Heart and Soul

I don’t want us to bowl alone

From the first time we discussed Heart and Soul, I had people with questions as to why we are doing this and wouldn’t it be easier if we just mailed everyone a survey. This is my attempt to explain the “Why.”

I believe that part of Frankenmuth’s dynamic and successful past and present is because we know each other. We come together to identify and fix problems, to develop solutions locally. I think this way of life is at risk if we don’t make an effort to really work at redeveloping and strengthening these relationships. Let me tell you why I think this is important.

I believe that most people who live in Frankenmuth think it’s special.  I do too. I think that when I took this role three years ago, I was given a really unique perspective. I graduated from Frankenmuth. I’ve lived here. My family lives here. I am raising my children here. As a community we are good at coming together when we need to. We are good barn builders. but I think we risk losing this. Historically this sort of community is built on hundreds of little interactions every day. When we would buy our groceries. When we go to church. When we go to the post office or bump into each other paying our water bill.

But we can use SHIPT or click list or amazon prime. You can even pay your water bill on line. The small, incremental ways that we used to interact with people we normally wouldn’t interact with – people that are not within our normal social circles – are disappearing.

I started to really notice what I call “bubbles.”

There’s the Rotary bubble, and the high school athletics bubble, and then there’s travel sports bubbles, and the Jaycee’s bubble. And we are connected to those people we interact with. And sometimes they overlap, but mostly they don’t.

The “bubbles” are a result of the way our world has changed in the past twenty years. And that’s not just my observation.

There’s a book called “Bowling Alone – The collapse and revival of American Community by Dr. Robert Putnam that studies this whole phenomenon.

Dr. Putnam believes that we have become increasing disconnected from neighbors, friends, family and our basic democratic structures. His research points out that this loss of the fabric that has traditionally held our communities together can lead to significant consequences. It’s ironic that we are so connected to each other and yet can have little meaningful interaction. Think for a minute on that – and then consider if you use the “Next Door App”? And know I’m probably going to sound like my mom, bu Back in the “old days” – we didn’t need an app. You know what you did if you wanted your neighbors to know something? You literally walked across the lawn and talked to them.

“Community connectedness is not just about warm, fuzzy tales of civic triumph. In measurable and well documented ways, social capital makes an enormous difference…Social capital makes us smarter, healthier, safer, richer and better able to govern a just and stable democracy.”

– Dr. Putnam, “Bowling Alone.”

Given the age of our residents, new families moving into the community and the cultural changes and pressures that are happening now – I think Frankenmuth will function differently if we don’t take action to reconnect and strengthen those community bonds. I think this community engagement process – if we stick with it – will help us to keep the secret in our secret sauce.

So this is the long answer to “why are we doing this.”

There are four phases to the project – we are in the first one – “Getting Started.” Right now we are focused on making sure that we are providing everyone an opportunity to find out what we are doing, why and how they can have a voice.

If you have questions, feel free to email me. If you’re looking for the book Bowling Alone, it should be available at Wickson Library. Next week I’ll explain why we thought it was important to use the “Heart and Soul” process.

Heart and Soul

What we learned on the 23rd

It’s been nearly a month since we officially kicked off the Frankenmuth Heart and Soul process. More than 150 people attended the meeting on Thursday, January 23 to learn about the project, the process and enjoy some great lasagna (courtesy of the Frankenmuth School District.) We want to take this opportunity to share with you what Heart and Soul is – what it isn’t and what we’ve learned at the meeting.

We’ve had people ask what project will we build as a result and the answer is we may not build anything. What we hope to accomplish is:

  • Creating a more unified community
  • Creating new opportunities for different segments of our community to work together, foster new relationships and increase mutual understanding
  • A vision for the future based on our shared community values

What really happens with Heart and Soul depends on what community members say is important to them. The way we describe Frankenmuth Heart and Soul is: an Engagement Process to ensure all residents have a voice in the future of our beloved community.

What did we learn from the kick off meeting?

While about 200 residents attended the meeting, only 155 people signed in and shared their demographic data – 87 women and 62 men. Of those who attended the meeting, more than 96% were white. In terms of age, our most represented age group were those 45-64. Our least represented age group were people 19-24 with just four people. When we asked how long they have lived in the community, the most common answer was 21-35 years. The fewest responses were from those who have lived in the community 60 years or more. At the meeting we asked residents what they loved about Frankenmuth, what they would change, and how they would experience Frankenmuth and what is fun and free in Frankenmuth. While about 200 residents attended the meeting, not everyone participated in these exercises. For those who did, when it comes to what they loved about Frankenmuth, the number one thing people identified was the community – which includes everything from the “small town feel” to the “way people pull together to do things.”

When it comes to what they would change, people who attended the meeting focused on traffic and transportation – mentioned everything from less traffic on Main Street, to reducing speed to finding a way to make sure pedestrian use crosswalks. When asked what is fun and free in Frankenmuth participants overwhelming identified activities like concerts in the park, festivals, and Friday Fun nights. A close second was outdoor activities including kayaking and walking through town.

If you want to know the best way to experience Frankenmuth, those at the meeting said the best way to do is to get involved including volunteering. The second best way to experience Frankenmuth is on foot – with dozens of people suggesting to get out and walk through neighborhoods and downtown.

To view the raw data from each of the questions, click the links below:

What’s next?

We think we are missing some voices in our community. In particular, we don’t think we’ve heard from young families, people who rent their homes, teenagers and younger people. We are also missing older, life-long residents. We need your help connecting with these groups in particular. During the next few months we will continue to offer opportunities for people to share what is important to them. If you have ideas or would like to get involved, let us know.  Before we start phase 2 of this project, we need to ensure that we are providing everyone the chance to get involved.