been introduced to Manning. Members of The Orton Family Foundation met with local residents June 19 to explain what the program is and how it can help Manning. The meeting was held at Manning High School’s conference room. Many people from the area, as well as members of the Manning City Council and other agencies, were present to discuss the project.The Community Heart & Soul Project, born from the generosity of the Orton Family Foundation, focuses on ways to improve each community by providing guidance and funding to towns as a means of promoting growth and development from within.“I believe the Heart & Soul initiative is an excellent opportunity for our citizens to become more involved and having their ideas addressed,” said Mayor Julia Nelson. “Also, I believe this initiative will allow everyone to learn from one another and the processes involved in making significant changes and improvements.”The Orton Family Foundation’s mission is to allow communities to identify weaknesses or areas that are already present and assist in making improvements through the town’s own leadership. Local officials will ask for the input of the public to discus what they feel is necessary, then devise ways through committees made up of the residents to make changes.Founded in Vermont in 1995, its focus is to build small cities and towns up to being stronger and more economically vibrant through efforts from within the communities. The foundation has already devoted more than a decade to working with small towns to develop a community development model that empowers residents to shape the future of their communities. Community Heart & Soul projects are underway across the country creating positive change that is resident-driven by recognizing the value in the unique character of each place, and the deep emotional connection of the people who live there.In each phase of the program, there are particular steps that must be taken to ensure its success. Phase One involves starting by building a solid foundation by identifying partners and leaders, spreading the idea and concepts to the public, and developing a plan of how to bring members of the community together.Phase Two calls for the exploration of the community. The leaders must gather stories and build relationships throughout the town, then identify what matters the most to the residents. They must also examine how the statements are affected by community trends and customs.Phase Three is when the decision-making is to take place. Guided by the gathered information, decisions are planned out that will benefit and enhance the community's Heart & Soul.Phase Four is when actions take place. All involved persons work together to take action and ownership. The concept of Heart & Soul is applied and then becomes part of the fabric of the community.Developed and field-tested for years throughout many locations, Community Heart & Soul has evolved into a proven concept and model to engage members of communities to shape their own future.