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For the Good of the Community: Focusing on Galesburg's Heart & Soul

April 20, 2017

Sam Jarvis '09

By Adriana Colindres

As a kid growing up in Galesburg, Sam Jarvis '09 "kind of hated" his hometown and complained there wasn't enough to do. Now, he knows better.

"It wasn't until I started getting more involved, mostly because of my job, that I started really appreciating this community and seeing all of the different opportunities, all the different things about it that I appreciated," he says.

Recognizing the appeal of Galesburg and working to develop new opportunities for people in Galesburg are important components of Heart & Soul, a long-term, community-driven revitalization effort. Jarvis and several other members of the Knox College community are playing key roles in Heart & Soul.

"Heart & Soul is about the individual person, the one-on-one contact, the sense that every voice matters, and that you can influence the community," says Deborah Granat Moreno '89, coordinator of Galesburg Heart & Soul. "Our goal is eventual community transformation and getting the ball rolling for that process."

Funded by the Orton Family Foundation, the Community Heart & Soul initiative is described on the foundation's website as "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." 

Orton has developed its Heart & Soul method over several years and in more than a dozen communities across the United States, based on the idea that emotional connections drive citizens' engagement in community planning and development. "Emotional connections can ultimately drive action for the public good when people begin to see themselves and their personal stories as part of a larger community narrative," according to the Orton website.

Galesburg is Orton's largest Heart & Soul community to date. The Galesburg project has received about $50,000 from the City of Galesburg, and additional funding has come from private philanthropy through the Galesburg Community Foundation. Galesburg is approaching the end of the second phase in the Heart & Soul method, which consists of four phase over a two-year period:

  • Lay the Groundwork. This involves getting organized, creating a work plan, and making people aware of the initiative.
  • Explore Your Community. This involves conducting interviews to collect "stories" from people and, through those stories, identifying what matters most to them.
  • Make Decisions. This involves developing options and making choices.
  • Take Action. This involves mobilizing resources and following through on decisions.

Besides Jarvis and Moreno, several other individuals with ties to Knox—including alumni, current students, faculty, and staff—are among the dozens of people involved with Galesburg Heart & Soul. Almost all of them are volunteers, and they have taken on a variety of responsibilities, such as serving on the leadership team, compiling and analyzing data, and conducting interviews with residents.

"A Really Cool Thing to Be a Part Of"

Jarvis is a member of the Heart & Soul leadership team, and he also assists with data analysis. At Knox, he majored in biochemistry and minored in economics. He now works at the Knox County Health Department as director of health protection.

Galesburg Heart & Soul appealed to him, he says, because it aims to involve as many people and as many voices as possible.

"I thought this would be a really cool thing to be a part of, to see how it's done," Jarvis says. "I do similar things like this for my job, when we look at health assessments, for example. It's always: How do you reach out to the people who don't normally have a voice? That's what really got me hooked."

The experience has been amazing, he says, because he's been able to connect with so many members of the community that he otherwise might not have met. "I always appreciate those opportunities," Jarvis adds. "It's the same way I felt about Knox."

Moreno says that Jarvis has been "a great force" for Heart & Soul. "He's data-oriented, and I really like that. He follows through. He's a quiet, kind of unassuming guy who says, ‘Hey, I'll do that.' And then he does it."

Knox Students Contribute

Knox faculty member Teresa Gonzales, assistant professor of anthropologysociology, also serves on the Heart & Soul leadership team, and she incorporated the project in her fall 2016 course, Community Economic Development.

Working in groups of four or five, students in the class assisted the Heart & Soul effort by doing interviews, helping with data, attending leadership meetings, and other tasks. At one of those meetings, the conversation turned to the "divide" between Knox and Galesburg, and a couple of students offered to promote and organize an on-campus forum on the topic. "They took on that role themselves and did all of the work," Gonzales says. "It wasn't required at all for the course."

Gonzales adds that students in her course also analyzed some of the Heart & Soul data and developed ideas about future development possibilities for Galesburg. One idea, for example, called for creating a "worker cooperative" where individuals could receive training in furnace and air-conditioning repair, woodworking, or other trades. 

Community development is one of Gonzales' academic research interests, and she says such work is complicated and takes time. "The kind of work that Heart & Soul does isn't always about building a new building," she says. "It's also about changing culture and changing perception and creating cohesion." 

"I am really hopeful and impressed by the process that has happened here," she adds. "There is a lot of potential for it to have a positive impact."

"Trust the Process"

Because Galesburg Heart & Soul is only about halfway through the four-phase process, it's not yet known "exactly where it's going to lead," Moreno says. "We have to trust the process. From what I can see, and from what others have told me, it all seems to be going really smoothly. The Orton Foundation is very happy with our progress." 

"Governmental, economic, health, and cultural organizations in Galesburg have been open to the Heart & Soul process," she says, adding that people have been glad to "share their perspectives and hopes for the community."

And even though Galesburg Heart & Soul hasn't yet completed its work, some important findings already have emerged.

"One thing that has become really evident through this process is what a rich arts culture we have here, for such a small town," Moreno says.

She believes it's likely that by the time the process is finished, Galesburg Heart & Soul will have decided to further enhance and spotlight the local art scene. What other priorities might be identi- fied, and what other plans might be in store for Galesburg? It's still too early to know for sure, though enthusiasm is growing.

"I'm excited to see what will happen," Jarvis says. "Because I know something WILL happen, so I'm just excited to see what that is."

Connecting With the Public

Galesburg Heart & Soul made one of its earliest public outreach efforts in March 2016 at the unveiling of the Galesburg Portrait Project, a work by artist John Bakker. Bakker, who was Knox College's Artist in Residence during the previous fall term, created hand-painted portraits of almost 400 Galesburg residents who had submitted photographs of themselves. During remarks at the unveiling, which took place at The Box gallery, Knox Associate Professor and Chair of Art Mark Holmes described the project as "a representation of how Knox and Galesburg are one."

Heart & Soul Coordinator Deborah Granat Moreno '89, Holmes, and Bakker had agreed beforehand that the event also would be a good opportunity for Heart & Soul. So volunteers at The Box conducted video interviews and asked people to fill out data-collection cards.

"We collected quite a bit of information and material there," Moreno says. "It was our first splash in the community, and it was great because we had a very warm, welcoming event."

Gathering individual stories from people is a crucial step of the Heart & Soul process. In Galesburg, that process has taken a variety of forms, including radio interviews aired on local station WGIL-AM, video interviews conducted by elementary and junior high school students, and audio interviews at churches and businesses.

In the interviews, people respond to a wide range of questions, but the basic ones ask them to identify what they like most about Galesburg, what improvements are needed, and what kind of community they'd like Galesburg to be in the future. Their responses are being analyzed and translated into "values statements" that eventually will help Heart & Soul determine what actions to prioritize.

While most of the interviews have been conducted by adults who are part of Galesburg Heart & Soul, younger residents are contributing to the story-gathering process, too. Fourth-graders at Gale Elementary School and older students at Churchill Junior High School and Lombard Middle School interviewed Galesburg military veterans in late 2016. At Gale, for example, every team of three or four students used laptops to make video recordings of the interviews. In several instances, once the fourth-graders finished asking their questions, the laptops were turned around, and roles were reversed—with the veterans interviewing the youngsters about their thoughts on Galesburg.

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Printed on Sunday, November 19, 2017

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