Take Charge

Take Charge is an educational program designed to enable leaders, decision-makers, and residents in rural communities to effectively address local problems and develop a vision for the future. It provides a process that empowers groups to be proactive in setting the course for their community. The program used in Virginia is adapted from "Take Charge: Economic Development in Small Communities" published by the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development.

Take Charge Objectives

Take Charge Workshops

The Take Charge process begins with three, three-hour workshops designed to 1) foster collaboration among the citizens in the community, 2) move the group toward consensus, and 3) provide a framework for creating a vision for the future.

Workshop #1 - Where are we now?

The goals of the first workshop are 1) to examine historical and current trends and characteristics of the community and consider implications for the future, and 2) to conduct a self-examination of the community?s strengths and vulnerabilities as related to financial, social, human, and natural assets.

Workshop #2 - Where do we want to be?

In the second workshop, participants develop a collective vision for the future of the community and assess the opportunities and threats to achieving that vision.

Workshop #3 - How do we get there?

In the third workshop, participants identify and frame overarching development issues, identify existing resources to help address the issues, and explore alternative ways to organize the community for action.

Desired Outcomes

Take Charge under TOP

Four counties (Accomack, Cumberland, King & Queen, and Northampton) took part in the Take Charge community planning process. The three meetings involved in the process respectively lead a community to identify challenges, to set goals related to those challenges, and to identify specific steps toward those goals. After each meeting, participants filled out surveys reflecting their opinions of the experience. Table (1) reflects the level of participation and Table (2) participants reaction to take charge as measured by the surveys.

Table 1: Participation in Take Charge

Take Charge Process Accomack Cumberland King and Queen Northampton Total
Overall Attendance 34 69 44 29 176
Average attendance per meeting 11 23 15 10 15
Overall attendees new to community planning 13 41 16 7 77
% Attendees New to community planning 38% 59% 36% 24% 44%

Table 2: Participant Reactions to Take Charge

Survey Responses Across All Counties Agree Somewhat Agree Disagree
Purpose and goals were clear 142 29 3
I learned something new about the community 146 24 3
I felt like my ideas were acknowledged 147 22 0
Participation in Small Group Assessments was fair 160 4 0
Assembly Assessments were fair 158 12 1
Percentage of Overall Response 90% 9% 1%

Not all participants attended all meetings, nor filled out surveys completely, so we cannot know for sure how many unique persons actually were involved. Regardless, participation was relatively strong and reaction highly positive.

Participation: Across the counties, average attendance at each meeting was 15 people, but the average varied considerably from a low of 10 to a high of 23.

First Time Community Planning Participants: Of greatest significance may be the fact that so many of the overall participants (44%) indicated that they had never participated in a community planning experience before. Cumberland County had the highest level of participation overall (69 people) and the highest percentage of new participants (59%) which may reflect both a particularly strong core leadership in that county and a broad base of recruitment.

Reactions to Take Charge: Participant opinions of Take Charge were uniformly high as indicated by the average responses in Table (2). The survey allowed respondents a neutral selection, but about 90% responded at the positive end of the scale compared with 9% neutral. Only 1% of all survey responses were negative. Written comments from respondents were generally consistent with their numeric responses.

In general, that the Take Charge process did an excellent job of setting the stage and initially getting people involved in those counties that participated. The process may have been a particular boost in Cumberland County and King and Queen County, both of which had less technological infrastructure from other sources than did Accomack and Northampton counties which eventually combined efforts and used the Eastern Shore of Virginia Portal for their community network as opposed to BEV in a Box.

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