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Work begins on goals set through community planning meetings

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2012-05-17

BENNINGTON -- Local residents began working Wednesday toward four community goals identified last month as part of the Vermont Council on Rural Development's Community Visit program. Nearly 100 people attended Wednesday's "resource meeting," which included more than a dozen experts in the public and private sectors to help the community assess available resources and needs.

A large meeting was held last month that identified four goals that local residents voted on. They are:

  • Build a Bennington community center and improve the recreation center
  • Develop a Bennington vision statement, advance community communications and create a positive town image
  • Collaborate to address poverty and create a poverty working group
  • Make downtown Bennington a destination and build a new town green

Several local residents have volunteered to head up task forces that will work on those issues, said VCRD Executive Director Paul Costello. Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joann Erenhouse will lead the group working on a community center. Michael Harrington, the town's economic development director, will serve as the leader of those working to develop a vision statement.

Retired Agency of Human Services Regional Director Charles Gingo will head the poverty group, and Better Bennington Corp. Executive Director John Shannahan will help direct those seeking to make the downtown a destination.

Harrington's group will look to create a web-based calendar of events, establish a column in the Banner, and gather ideas from various sectors to create a vision statement. The group will also look into the feasibility of a school public relations position to promote positive stories about local students. It will also investigate using Facebook, Twitter and Front Porch Forum to improve communications.

The poverty group is planning to look into a single database of all human services that local groups and nonprofits can access. Training nonprofits in effective fundraising is also a priority. Gingo said the group also wants to hear from people living in poverty to help determine effective ways of addressing the issue.

Meanwhile, Shannahan said his group identified the creation of a downtown park or green space as a top priority. The group also hopes to create more activities for high school and college students, and improve marketing of events. Shannahan said making downtown more pedestrian friendly will be addressed, and removing the term "bypass" from Route 279, known as the Bennington Bypass, should be a focus. The last group plans to inventory existing recreation and community center facilities. The group will then try to determine the town's needs.

Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras told those attending Wednesday's meeting that the VCRD program works if the residents that volunteers embrace the process. He said Rutland saw great success when VCRD brought the program to Rutland about seven years ago.

"Believe in that process. Have faith in that process because the process that Paul and his team bring to communities works. It has positive outcomes," Louras said. The residents that have volunteered to participate in one of the groups will be the ones shaping the town's future, Louras said. "We started out big, got smaller and smaller and smaller with our meetings. The people that showed up, they were the movers and shakers. That's you guys," he said.

NEAL P. GOSWAMI, Staff Writer, http://www.benningtonbanner.com