Convene, Listen, Act: The Pillars of Vital Communities
- Innovator: someone who introduces new methods, ideas or products.
- Entrepreneur: someone who organizes a business, taking on greater than normal risks to do so.
- Visionary: someone who is thinking about and planning the future with imagination and wisdom.
Delia Clark is an innovator, an entrepreneur, and a visionary. Working with Betty Porter and a small group of like-minded Upper Valley residents, Delia was one of the founders and the first Executive Director of Vital Communities. Her influence is still evident in the organization’s work every day.
Delia is responsible for defining Vital Communities’ approach—an approach rooted in a deep understanding of place, in thoughtfully convened and facilitated educational sessions that fostered careful listening, and in nurturing the social capital gained in this process to promote action by stronger and more resilient communities.
Vital Communities began in the work of the local League of Women Voters. Concerned with the number of uncontested elections in the Upper Valley, they began to convene issue forums where residents could ask questions about key issues and hear local experts share their perspectives.
A successful community visioning session in Enfield supported by former Valley News publisher Walter Paine and led by New Hampshire Extension Service facilitators served as inspiration for the next steps. Might these kinds of sessions engage neighbors and voters to participate more in the civic life of their communities? Delia and Betty were inspired to create a local organization that would continue listening, visioning, and taking action for positive change.
And so Vital Communities was born. Community-based listening sessions evolved into Vision to Action, a specific way of gathering and listening to community stakeholders to find opportunities for collective action. Valley Quest grew from the focus on place—the Upper Valley—and with care and creativity form Steve Glazer became a spectacularly successful way of encouraging folks in the Upper Valley (and far beyond) to be curious and learn about the region by getting out and finding the amazing natural and human history that surrounds us.
Over time, Vital Communities incubated numerous initiatives leading to the program we run today: focused on cultivating the civic, environmental, and economic vitality of the Upper Valley.
Delia, Betty, and many of the other founders of Vital Communities, have been part of our 25th Anniversary reflections, helping us consider how our work needs to evolve as we head deeper into the 21st century. Delia believes that one of the reasons Vital Communities has been a successful incubator is because the Upper Valley has such an abundance of human talent and energy.
This creative abundance has allowed us to test and refine community organizing tools that have spread throughout the region and beyond. In her career after leaving Vital Communities, Delia has continued to facilitate community visioning processes across the nation and internationally – leading to tremendous action, resilience, and growth of social capital.
“Our goal was that Vital Communities would become a trusted convener of community conversations that led to action and continued engagement on the issues. We believed then, and continue to believe, that this approach helps build social capital and makes community-grounded positive change more likely,” says Delia. “This creates stronger and more resilient communities that are better able to respond to the challenges and opportunities of both today and tomorrow.”
Vital Communities Milestones
- September: League of Women Voters of the Upper Valley Launched “Upper Valley: 2001 & Beyond”
- Community Profile model established, first two held
- Valley Vital Signs Forum held, and found 50 indicators in 14 areas of what residents wanted/valued in the region
- First Valley Quest booklet printed
- Initiative renamed “Vital Communities of the Upper Valley”
- 3 programs: Community Profiles, Valley Vital Signs, Valley Quest
- Received 501(c)3 status
- Became fiscal agent for new organization “Upper Valley Trails Alliance”
- Shortened name to “Vital Communities
- Became independent nonprofit
- Published 2,500 copies of Valley Quest: 89 Treasure Hunts in the Upper Valley
- Trails Alliance became independent nonprofit
- 3 new projects: Local Agriculture, Upper Valley Housing Coalition, Upper Valley Transportation Management Association)
- First “Flavors of the Valley”
- Agriculture project became “Valley Food & Farm”
- Community Profile program suspended
- Published Valley Quest II
- Gained Upper Valley Housing Coalition and UVTMA
- Received Community Organization of the Year award from Hanover Conservation Council
- VFF launched “Farm to Dartmouth” program
- VC ran a one-year project to measure quality-of-life in Upper Valley through a survey and a series of 5 public forums
- Valley Quest received Marie Pirie Environmental Program of the Year award from New England Education Alliance
- 5th annual Flavors drew 1000 attendees
- Launched “Healthy Eating by Design”
- Farm to Dartmouth, Healthy Eating by Design concluded
- VFF launched “Fresh Connections”
- UVTMA’s “Mobility Checklist: Guidelines for Efficiency and Livable Growth” received Project of the Year recognition from New Hampshire Planners’ Association
- Valley Quest spun off “Poetics of Place”
- UVTMA launched “Smart Commute” project
- Launched “Local First Alliance”
- Took on the running of “Leadership Upper Valley”
- Began Municipal Network and Corporate Council projects
- Upper Valley Housing Coalition separated and became fully independent
- Launched “Energy Initiative”
- Won Hanover Area Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Innovator of the Year Award
- Smart Commute workplace employees saved over $1 million
- 10th annual Flavors
- First Heroes & Leaders event
- 10 years of UVTMA
- First Volunteer of the Year award
- First Super Quest (Civil War)
- “Way to Go! Commuter Challenge” broke regional records
- UV Farm to School merged with VFF
- First round of Solarize UV
- VC took over management of UV community email discussion lists
- 10 years of LUV
- Phase 1 of new strategic plan
- 15th annual Flavors
- Valley Quest iOS app introduced
- VC adopted workforce housing program
- Launched Business of the Month
- Launched Weatherize UV
- Launched Power of Produce
- Green Real Estate Network Begins
- 25th anniversary
- First The Local Crowd Upper Valley campaign
- Pilot of Climate Change Leadership Academy begins
- VC’s pandemic response begins
- Route 11 Corridor community group convenes
- Upper Valley Teaching Place Collaborative joins VC