Archive for the ‘Development’ Category

402. Connecting The Dots

As a life-long Albionite and a parent who’d like to see his children have the option of building their lives here, I’ve long been interested in rural development.  It’s no secret that rural communities have long been in decline – the population of Boone County peaked at 14,738 in 1930 but had dropped to only 5,315 by 2015.

Retaining young people has long been a focus of rural development – I read a report once that said despite all the agricultural commodities rural counties produce, young people are their leading export.  And I’ve observed that many of our high school kids think they can live anywhere they want after college – except here.

So efforts to engage our youth are an important part of rural revitalization efforts. A few years ago my wife Lori and I even co-taught a semester-long seminar on rural issues at UNL – it was amazing how little students there knew about rural areas, but heartening to see how interested they were in learning more.  More recently I’ve been fortunate to participate in the UNL Extension Service’s Connecting The Dots program, a program that brings high school freshmen and sophomores together with a variety of community members so the students can learn more about the careers available right here.

According to the Extension Service’s website, “Connecting The Dots facilitates growth and development of our rural communities through increased connections between youth and community leaders.  Youth gain an understanding of the opportunities within their own communities and the importance of the choices they make in high school.”

Extension educator Jill Goedeken told me that of the youth who participate in this program (and there’ve been 30 sessions so far this year),

  • 96% understand their opportunities to go to college in Nebraska, an increase of 20% before attending the program.
  • 83% agreed that they prioritized their career options, an increase of 33% before attending the program.
  • 91% have thought about how to pay for college
  • 81% learned how to act professionally
  • 77% say Connecting The Dots has helped them identify things they are good at and explore future career options.

Careers are divided into 6 general areas – Business, Agriculture, Communications, Technical Sciences, Human Sciences and Health Sciences.  These areas are then subdivided into 16 more specific categories and adults from this area who work in these fields provide information to students about their particular area of expertise.  Each adult is provided with files listing specific careers available in Nebraska.  The adults go over these with the students, noting the amount of education needed and salary ranges for these careers.  This way students learn not only about careers but have a chance to talk with actual employers.

The event was held in the Boone County Event Center and local Extension educator Sonya Glup told me that 9th and 10th grade students from all schools within about an hour’s drive of Albion were invited to attend (Boone Central has a program called Career Academies so they didn’t participate).  And a lot of students were there.  I represented careers in the Arts, and offered the students information about 53 careers available in the arts here in rural Nebraska.

This was the second year I represented the Arts and both times I had about a dozen students talk to me about career opportunities in that field.  All were kids trying to get a better handle on a career path.  And as Jill’s statistics show, this program is a big help to them in making good choices and building successful careers, including right here in rural Nebraska.

377. The Importance Of Culture

I once asked an old man what happened to Bradish.  He replied that a lot of little towns like Bradish had been built about every seven miles along the railroad because that “was as far as a steam locomotive could go without breaking down.”  Once more-reliable diesel engines replaced steam locomotives, many of these little towns “dried up and blew away.”

While that wasn’t the only reason for spacing communities every few miles along the tracks, the railroad did want towns at frequent intervals.  Primrose, for example, was founded at the behest of Union Pacific which wanted a stop between Cedar Rapids and Spalding.

Primrose takes its name from early pioneer David Primrose and I recently stumbled across a brief biography of him in an old book about Nebraska pioneers.  His bio says he was known “throughout Boone and surrounding counties as a man of broad mind, culture and ability.”

I find it interesting that having a “broad mind” and being cultured were qualities Mr. Primrose was known for – after all, we don’t often remember the pioneers for their intellect and culture.  These people lived in houses made of dirt and struggled for years just to establish a small farm.  The pioneers presumably didn’t have much time for the “niceties” of life – they were too busy focusing on the necessities of life.

But if you think about it, isn’t that when people needed culture most, in a place and time when there was so little of it?  The pioneers really were focused on survival.  But they had originally come from places – either in Europe or the eastern United States – where culture was well established.  Their goal, after all, was to “upbuild” life here, as they put it then, into something much more than just subsistence living.  People wanted the finer things in life and the deprivation they faced when homesteading only made them want these things more.

So it’s really no surprise that a pioneer like David Primrose would stand out for not only his ability to build a community but also for his broad mindedness and cultural sophistication – these were traits the pioneers respected and aspired to.  They wanted the small towns that sprang up across the Great Plains to grow into places at least as cultured and broad-minded as the established communities they’d left.

I was reminded of this last weekend when my wife Lori and I, in our role as co-directors of the Albion Area Arts Council, put on the week-long Missoula Children’s Theatre.  Students of all ages from six communities – including Neligh and Fullerton – worked hard to learn parts and present a musical adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels.  We’ve been doing this every summer since 2005 so we don’t think a lot about it anymore.  But a surprising number of parents and grandparents thanked us for providing this activity and their comments reminded us that although the Missoula Children’s Theatre isn’t “high art” it is an introduction to drama for young people who in many cases don’t otherwise have that opportunity.

Unfortunately, cultural opportunities in rural areas still aren’t as widespread as our ancestors desired.  And not everyone needs the arts and humanities in their lives.  But for those who do, like those willing to drive here six times in a week for play practice, culture is important.  Culture is our common legacy and it strengthens communities both large and small.  The pioneers understood this, and though we may sometimes forget it today, culture remains an important tool in preventing communities across the Great Plains from “drying up and blowing away.”