We think about it more during this graduation season, and then especially when school begins and our youth, year after year, makes their way to college, or a new job in the city, or perhaps a stint in the military. We wonder if we have prepared them well enough to meet the high demands that await them. And, deep down, we wonder if they will ever return to their own hometown.
We feel it, the vibrancy of life in small-town America slowly ebbing away each time a young and talented homegrown person leaves our fold, usually to never return or contribute to the community again. Each year most of the youth leaves and each year we continue on with our business, raising the next crop of talented youth who will eventually leave. What have we done to ourselves? If the current pattern continues what will happen to our community?
It’s not hard to do the math on this one. According to every study out there, rural America is dying because of the basic fact that as a town’s population ages, they aren’t replacing the population with young people. The youth, upon graduation, leave….and they mostly don’t return. It’s called Brain Drain and it’s the cause of the decline in rural America. Pretty soon, within a generation or two, Brain Drain creates a negative number, and soon after a community arrives at the tipping point where there aren’t enough people to pay for the services and needs of its citizens.
We aren’t there yet --- but in some isolated cases we’re getting mighty darn close.
But what can be done about this problem that is threatening the very life blood of rural America. Well, first of all, we need to ask them to stay----or least return after they have experienced college or military life. We need to work with them when they are still in our schools and show them ways they can make money in rural America. After all, living in a small town is the American dream where life is slow and safe and special. But, in most cases, the jobs are scarce ---- unless we start showing our youth how one finds --- or creates --- a job in a small town.
That’s where the Ogallala Commons Foundation comes in. They’re located in Nebraska but are dedicated to helping rural America, the heart of this great country, recreate itself by assisting communities in developing youth entrepreneurship, youth internships, and youth apprenticeships. Their model is spot on and can be used to help our youth, while in school, begin to understand and appreciate the community in which they live. Their workforce programs then allow the youth to begin to understand how to make a living in their hometown.
So much more can be said about Ogallala Commons and their phenomenal community-youth collaborative programs. These programs are changing the face of rural Kansas and it can help change the face of southeastern Colorado, as well.
As such, OC Executive Director Daryll Birkenfeld stopped into the offices of the Independent the other day and made a proposal for the town of Eads and Kiowa County at large. He’s bringing the Commonwealth Youth Academy to Eads on June 12. This is a major opportunity for our communities as it will invite the youth to have a voice about their own community and it will allow people who care about the improvement of the community to have an opportunity to describe the best of what Eads has done and should do in the future. The Youth Academy is about opening up a whole new world to youth with they hope they will want to get in the driver’s seat, rev their engines, put it in high gear and take off.
Any youth in middle school and high school in Eads and surrounding areas are welcome to attend this free workshop. Parents are strongly encouraged to support this academy for the sake of our youth and the future of the community. It’s a very wise decision, indeed, to have your student as a part of this youth academy.
Following are the details for the Youth Academy. Please call Betsy Barnett at 719-940-0799 or IM her with any questions you might have:
DATE: Wednesday, June 12 from 9:00 am to Noon
COST: Free to all youth ages Middle School through High School (recent graduates welcome)
PLACE: Bransgrove Building in the upstairs meeting room --- Access through the old PreSchool door.
ENROLLMENT: Facebook Event – Join the Academy by clicking ‘GOING.’
The Academy consists of a 3-hour activity:
Classroom-based interactive learning about 12 Key Assets that are present in the local community or county, complimented by 20 minutes of storytelling by elders to broaden student understanding of how the assets were utilized in the community over the past 20-40 years.
A walking/driving tour to entities, businesses, and sites that are examples for the 12 Key Assets (especially the social, economic, and ecological aspects of the community).
Back in the classroom, an interactive activity for students articulate and expand their knowledge of local assets and potential career paths connected to the assets.
There will be a short presentation by a young adult who has returned to the community and created a livelihood that enables them to make a living.
The Academy will wrap up with information on how our community and the students can move forward with their own business ideas, internships, or apprenticeships that can lead to real work and career options.
One other aspect of this amazing opportunity provided by Ogallala Commons is the chance to learn about one of their newest programs called Rural & Remote that just might be the way Eads and surrounding communities can bring the youth back having remote jobs in order to make a living.
Studies show that many youth who left their hometowns and never returned felt they were ignored by the elders in the community. Their opinions were not valued. The Commonwealth Youth Academy is the perfect opportunity for our youth to be heard.