Erin Schmandt, director, Caro Area District Library (left), Caro Mayor Joe Greene (center), and Meggen Jensen, president, Caro Chamber of Commerce, listen during a “community conversation” held by the library on Monday. There are nine more similar conversations planned through the end of March. (Photo by John Cook)

Erin Schmandt, director, Caro Area District Library (left), Caro Mayor Joe Greene (center), and Meggen Jensen, president, Caro Chamber of Commerce, listen during a “community conversation” held by the library on Monday. There are nine more similar conversations planned through the end of March. (Photo by John Cook)

Library officials lead efforts to create vision for Caro

Erin Schmandt, director, Caro Area District Library (left), Caro Mayor Joe Greene (center), and Meggen Jensen, president, Caro Chamber of Commerce, listen during a “community conversation” held by the library on Monday. There are nine more similar conversations planned through the end of March. (Photo by John Cook)
Erin Schmandt, director, Caro Area District Library (left), Caro Mayor
Joe Greene (center), and Meggen Jensen, president, Caro Chamber of
Commerce, listen during a “community conversation” held by the library
on Monday. There are nine more similar conversations planned through
the end of March. (Photo by John Cook)

The Caro Area District Library has begun a series of 10 “conversations” aimed at pulling the community together in an effort to get the Tuscola County seat headed in the right direction.
The first conversation was held mid-afternoon Monday, and they will continue through March. The next one is set for 6 p.m. today.
Erin Schmandt, director, Caro Area District Library, said a wrap-up meeting will be held April 6.
Schmandt said the information will not only help the library as an operation (which is why it’s involved), but will be shared with others throughout the community that includes a downtown with about 30 empty storefronts.
“A lot of institutions and organizations make decisions based on what they think their public wants, rather than finding out what the public wants and then making decisions” Schmandt told The Advertiser. “So we’re in the process of gathering public input…and finding out what the people of the area want in their community.”
She said the library received a grant through the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation and the Library of Michigan, Midwest Collaborative for Library Services (MCLS), to lead the efforts. Caro was one of about 25 awarded a grant. Bad Axe Area District Library is the only other in the area to be awarded funding.
The grant for Caro library covered training through the Harwood Institute (Caro library officials participated in October) and nine months of “coaching calls from Harwood and guidance and support from Harwood-trained Library of Michigan and MCLS staff.”
According to Hardwood’s website:
“The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation is a nonpartisan, independent nonprofit that teaches, coaches and inspires people and organizations to solve pressing problems and change how communities work together. Founded by Rich Harwood in 1988, the Institute partners with some of the world’s largest nonprofits and our tools and frameworks have spread to all 50 states in the U.S., across Australia and Canada, and have been used by individuals in more than 40 countries worldwide.”
At the first meeting Monday involving the general public, nine people participated, including Caro Mayor Joe Greene, Caro City Council member Mike Henry, Nick Schmelter, director of worship and congregational life, Caro First Presbyterian Church, Jim McCloskey, district representative for Sen. Mike Green, R-Mayville, and Meggen Jensen, president, Caro Chamber of Commerce. (Jensen also works for The Advertiser).
Monday’s conversation that went more than 90 minutes centered largely on connectedness in the area, or lack thereof.
It began with participants addressing several questions: what kind of community do you want, and why is that important, and how is it different from the way things are now?
“A community that is safe,” said Schmelter, the first to speak. “A community that offers opportunities for business, and economy to take place. A downtown area that is supportive of those businesses, and supportive of the people who are involved with those businesses.”
Schmelter also identified the Caro area as one that has an opportunity to offer more in the way of skilled and fine arts.
Greene said there needs to be more effort into keeping people in Caro.
“I’d like to see a community where people like to stay here and do stuff versus going to the neighboring towns, and the neighboring communities,” Greene said. “We have people running to Frankenmuth, Bay City, Saginaw — and every morning I see lines of cars coming into Caro before 8 a.m. because they’re coming here to work.”
Greene pointed out, however, that the drivers of many of those vehicles leave the area after work.
“How can we change that so that more people want to live here?” said Greene, who was elected mayor in November.
Greene also identified a need for Caro to provide more activities, such as hiking trails.
McCloskey further identified the need for more support for organizations such as the Tuscola County Economic Development Corp., the Caro Downtown Development Authority, and the Caro Chamber of Commerce.
“What I’d like to see is improved community involvement and participation,” Henry said. “I’ve been on the council for almost 20 years and it’s disheartening when you sit at the council and the only time people are at council is when there’s a big issue.”
Henry identified getting people involved as a “struggle,” though pointed out the potential.
“It’s there, we just gotta figure out how to mobilize it,” he said.
Henry also said there is a “need to change the mindset of our citizens, as far as patronizing our businesses.”
He used his own experience as an example.
“About a year ago, I bought a new car and it was cheaper somewhere else,” Henry said. “But I felt like I needed to keep it here because those dollars stay local.”
Henry said “we need to do something to keep those people eating at our restaurants, shopping at our stores, and when we do that, I think you’ll find that people are willing to invest money into a downtown when they see that people are going to stay there and continue to support it.”
“We spend so much time looking at what we used to have, and some of those things just aren’t viable in today’s society,” Henry said.
Schmandt said the big takeaway from Monday’s meeting was a need to promote connectedness.
“The thing they talked about was wanting to get the whole community connected to each other again, and then they would feel more unity” Schmandt said.
The information collected from the meeting, and the other nine planned, will eventually end up in a final, comprehensive report that takes into consideration input from as many sources as possible, Schmandt said.
For those who seek to be part of the conversation, additional brainstorming sessions will be held:
• Feb. 1, 6 p.m.
• Feb. 3, 2 p.m.
• Feb. 9, 10 a.m.
• Feb. 17, 2 p.m.
• Feb. 27, 10 a.m.
• March 7, 6 p.m.
• March 10, 6 p.m.
• March 18, 1 p.m.
• March 23, 2 p.m.
• April 6, 6 p.m. (wrap-up meeting)
Schmandt said those wishing to attend are asked to RSVP to her at erin@carolibrary.org or by calling her at 989-673-4329 extension 102.
Andrew Dietderich is editor of The Advertiser and can be reached at andrew@tcadvertiser.com

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