Can N.C. Group Rally Winnsboro Volunteers?

WINNSBORO – A proposal by a North Carolina based group of grassroots community development organizers has at least one Town Councilman excited about the future of downtown, but how much those efforts will cost the Town and whether or not Council buys in will be left to their June 4 meeting.

Jess Kryzenske, Community Development Manager with HandMade in America (HIA), out of Asheville, N.C., made her pitch to Council during their May 21 meeting and gave the Town several price options for their services. Kryzenske said her group has helped lead grassroots efforts in nearly a dozen small towns in Western North Carolina over the last 20 years and said she believes they can do the same for Winnsboro.

“Sometimes you have energy that is moving in a direction that is not the most helpful, or maybe it’s not the right timing,” Kryzenske said. “What we try to do is to shift that energy into something that is doable.”

HIA has, according to their May 21 presentation, organized projects in Andrews, Bakersville, Bryson City, West Jefferson, Robbinsville, Crossnore and other small towns in Western North Carolina. But the actual projects were all completed by the community, not HandMade, whose only job is to organize volunteers, help them identify projects and project funding and guide them through the process, keeping them focused along the way. The Voice reached out to several towns on HIA’s resume, but as of press time had received no response.

Kryzenske said her group works primarily through what she called “placemaking,” something she later defined as identifying specific things unique to the community – history and historic homes, in Winnsboro’s case – and helping the community highlight and market those features. For $6,000, Kryzenske’s proposal offers “Technical Assistance” to Winnsboro, which will develop and train volunteers for the formation of a community development committee, functioning separately from Town of Winnsboro staff.

“This community group needs to involve key stakeholders from across sectors,” HIA’s proposal states. “HandMade will work closely with Winnsboro to identify key stakeholders, train Winnsboro community leaders and aid in the formal formation of this grassroots revitalization group.”

For an additional $1,750 each, HIA will offer two workshops to the community, one on ‘placemaking’ and economic development and another to network with other HIA towns. Councilman Bill Haslett, who has been a huge proponent of HIA, said he hopes the Town will sign on with the organizers before he steps aside from Council in July. He said it was more likely that Council would opt for the basic $6,000 services, with an option to revisit the workshops in the future if necessary.

Volunteers, Haslett said, are ultimately going to be the ones who get it done in Winnsboro, and HIA is trained to get the most out of them.

“They will help us get the citizens involved,” Haslett said. “They help get volunteers together. The town will move forward through volunteerism. HandMade will act like a mediator to get volunteers together. We have a lot of strong personalities, but we need someone to bring them together.”

First off, he said, he would like to see the Town’s Master Plan dusted off and tackled.

“We passed the Master Plan in 2007, and we’ve done nothing with it,” Haslett said. “HandMade will help us get on track.”

Mayor Roger Gaddy (who could not be reached for this article) asked Kryzenske last week about the difficulties of taking on larger projects right away.

“We try to identify a small project that has a very definite beginning, middle and end,” Kryzenske said. “You put your name on it, and you have an early success and when you start to see that project and that process, it allows you to take on those bigger projects. Starting small with something that can be finished and that the community can see is very important. And it does need to be very visible, as a first step.”

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