What is city's Heart and Soul?

Cortez program seeks guidance, community participation

Heart and Soul volunteers Shawn Collins, center, and Cindy Houston interview Cortez resident Earl Hutchinson. The project has over 60 video interviews from community members discussing their Cortez experiences and the future needs of our community. Enlargephoto

Courtesy Photo

Heart and Soul volunteers Shawn Collins, center, and Cindy Houston interview Cortez resident Earl Hutchinson. The project has over 60 video interviews from community members discussing their Cortez experiences and the future needs of our community.

Cortez is greatly distinguishable by the magnificent geography that surrounds it. The climate is good, parks are wonderful and wildlife occassionally wanders into our neighborhoods.

But what about the essence of Cortez? What about the soul of this town? Some people would say those things lie with the leadership or development of a community. Here, it's with our people.

The Heart and Soul Project of Cortez is working diligently to discover what makes our community beat - and they are turning to the people to do precisely that.

In January 2012, the Orton Family Foundation awarded Cortez with a city planning grant to help uncover the uniqueness of our community's heartbeat and determine how to uphold it.

In the first year, the project has reached out to more than 2,000 people with feedback from 1,000. Through one-on-one interviews, formal and informal gatherings, block parties, community conversations and surveys, the project has gathered information from local residents to determine what makes their town special or where it can be improved.

"This process of gathering information is very important," said Karen Sheek, a member of the project's advisory team. "The approach is unique. We need to figure out how to make changes for our community from our community."

Sheek sees this project as a jumping off point to address other issues that may arise in the community. The Heart and Soul leaders are doing their best to move along the implementation process, so folks aren't being led discouragingly along a one way street.

"We do hear a lot of frustrations from people thinking this is just another planning process," said Nina Williams, Heart and Soul Project coordinator. "They want to see tangible returns in the community."

That is where the advisory committee hopes to go next. While still gathering information from community members coming out of the woodwork, they will begin to put their beautification plan into action. Throughout 2012, as they discussed what improvements the city of Cortez needed, they discovered a cohesive theme of making the town look more aesthetically pleasing.

With the City Council's $600,000, budgeted specifically for this beautification plan, the reconstrucion of South Broadway medians should be completed by the end of summer. At that time, they will also have set in stone the design objectives for creating eye catching entryways that lead into our city from every direction; Dolores, Mancos, Dove Creek and Towaoc.

Although the feedback from the community about the Broadway medians was of abject disappoinment, the city was not given a choice in regards to their placement.

"Many people think the city arbitrarily put them there," Sheek said. "The (Colorado) Department of Transportation said they have to be there. If that's the case we might as well make them look nice."

The design of the medians will come from the community once the advisory committee for Heart and Soul retrieves more input on the subject. Also in place is the approval by City Council to accept two voting positions on the Parks and Recreations Board for community youth members.

"That was one of our main goals with the project," Williams explained. "Involving more youth with the decisions and direction of our city."

Sheek agreed, saying the involvement of youth within the community will more than likely carry over when they become adults. What better demographic to make like-minded decisions for our parks, than the demographic who uses them the most.

Another minority they are reaching out to, is the Hispanic community, who in turn were very communicable. Block parties and community discussions geared toward the Hispanic community resulted in Crow Canyon Archeaological Center considering the introduction of new scholarships to Hispanic children, The Learning Center wanting to renew its English as a Second Language (ESL) class and talk of more bilingual information about health care, education and safety within the community.

Heart and Soul will continue to partner with the diverse community over the next year, while continuing to bring forth the ideas of Cortez residents. The possibility of an additional $50,000 from the Orton Foundation to stretch the project into a third year is something the committee is considering.

Kirsten Sackett, director for the department of planning and building said the response from people in 2012 was remarkable, but now they are hearing from new groups of people.

"Phases of the grant seem to be overlapping," Sackett said. "We are still collecting thoughts and hearing from people who don't actively participate in the community."

And that is a good thing. Heart and Soul wants to give everyone the opportunity to express their sentiments on Cortez and how we, as a community, can make it better.

"These changes are going to happen in our community," Sheek said. "Do we sit back and do nothing, or do we accept the change and help guide that in the right direction for Cortez.?

The next Heart and Soul community advisory meeting, which will be open to the public, will take place on Thursday, Feb. 7 at 5:30 p.m. at the City Service Center, located at 110 W. Progress Circle. They will more than likely be discussing the timeline for 2013, where the gaps in the program lie and calculate its progress thus far.

For more information on Heart and Soul's meetings and development, visit its website at www.cortezheartandsoul.com or call 564-4079.

rachels@cortezjournal.com