By Mercedes Maness
It’s a New Year, is your community looking for a new perspective? The First Impressions program is all about gaining a new viewpoint.
First Impressions Program understands the importance of fresh eyes on a project. First-time visitors are an underused resource in determining the strengths and weaknesses of a community. Trained volunteers offer a fresh outlook on aspects of your community that both encourage and discourage visitors.
CEDIK partners with a community to evaluate and determine goals for their First Impressions as well as an ideal demographic for visitors, such as relocating retirees or young professionals. CEDIK works to organize trained volunteers to visit the area over the course of a few weeks. Volunteers evaluate several aspects of the community, from a community’s online presence to the convenience in locating important community amenities.
The volunteers complete their evaluations, and all of the feedback is gathered into a report. CEDIK and the community collaborate to host a community-wide forum where the results are presented, and the conversation is started. How do we capitalize on what is good in our community? How do we begin to formulate solutions on how to fix some of the problems we have? How do we continue the conversation and sustain community engagement?
First Impressions is intended to be a foundation for community action. It is the beginning of a discussion, an open-ended question that leaves room for the community to write the solution.
First Impressions has been implemented in 23 Kentucky communities. As community members sift through the reports and begin to develop a plan to address issues and continue to build up assets, they see how these small actions – such as clearing graffiti off the welcome sign – impact visitor’s impressions (and residents too!), and changes their community for the better.
The impact of the First Impressions program are long lasting. As stakeholders work together create a more welcoming culture, the community contributes to their identity and begins to sketch out plans for future generations. First Impressions invites communities to take control of their narrative, and not allow past perceptions to interfere with community success. First Impressions is a way to build community spirit, to draw in tourists, potential residents, and future businesses.
First Impressions is not about defining a community, either from current resident or from visitor perspectives. It is about learning how to take action to encourage a thriving downtown and engaged citizenry.