Photo from Audience Works
Hands Across North Quabbin Network (HANDS) serves the nine-town North Quabbin region of north central Massachusetts and is a deliberative democracy project that seeks to bring members of the nine town North Quabbin community together to form a solution to community problems. Many local communities often can't get to solutions because of attack politics that divide people,wastes energy,keeps many people from running for elected office, builds cynicism and allows pressing problems to go unsolved. To reduce polarization and strengthen local democracy, HANDS is experimenting with methods to help residents with competing ideas find common ground over how to address the tough problems they care most about, like education, jobs, housing, crime, health care, land-use and taxes.
The Hands project is a top 20 finalist for the Make It Your Own Awards, a grants program that forgoes the traditional grant application model to embrace a more grassroots, "citizen-centered" approach to seeking funding. After selecting the top 20 ideas from an initial 100 announced this past October, the Case Foundation is now inviting America to get online and vote for the Final Four, each of whom will be awarded an additional $25,000 in grant dollars to help realize their dreams.
Voting is happening online at www.miyo.casefoundation.org/vote.
Here's but one example of how this process works. On Saturday May 3, from 10:00 to 4:00 at Mahar High School in Orange MA, HANDS will hold an "Action Forum" where participants will first identify a priority community problem, then spend the rest of the day developing the rough outlines of an action plan for addressing the underlying causes of that problem. Everyone living in the North Quabbin or affiliated with organizations serving the North Quabbin is welcome to attend.
HANDS is sponsored by six North Quabbin organizations: The Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District; Athol-Royalston Regional School District; the Athol Area Interfaith Clergy Association; Orange Ministerial Association; Athol Lions Club; and the Institute for Community Building. HANDS was founded by representatives of these organizations who saw a crying need to revitalize the North Quabbin region's democracy so that it has a stronger capacity to meet the increasingly complex challenges our area is facing and is likely to face in the future.
The Case Foundation selected HANDS' Deliberative Democracy Project from a nationwide pool of nearly 5,000 applications evaluated not only on subject matter, but on their strength as examples of "citizen-centered" change. All top 20 finalists have already received $10,100 and one year's worth of counsel from a Case Foundation Social Investment Manager.
"The Make It Your Own Awards" said HANDS Network Coordinator Mark Shoul, "has really helped make possible the HANDS founder's idea of revitalizing our region's democracy. Not only will our project improve the community, but it will provide a chance for citizens to come together to make a difference as a group. We truly appreciate the Case Foundation's help with this project and their belief in our ability to make it happen. We're excited to keep building on the lessons we've learned about gaining community support for our efforts."
Do you have something similar in your community? How does it work? What are the secrets to success to finding a solution that works for all?