Writer and management consultant Margaret Wheatley once wrote “There is no power greater than a community discovering what it cares about.” She continues on, “ Ask ‘What’s possible? Not ‘What’s wrong?’ Keep asking.” Sarah Akers and Jeffrey Tuper-Giles, along with others, are trying to do just that with #BetterBarre.
It all started when Sarah Akers, a resident of Barre, saw her Facebook friends posting photos of Playground 2000. The park did not have trash cans or bathrooms, and the photos were not flattering.
She had been to the playground herself and she too had been repulsed by its level of disregard. Plus, without cameras, it wasn’t exactly safe. Despite that, people still visited.
“People come from out of town to go to that playground,” Akers explained. “My sister-in-law from Orange comes down to go there.”
When Akers saw the Facebook postings, she realized something had to change. “I was sick of it. What can we do about it? It’s obviously an issue.” So, she turned to the network within her community.
“I knew I had people on my page who had an influence in the town. Jeffrey being one of them.”
Jeffrey Tuper-Giles did see the posting and he, another City Counselor member, and Akers went down to the park to check it out.
Tuper-Giles laughed as he explained that Akers’ post was “a little cranky.” Akers laughed too, shrugging, and saying that people did take it that way. But she was frustrated by the complaints and the lack of action. “I wanted to figure it out. We need to fix what’s wrong here. People are upset over how it looks, but nobody’s here to do anything about it. Can we get bathrooms and trash cans?” She realized that if all you do is complain, nothing will change.
Akers and Tuper-Giles asked themselves what they could do about it and they realized they needed to be engaged in the process. In other words, they needed to be a part of the solution. Not part of the problem.
But two people alone are not enough to change an entire community and both Akers and Tuper-Giles know this. They needed to find a way to pull in others, to make what they were doing feel real and important and exciting.
And so they decided to do a live video on Facebook.
Akers excitedly bounced in her chair as she explained how she introduced herself on her personal Facebook page and let people know, especially the ones who had commented or shared her post about the playground, that they were going to be a part of the solution.
“It went live and I went to each counselor and introduced them and talked about picking up stuff, some of the problems, the solutions,” she paused for a moment to catch her breath, then continued, “It was a really cool informational community-oriented video and it went viral. It had around five thousand views.”
When it comes to the hashtag (#)BetterBarre, it was Jeffrey’s husband who came up with the idea. Although, it was a joint effort, Akers says that “We were on the same page without knowing it. I was trying to post all this stuff and share it and thought it’d be sweet if we had a hashtag.” Then she looked and saw it, Tuper-Giles had posted “‘let’s all come together and make a #betterbarre.’ And it was perfect. That’s it.”
The two continued to meet and talk. What came out of those meetings was not only a friendship, but sustained excitement. They made videos at the pool, at the playground, at the garden. They talked to the Barre trash pickers. They wanted to highlight the good things that were happening. They even flooded the town with posters.
Maybe you’ve seen them? A big red heart that says #BetterBarre?
Akers and Tuper-Giles realized that they needed more than a hashtag to spread the word. So they came up t-shirts and a Facebook page. “We needed a central location to share the great things going on,” said Akers.
On the Facebook page, people can post that they’re looking for volunteers, and volunteers in turn, can find local causes. There are also posts and links to articles and opportunities, all with the intention of bettering Barre. Tuper-Giles explained that “We want people to have their own ideas.” Akers added that, “We want people to be involved.”
Tuper-Giles is on the City Council and the Barre Partnership Board. Akers is also on the Partnership Board. And both work. But, despite their busy schedules, it’s clear they have much passion for Barre.
“We want all these good things to happen, but can’t do it by ourselves,” continued Akers. “We need other people. We wanted to come together to create this community… So many different people want to do good, but they needed a voice, someone to head it all.”
There are so many factors that divide communities, that break people up into categories and put them into boxes. #BetterBarre wants to tackle that by highlighting not only community responsibility, but also the importance of inclusion.
For example, Tuper-Giles believes that “This whole us versus them thing… the whole country is suffering from this right now and us versus them never works. Because it’s us or no one. We’re all in this together. The moment we start putting divides down the middle, everything falls apart.”
Both Akers and Tuper-Giles hope that this can inspire other communities. They’ve received posts from people as far away as South Carolina, who were inspired by the campaign to work on improving their own local community. And even in Vermont, what about #MagnificentMontpelier, #BrilliantBerlin, #HelpingHardwick?
Akers summed it up succinctly when she said “We are feeling good because we are inspiring others to do good. I love to just see people do good things.”
Right now, both Akers and Tuper-Giles are talking about getting a committee together and hope to do that sometime in September. “People who have ideas on places they want improved, and people who want to be involved, we want them to come together,” said Akers. “We want to empower people to create and to be leaders.”
Interested in learning more? Getting involved? Or just want to see positive posts about Barre? Follow them on Facebook under BetterBarre. But don’t forget to act too.
Tuper-Giles said it best: “Stop sitting at your computer and actually get out and do something!”