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4 ½ Surprising Local Institutions
How does an urban farm on a college campus promote a community? How does a community foundation transform the well-being of residents? Those are some of the stories we’ll tell here.
Residents gather at the Meadville Market House. Photo by Nate Smallwood, courtesy of Community Heart & Soul.
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Our Towns has been on the road recently to bring you stories and conversations from Southern California, Northwest Ohio, the Upcountry of South Carolina, and Northwest Pennsylvania. We were surprised to find a common thread in a cluster of unrelated reporting from these diverse regions of the country: the importance and strength of community institutions.
Throughout our years of reporting, we’ve always noticed the importance of institutions. Public libraries, museums, community banks, YMCAs—these and others have been in touch with the hearts and souls of their communities, and have given us illustrations of staying true to their missions present or past.
Here are stories about several organizations that you may not think of as being traditional community institutions but that nonetheless act like ones. Looks like a duck; walks like a duck; quacks like a duck: It’s an institution!
Deb & Jim Fallows
Co-founders, Our Towns Civic Foundation
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From Redlands, California: a community farm that engages students, volunteers, and civic groups. The Sustainable University of Redlands Farm (better known as SURF) delivers farm-to-table to a university dining hall, fresh produce to food pantries, education, and how-to’s to residents and schoolchildren to engage in their own sustainable practices, like planting trees or swapping turf for native plants.
A scarecrow on display at the Sustainable University of Redlands Farm. Photo by Ben Speggen.
From Fort Lawn, South Carolina: a community center that transformed a vacant schoolhouse into a much-needed gathering space and home for all sorts of events and programming for residents. The Fort Lawn Community Center serves meals to seniors, houses the area’s only Pre-K and kindergarten, leases space to a physical therapy business, connects residents to housing and utility assistance, and helps with a homelessness prevention program.
The Fort Lawn Community Center: the place where townsfolk congregate and the heart of the community’s revival. Photo by Michelle Ellia.
From Findlay, Ohio: a community foundation in pitch-perfect touch with the needs of a diverse county. The Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation has fostered a one-stop service center for health, financial, counseling, and basic needs for the community’s underserved. It also provides the wherewithal for rural communities in the county to help themselves get back on their feet in projects from Main Street commerce to education to self-pride.
Ben Speggen (top, left) discusses the impact of the Findlay-Hancock County Community Foundation with Brian Treece (top, right), Genna Freed (bottom, right), and Kimberly Bash (bottom, left).
From Redlands, California: an educational and cultural programming series. The Redlands Forum, sponsored by Esri and the University of Redlands Town & Gown, connects the community with ideas across a range of topics. Here, Our Towns co-founder James Fallows (who grew up in Redlands) discusses change in the Redlands community with a panel of local business and civic leaders.
James Fallows moderates a Redlands Forum event featuring: Danny Anderson, Melissa Fisher, Brian Davis, Kate Salvesen, Kadir Fakir, and Brandon Pearce.
From Meadville, Pennsylvania: a community plan (Yes, readers, a “plan” can be an “institution”) that grew from a resident-driven process to define its core values and then outline actions to fortify those values. With active community members engaged on many levels, this is a town plan that won’t sit on a shelf gathering dust.