The work started in August 2019 when a few folks from the Board of Trustees at The FAF Coalition asked if I’d help them apply for a grant. I had only started my grant writing career a few months before, but after they explained the program the grant would fund I was bought in without further delay.
The program is a simple one: two years of dedicated work through a four phase strategic action plan based on what matters most to the community at large. Yet there were a few other “bonus” components that sweetened the deal.
1. Hidden & Missing Voices
The Heart & Soul model is built on three principles: focus on what matters, involve everyone, and play the long game. The emotional connections communities have to their neighborhood are vital for tapping into the “heart and soul” of that place. Sustainability and making sure the work continues regardless of who’s in charge or where the money’s coming from makes the program the most impactful that it can be. But the root of what makes a program like Woodbury Heart & Soul so special is that it places those normally on the outskirts of local decision making right in the center of it all.
We’ve identified through extensive community network analysis that Woodbury’s youth, seniors, Latinx, and LGBTQ+ populations have not had a regular seat at the table. Bringing those voices into the fold and making sure these communities are heard is a top priority for Woodbury Heart & Soul and we’ve made great strides in connecting with some, but not all yet; there is still a lot of work to be done!
2. New & Emerging Leaders
As we engage with the community through story gathering, public events & activities, and other volunteer efforts, folks from across the city have naturally stepped up as new leaders. The work is so important to us all that it can rest on just one person’s shoulders. Creating opportunities for anyone that wants a chance to engage more directly with their community is what Woodbury Heart & Soul is all about! A perfect example is a young woman that we connected with through a local City Council member who became a Spanish translator for a story gathering event with Latinx folks at a salon in North Woodbury. A connection that might not have happened had Woodbury Heart & Soul not been around actually created a beautiful moment in connecting with our Latinx population more meaningfully. Volunteers who make our work possible are stepping into new leadership roles in their community every day because of our program!
3. Community Endowment Fund
All of the work we do with Woodbury Heart & Soul is grant-funded through various regional and national partners like the Orton Family Foundation and the Community Foundation of South Jersey. That grant, however, is only meant to serve one purpose: implement the Community Heart & Soul model in Woodbury. While this grant has served as an amazing catalyst for our City thus far, we will eventually deplete the funds, which means in order to keep our work going we need a more long-term and stable source of finances. That’s why as we continue to do the work right now, we’re also fundraising to establish a permanent endowment fund for community investment that will live on well past our two year program. Endowment funds are investment accounts that can be used for a variety of purposes, but the greatest feature is that they continually grow. When we start to wrap up the program officially, we’ll ask a group of residents and other community stakeholders to manage that community fund – our stewardship team. This will ensure that new opportunities for investment in our community are coming directly from our community.
These aspects about the Heart & Soul model were so important to me when I first decided to help The FAF write this grant. Building new platforms for folks in our City to share their voices with the larger community, especially those that don’t normally have a platform, exemplifies everything right about community development. Listening to stories and allowing people to tap back into the emotional connections they have with this City is such a beautiful honor to witness, both as Program Director and as a fellow Woodbury resident always eager to always learn more my City.
Community organizing is my passion. Connecting with folks gives me fuel. Discussing issues and solutions to make our City a better place is what gets me up in the morning. That’s why I loved being the Program Director for Woodbury Heart & Soul so much.