Nicole Hill puts a post-it note on a list of assets in Fort Oglethorpe during the Thriving Communities project launch. Hill, a clinical data analytics consultant at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, is one of five volunteers that will help identify the city's assets and natural resources and use community input to bring a new cultural and arts project to the city.
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Volunteers Brent Templeton, Nicole Hill and Bob Dial listen to Bridgett Massengill, president and CEO of the Thrive Regional Partnership, at Fort Oglethorpe's Thriving Communities project launch. The volunteers will take part in a 10-month training and then receive $20,000 from the Lyndhurst Foundation to bring a new cultural and arts project to the city that helps preserve its charm.

Fort Oglethorpe city leaders and volunteers have begun brainstorming how they can best preserve and promote the city's natural charm with the help of $20,000 and forward-thinking design professionals.

With big ideas and goals for the future, a group gathered at city hall earlier this month for the Thriving Communities Initiative project launch to discuss what would make the city a better place to visit and live.

Fort Oglethorpe is one of four cities chosen this year by the Thrive Regional Partnership to receive strategic assistance for the next 10 months from Bridge Innovate design professionals and other community members. The initiative is part of Thrive 2055, a project focused on engaging people in the tri-state region to make the most of the area's economic opportunities while preserving what locals love about their communities.

"It's about mobilizing residents and celebrating the uniqueness of the community," Bridgett Massengill, president and CEO of the Thrive Regional Partnership, said at the launch. "It's preserving and protecting natural treasures."

Upon completion of the training, each community will receive $20,000 from the Lyndhurst Foundation to carry out a culture and arts project that will benefit both residents and visitors. The initiative comes at no cost to the city, except for transportation to and from meetings in Chattanooga.

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Chris McKeever, right, director of the 6th Calvary Museum, writes down what she hopes to see in Fort Oglethorpe in the future during the Thrive Communities Initiative project launch. McKeever is one of five volunteers in the city to help carry out the initiative, which will end with a new cultural and arts project in Fort Oglethorpe.

The other "Thriving Communities" chosen this year are Whitwell, Decatur and Athens, Tenn.

Ideas at the local project launch ranged from adding more public art and a sculpture garden, to building a dog park or welcoming more local breweries and distilleries. Volunteers and residents at the meeting also took inventory of some of Fort Oglethorpe's unique treasures, like the Chickamauga Battlefield, West Chickamauga Creek, local libraries, museums and more.

Chris McKeever, director of the 6th Calvary Museum in Fort Oglethorpe, is one of five volunteers from the local community to help carry out the initiative. She said she saw how the initiative benefited nearby Rossville in the first round of Thriving Communities in 2016, and knew it was something Fort Oglethorpe needed to take advantage of once local officials had hired a new city manager.

"There's a groundswell of folks wanting to see this happen," McKeever said. "We have great people, but we don't have the professional help to figure this out on our own."

City Manager Jennifer Payne-Simpkins said it was a no-brainer when McKeever came to her wanting a letter of support from the city for the application. The finished project will be a great asset to the community, Payne-Simpkins said, but she is most excited for the relationships the city will create with other communities and local organizations in the coming months.

"I'm hoping to get good relationships as well as define assets and where we want to go as a city," she said. "I think that any community could benefit greatly from working with a team of consultants."

The project has created a ripple effect in the communities served so far.

For its first round of Thriving Communities in 2016, the Thrive Regional Partnership chose eight communities. That first effort has sparked over $1.6 million in direct and in-kind community investments and engaged over 1,800 donors and volunteers, a press release states. Some of the finished projects include a new public art project in Cleveland, Tenn., and a permanent outdoor performing arts space in Dalton, Ga.

Rossville used the training and $20,000 in funding to improve the city park in the area where the historic John Ross House sits.

"Our Thriving Communities project has sparked a surge of community will and financial investment that previously felt unachievable," Elizabeth Wells, co-founder of the Rossville Redevelopment Workshop, said in a statement.

About $80,000 of investments have been made for the park so far.

Thrive officials said there will be several ways for Fort Oglethorpe residents to get involved in the next 10 months and citizens should try to be as active in the process as they can, even if their knowledge of the arts is limited.

Stephanie Dorris, one of the volunteers on the team, owns Battlefield Bed and Breakfast on Barnhardt Circle. Being in the tourism business and a mother of two, Dorris said she has a personal investment in seeing the project succeed as well as wanting to make the community a better place to work and live.

Other volunteers on the team include Bob Dial, a retired businessman from the food service industry; Nicole Hill, a clinical data analytics consultant at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee; and Brent Templeton, who owns a graphic design company. Fort Oglethorpe will also have access to community members in different fields depending on what project the group decides to carry forward, like the Chattanooga Symphony or state agencies like the Georgia Council of the Arts.

"It's very important to me that this community meets the needs of the people living here as well as people coming to visit," Dorris said. "I thought this would be a great opportunity to figure out how we can do that."

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