By Susan Smallheer as seen in the Brattleboro Reformer:,591515

BELLOWS FALLS — Rockingham residents are invited to a series of innovative community forums starting this week to help chart the town’s future.

The Vermont Council on Rural Development is bringing its “Let’s Take Action” program to Rockingham that will help townspeople set the direction for what townspeople hope would be a “vibrant, prosperous and dynamic future.”

The community visit program which has been used by the council in more than 70 other towns, will start Wednesday, Dec. 4, with a series of discussions on nine topics that were selected by a steering committee of townspeople earlier this fall, according to Jenna Koloski, community and policy manager for the council. The first sessions start at 2:30 p.m., the second sessions at 4:15 p.m., and the final sessions at 7 p.m. The free community dinner will run from 6 to 7 p.m.

Those topics include tourism and lodging, transportation, attracting and retaining young people, education – from early childhood to workforce, building redevelopment, arts and entertainment, economic revitalization and infrastructure, housing and recreation, she said.

The council will bring a visiting team of more than 20 Vermont government, business and philanthropic leaders to listen to local concerns and provide feedback.

Koloski said people can attend any of the nine sessions that are being held on Wednesday.

She said the steering committee members had come up with what they felt would be the community’s priorities.

Bellows Falls Village President Deborah Wright said she hopes the visit, which will start in December and continue with meetings in January and February, will eventually result in three or four projects on which the community can focus.

She said she and others are trying to get as many people with as many viewpoints as possible to the sessions on Dec. 4, which will be held at the American Legion, the Rockingham Free Public Library and the Moose Family Center. People can move from one location to the others to discuss and learn as much as they want.

“I am looking forward to hearing all of the ideas from the community. Everyone is welcome to share your ideas for our community’s future,” said Town Manager Wendy Harrison.

In addition, the town is putting on a free community dinner at the Moose Family Center, Wright said, with spaghetti, salad, bread and beverages. People could bring a dessert if they are able, she said.

Koloski said the council most recently worked with the community of Greensboro, in north-central Vermont, and after Rockingham, will head to Barre.

Koloski said Rockingham had been through the community process before – 21 years ago. She said the process has changed significantly in the 21 years. “There are deeper connections to resources,” she said.

Koloski will be bringing a group of high level state officials to hear Rockingham’s concerns and help with funding and direction questions.

“VCRD is excited about working with Rockingham residents to set and advance priorities for the future. We believe strongly in the power of local leadership and in engaging the full voice of the community in setting direction forward,” said Koloski. “Everyone in the community is invited to share their ideas.”

The visiting team will include Lindsey Kurrle, secretary of the Phil Scott administration’s Agency of Commerce and Community Development, and Scott Finn, the president and CEO of Vermont Public Radio. Others include representatives from USDA Rural Development, Vermont Community Foundation, the Windham Regional Commission, and representatives from all three congressional offices. There will also be people from the Vermont Arts Council, Let’s Grow Kids, the new Vermont Office of Racial Equity, and other state officials, including from the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development and the Vermont Department of Labor.