On Feb. 3-4, 200 people from rural communities across Kansas gathered at the Big Rural Brainstorm in Newton, Ks. to discuss how they could not just save their shrinking communities but improve them, empower them, and make them vital places to live again.
Rural communities have been on the decline for decades, losing population, schools, churches, grocery stores, but yet they remain places where many are passionate about living there and raising their families. This was the clear message from the people who came from literally every corner of the state to share information, ask questions, and brainstorm ideas to sustain their communities. One important audience demographic was what organizers dubbed 'Power -Ups', people in the 20-39 year old range who live rural by choice and want to work for positive change.
How to attract and retain young people, how to meet their needs and provide meaningful livelihoods and places to live is a critical piece for the future of rural communities. About 40 'Power-Ups' attended.
The event was the brainchild of a few folks who attended a meeting late last fall and were dissatisfied with the program's lack of relevance for their communities. "What if," stated the pre-Brainstorm event publicity, " we brought a couple hundred passionate rural Kansans together, stirred up the energy, and looked at common issues from a completely different point of view?"
Organized largely by the Kansas Sampler Foundation's Marci Penner and a handful of others, the event was described as "an atmosphere of hope, energy, and opportunity" as participants were urged to think outside the box and generate new ideas for sustaining rural communities.
There were no keynote speakers. There were no recipe formulas presented from experts. The event was a true brainstorm involving numerous small group sessions focused on topics ranging from rural schools and education, local food production and access, grocery store retention or new models , housing, tourism, technology needs, health care, maintaining needed services such as mechanics, plumbers, and more.
On the final day, forty people came forward to declare action steps they would take when they got home. Some of those actions include starting a community garden and community foundation, developing a rural entertainment network, and internship programs for businesses, and doing an inventory of Power Ups.
Penner said, "With these 200 committed Kansans offering support and ideas to each other, it is clear that rural Kansas took a positive step forward with this event. By the end, there was no doubt that we are all together in this challenging yet exciting work of sustaining communities."
Those who would like to be on an electronic list to help sustain rural communities should contact the Kansas Sampler Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org for follow up events specific to the Brainstorm. Also, contact KRC's Julie Mettenburg at email@example.com if you are interested in connecting with like-minded activists or hearing more about KRC's programs.