Van Buren continues revitalization efforts with community-driven grant program

2 months ago

VAN BUREN, Maine – In recent months, Van Buren officials have made strides toward revitalizing their town.

The Aroostook County town is just one of 17 communities in the country to receive a Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design grant, which is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. This drew state and national help. Now, the momentum continues as Van Buren is working toward a Community Heart & Soul grant.

The Community Heart & Soul program encourages all residents of a municipality to get involved and work with their officials. The program involves listening to stories from residents to determine a town’s needs, developing a plan for how they would like to see their town grow, then the town adopting the feedback from the community.

Van Buren held its first activity related to the grant on Wednesday, in which about 40 residents helped officials identify the groups of people who “live, work and play” in the town. 

“We had representation from Van Buren, Cyr Plantation, Hamlin, and Grand Isle,” said Town Manager Luke Dyer. “We are viewing this as a ‘regional’ effort as many of these community members participate in activities in Van Buren and are connected by business, family and personal interest.”

The point of the meeting was to identify different groups in the greater community. Dyer said they identified 64 different groups and 28 unique individuals that are movers and shakers in the area. 

If the town receives approval, it will receive a $10,000 matching grant from Community Heart & Soul. The funding would help hire a coach to keep the program on track. The money also offsets costs related to hosting community activities throughout the revitalization process. Dyer said the ultimate goal of the program is to keep citizens engaged and connected with the town as it sets milestones over a period of two years.

The town’s next step with the grant is to have a one-hour interview with the Community Heart & Soul Foundation to see if the program will be appropriate for Van Buren.

“I have no concerns about moving past the interview,” Dyer said. “ We are a very motivated team of officials and residents who are driving this mission forward and I believe our enthusiasm will not only earn us a place within Community Heart & Soul, but give us an opportunity to show that we can be a positive example of how a community working together can prosper.”