Sue's Views: Problems best solved together
One of the advantages of working at a community newspaper is that you have access to the town's history. It is a tantalizing distraction to page through the back issues of the paper, recognizing names and faces and reliving all of the moments that are captured on paper.
It is also calming to be able to compare notes on how we're faring in comparison to the "good old days."
There is one particular front page that I have copied off and keep handy. It is from the March 20, 1969 Morris Tribune. The headline reads, "Community Thinking, Planning Cited" and the story concerns a community effort focused on long-range planning for the viability of our rural town.
Here is a segment of that article:
"This will mean that neighborhoods and small towns will need to see themselves as being a part of one area complex. They will need to work together in the interest of developing the area."
It would seem this type of challenge never really is solved for rural areas. Here we are, over 40 years later, facing the very problems this news article cited: population trends, youth leaving the community, mobility of people out of the area, farming trends, and others.
The last two years has been especially rough in Stevens County. I don't need to run through the list of bleak headlines.
But the news is getting better. This year's harvest was very good, there are help wanted ads for the local manufacturing firm and even the occasional smell from the ethanol plant means that there are people at work at the facility.
I've been doing some reading about rural challenges and found an article in the Fedgazette on challenges and opportunities in rural communities. Jane Leonard, manager of the leadership and community engagement team at the Bush Foundation, offered these comments.
"How young people are regarded by a community is key. If enough people hold a mindset that young people don't have a future in their small town and that belief is instilled from an early age, then the town is on a downward spiral. If kids are embraced, supported and encouraged to be a part of the community's present and future, then that community is investing in its own future."
Bart Finzel is also quoted in this article. Bart is the interim director of the Center for Small Towns at the University of Minnesota, Morris. He offers an interesting perspective on the challenges of being rural.
"As a professor in a small town, I find it remarkable to witness students with urban sensibilities truly connect with the realities of rural places. Some students are empowered by the connection. Others go home.
"Students from urban areas take 24-hour shopping, a Walmart or Target, a cinema multiplex and a variety of dining opportunities for granted. Moreover, as their family ties to rural areas have lessened with each generation, their knowledge of small places and their ability to imagine a life without urban amenities have diminished.
"After a time, urban students who stick it out find that those in small towns make the most of their limited menu of options: friends cook for one another and create their own entertainment; problems are solved by coming together, rather than making a phone call to a service provider; goods and services are provided by local sole proprietors, barter or not at all. Students learn that nothing can be taken for granted in a small community. Doing for oneself and one's community is necessary. A sense of shared responsibility is cultivated."
Here's the part that sticks out for me: problems are solved by coming together.
That was the message in 1969 and it holds true today. Problems are not solved by wasting resources looking for someone to blame, but by naming issues and working together to address them.