Monticello: Discovering the Heart of a Community

In April 2016, more than 100 people filled the Citizen’s State Bank Youth Development Center at the Great Jones County Fairgrounds in Monticello for Celebrate Monticello. The celebration brought friends and neighbors from all parts of the community together to share food and good conversations about what makes Monticello so special.

“We had been gathering stories in Monticello for the past six months so we could understand what matters the most to the people living, working, and recreating here,” says Jean Sullivan, Monticello Heart & Soul Coordinator. “The Celebrate Monticello event gave us an opportunity to share those stories with the community to generate further conversations and to help us build a road map for making community decisions based upon our shared vision and values.”

Celebrate Monticello was just one of the many ways Monticello Heart & Soul has been working to make Monticello a better place.

“Community Heart & Soul reconnects people with what they love most about their town and translates those personal and emotional connections into a blueprint that serves as the foundation for future community decisions,” says CFGD Community Development Coordinator Jason Neises. “It’s a barn-raising approach to community planning and development designed to increase participation in local decision-making and empower residents to shape the future of their communities in a way that upholds the unique character of each place.”

“It’s not an opportunity to get together and gripe about what’s bugging you about Monticello or who do you want to complain about, but what do you love and what would make Monticello even better,” says Sullivan. “I think people have been feeling very proud about the community since we’ve been working through this process.”

Dollars from RCDI have supported the implementation of Orton’s inovative Heart & Soul community engagement pilot program in Monticello. Philanthropic Tools helped Monticello and connect with resources that will support their projects and realize their dreams.

Monticello was selected as a community that seemed ready for the types of dialogue, introspection, and action that takes place through the Heart & Soul process. After extensive analysis of the demographics and dynamics in Monticello, a “core team” of volunteers was formed by Sullivan. Working with CFGD, Jean and the core team engaged the community through interviews, events, videos, surveys, print media, and social media, to find out what matters most in their community. After ensuring universal understanding around these shared values, the community will make decisions about their future and take action to make their community stronger and more resilient.