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North Country Council launches resiliency planning program

January 13, 2021
REGION — Resiliency has been at the forefront of numerous local, state and federal conversations for nearly a year now, as the pandemic continues to take its toll across multiple sectors. It has also been a vanguard for the North Country Council as it prepares to update its regional economic development strategy.

Last fall, the Council received a disaster relief grant from the CARES Act and the Federal Economic Development Administration for approximately $400,000. The money is earmarked to mitigate existing impacts and avoid future complications from COVID-19 or other disasters. The organization hired Stacey Doll as its Community Resiliency Planner and has spent the last five months developing an inclusive planning process.

According to Doll, the Council established a framework to define resiliency for multiple regional economic sectors, including education, healthcare, family services and local leadership. The organization plans to develop additional focus groups for arts and culture, the food service industry, environmental organizations, and outdoor recreation and tourism.

The Council has also added an Outreach and Communications Coordinator to assist with web and social media connections.

"Our responsibility is to get as many people to participate as possible so we can hear their voices. It's hard to do during a pandemic when you can't connect in-person or be out in the community," stated Doll.

The Resiliency Planner also noted that outreach becomes even more burdensome when faced with local broadband challenges.

"Some people are facing unemployment or struggling to pay their bills. To join a Zoom meeting or have access to the internet might not be achievable right now. My primary goal right now is to keep my eyes and ears open and ask how we can help," she said.

Doll touched on another critical challenge that echoes throughout the nation - trust.

She explained, "We have to rebuild trust. We have to identify the basic things we all have in common that there's no arguing about. There needs to be a coming together."

"Several people that I've interviewed have spoken about divisiveness. Political divisiveness has crippled our ability to respond and recover in the collaborative fashion I've seen in the past. However, there are a lot of great examples in the North Country where communities have decided it doesn't matter and they come together," continued Doll.

"How do we talk about what has happened here because of the strong relationships and trust that we have with one other? We cannot let that deteriorate. In a time when we need to focus on recovering, we need to strengthen those bonds. That idea has been universal across sectors. I've heard it over and over again, so it seems like folks are ready for it," said Doll.

"True resiliency and recovery isn't about hoarding everything or just trying to fix your own business. If the community doesn't survive, we don't survive. We're facing a global pandemic that has stopped our economy and challenged us on levels we didn't foresee coming," she added.

Focus groups will meet a minimum of five times. At the initial meeting, the collaborative will define resiliency specific to its industry. The subsequent sessions are based on a planning approach called Appreciative Inquiry, which achieves self-determined change through a strengths-based, positive approach.

"A lot of times when we're faced with a challenge, we go right in and focus on the biggest losses. It's a scarcity mindset, and it's based on deficits. This is an asset-based approach," explained Doll.

Anyone interested in learning more about the North Country Council's Recovery and Resiliency Planning initiative can visit the website at www.nccouncil.org. To participate in a focus group, contact Stacy Doll directly at sdoll@nccouncil.org.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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