The Town of Highgate was ready to start taking action for the future. Participating in a facilitated discussion to talk through what community members wanted in the place they call home was the first step.

For three months this past spring and summer, community members in Highgate came together in the gymnasium of the Highgate Elementary School to talk about their strengths and challenges, vote and set priorities for action, connect with statewide resource providers, and build new friendships with neighbors.

Rebecca Manning, a mother of two, serves on the Highgate Library Board of Trustees, and the new Highgate Community Visit Chair reflects on the enthusiasm of her town and forward growth.

“It was an incredible experience to bring the Highgate community together and really see new faces joining in the efforts to build a strong future for our town,” says Manning.

The community-wide discussions were facilitated by the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD) through their Community Visit Program. This program provides local leaders the opportunity to engage residents to set common goals, while also accessing resources and building capacity to turn their identified goals into action together.

“I remember my first conversation with Jenna Koloski at VCRD who told me we would have over 100 community members attend our meetings and I laughed,” says Manning. “Sure enough, there were well over 100 people there and I was floored!”

Throughout the Community Visit process, community members in Highgate identified some of their top priorities to work on such as advancing career training, workforce development, and agricultural career pathways, expanding community events and volunteerism, supporting local businesses, and expanding the library and community center.

Each identified priority comes with the need for increased volunteers, a tremendous amount of hard work, and creativity – all of which members of the Highgate community will bring as they step up to build a better future for themselves and their families.

Since its inception in 1992, VCRD has worked with over 85 towns in Vermont through its Community Visit Program and met hundreds of local leaders building the pathways to a vibrant State.

VCRD’s Community Engagement and Policy Director, Jenna Koloski says, “It was a privilege to work alongside the dedicated community members of Highgate as they set direction for the future. In Highgate, as in other communities across the state, the passion, drive, and dedication are already there, and when leaders step up and connect to the right resources to move action forward, it is incredible to see what can be accomplished. We are eager to see what Highgate is able to achieve and are here to support and celebrate the work ahead.”

“I am so hopeful for the future of Highgate,” adds Manning. “Now is the time to keep our momentum going and build on this engagement. We’re looking forward to utilizing the resources VCRD has brought to Highgate and working together.”

When asked what she would say to another town in Vermont considering VCRD’s Community Visit process, Manning chimes, “This has been a great process for Highgate and being able to have the neutral voice that VCRD brings, we were able to get people in the community together and really get us thinking about what we wanted in our town. I don’t know a community where this wouldn’t be a positive thing.”