Rural Brainstorm Sparks Discussion in NE Kansas
By Jamie Dysart
One woman is taking the initiative to sustain rural communities, while letting the younger rural generation who are “rural by choice” have an active voice in their communities.
Marci Penner, the director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation and the author of “8 Wonders of Kansas Guidebook”, was the facilitator of the Northeast Kansas Big Rural Brain-storm (BRB), which was held November 12 at the Holton Evangel United Methodist Church.
The BRB brought local citizens of Northeast Kansas together to discuss issues of living rural and how to solve their concerns, in hopes to have “collective brilliance”.
“If we are all the same, we will always have the same thoughts,” said Penner. Penner explained the “power up movement”, which includes six divisions of agriculturists. These groups include the “power ups” who are people between the ages of 21-39 who are rural by choice and struggle with the connotation that “rural isn’t cool,” Penner said, while “sparks” are people under 21 who add good energy to community spirit.
“Power Ons” are ages 40 and older who are passionate about rural living, she said. Citizens 80 years and older, Penner said, who are still offering positive input in the community are known as “super powers”.
She said, “power generators” include those who live in bigger cities, but work to better rural communities, while “rural enthusiasts” are comprised of people who live anywhere and are supportive of rural Kansas.
When Penner traveled Kansas to do research for her book she went to all 626 incorporated towns. She said half of those towns had less than 400 citizens. Those 313 towns only thrived when they accepted the voice of young people, Penner said, “Those were the towns that had the most ‘explorer value’.”
Discussion groups were asked to answer the question of how well northeast Kansas is connected, and how can we communicate better? “Before we can communicate in a region, you must communicate in your town,” Penner said.
Penner introduced the “We Kan! Bank” to the BRB group. This is a system that matches community needs with those who can donate services, labor or money, she said. Everyone participated in the exercise of posting their accounts of service and their towns accounts of needs, and later could look at these to find out if they could help someone or if a services would be beneficial to a community need.
Teresa McAnerney, a facilitator at the Northeast Kansas Enterprise Facilitation, said she is surprised at the amount of resources there is in a community and the willingness of people to work together. Courtney Schmelzie, Seneca Chamber of Commerce, said she is excited about the community involvement especially in the “power ups”. With almost 60 people in attendance at the northeast Kansas BRB only eight people were “power ups”. Penner said that the results of other BRBs are a lot different when there are more “power ups” in attendance.
At the end of the BRB everyone wrote down how they can help sustain rural northeast Kansas on their “This is my Rural Action” card, and was encouraged keep working on it when they went home.
“We need to fight for what we need, “said Penner, “if we don’t say what we need, it will not get done.”
(Jamie Dysart is a senior in agriculture communications at Kansas State University)