Big Ideas from the Community


Mary Gillespie
Bluenose Gopher Cooperative Brewery and Granite Falls Area Chamber

As a rural advocate, what aspect of your work is most fulfilling right now? Give us an example. 
Creating new ideas and frameworks for small businesses

What guiding principles or truths inform the work you’re doing in or for rural America these days? 
The cooperative principles of joint ownership and shared benefits.

Looking ahead, where do you see rural America playing an essential role in national outcomes?
With local food and drink becoming more important, rural America provides the setting and opportunities for growing and consuming products locally.


Brad Kik
Crosshatch Center for Art and Ecology

As a rural advocate, what aspect of your work is most fulfilling right now? Give us an example. 
The people we work with - people who are devoted, curious and alive in the work of restoring rural places.

What guiding principles or truths inform the work you’re doing in or for rural America these days? 
From Wendell Berry's poem "The Wild Geese" - "What we need is here."

Looking ahead, where do you see rural America playing an essential role in national outcomes?
Community resilience. We need to grow our capacity to bounce back from natural and economic disasters so we can become the seedbank for sustainable communities across the country.


Summer Sage
Parent Educational Advocacy Training Center-PEATC

As a rural advocate, what aspect of your work is most fulfilling right now? Give us an example. 
Teaching families how to make a difference in their children's lives and change at the community level. 

What guiding principles or truths inform the work you’re doing in or for rural America these days? 
Building positive futures for Virginia's children by working collaboratively with families, schools and communities in order to improve opportunities for excellence in education and success in school and community life. Our special focus is children with disabilities.

Looking ahead, where do you see rural America playing an essential role in national outcomes?
Education and Inclusion are key to preparing our children for their futures and rural Americans excel at creating natural community supports. Looking to rural America as a solutions based model instead of a needs based model will help rebuild our communities.


Julie Worley
Self-Employed - "Rural Connections" 

As a rural advocate, what aspect of your work is most fulfilling right now? Give us an example. 
I am working on a grassroots, rural initiative in Colorado to bring apparel manufacturing back on the American soil, and most specifically into rural communities in our great state by developing small sew centers in small towns across the state. 

What guiding principles or truths inform the work you’re doing in or for rural America these days? 
All small communities are in need of jobs; rural economic development directors are all looking for small industry to stabilize and infuse the economics of small municipalities; there are vacant buildings along every Main Street in small towns; and there is a willing workforce in rural America that has the skill set needed to not only develop the sew centers - but also to work in the sew centers.  

Looking ahead, where do you see rural America playing an essential role in national outcomes?
With the new Administration, I think rural America will begin to thrive again when jobs come back on the American shore and industries begin to relocate in small communities where overhead is less and the workforce is available.  


John White
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Education at US Department of Education

As a rural advocate, what aspect of your work is most fulfilling right now? Give us an example. 
Seeing advocacy result in change and impact. Recently led a statewide media campaign in Pennsylvania that resulted in the state's new basic education funding formula to ensure new dollars are equitably distributed and rural schools are not disadvantaged based on their political districts. At US ED, I worked on policy to maintain the only formula-funding program for rural schools and that added priorities for rural schools in grant programs. I also worked across agencies to increase awareness of resources for rural school to receive support for distance learning, teacher housing, school construction, broadband, health IT and more.

What guiding principles or truths inform the work you’re doing in or for rural America these days? 
Rural education and community leaders need information and access to resources to increase opportunities for education and economic development.

Looking ahead, where do you see rural America playing an essential role in national outcomes?
Education and the economy


Beth O'Connor
Virginia Rural Health Association

As a rural advocate, what aspect of your work is most fulfilling right now? Give us an example. 
helping rural healthcare providers improve broadband access to their facilities

What guiding principles or truths inform the work you’re doing in or for rural America these days? 
health insurance is not the same as healthcare access

Looking ahead, where do you see rural America playing an essential role in national outcomes?
Rural America will play a key role in helping the USA stay competitive in the global economy


Leanna Blevins
New College Institute

As a rural advocate, what aspect of your work is most fulfilling right now? Give us an example. 
Expanding opportunities by working together. There are several examples, but I would use the fact that our organization (New College Institute) exists and persists as one- we provide access to a variety of educational opportunities and credentials in underserved areas through partnerships. One specific example of that is our STAR Telehealth program: we have collaboratively developed training modules to educate front-line providers how to deliver their services through technology to reach rural areas. We have also developed specialty programs like Tele-Mental Health. (Happy to provide more info if needed.)

What guiding principles or truths inform the work you’re doing in or for rural America these days? 
Collaboration is the key- we can't have all the answers, resources, or "stuff," so why not put together our heads and our resources, work together and figure it out so that everyone wins. It's not easy to work together, and it can be political, but it's the right thing to do. We go farther together.

Looking ahead, where do you see rural America playing an essential role in national outcomes?
Utilization of technology to access a variety of highly specialized or skilled services and the legal/ethical/insurance/monetary consequences of such, including provision of telemedicine. Rural outsourcing of high demand technology jobs (cyber security, etc) that don't necessarily require a physical presence in DC, etc.  Related to the aforementioned: Broadband expansion. As demonstrated by recent presidential election, collective voice matters if can focus on priorities and rally around such.


What If...

From Beth O'Connor, Virginia Rural Health Association:
"Rural America has a hard time recruiting and retaining healthcare professionals.  A common strategy to combat this is to encourage local kids to attend medical school and then come back home.

BUT what frequently happens is that the local kid goes to college and before they even get to medical school, meets the boy/girl of his/her dreams, and the life partner is from an urban area and doesn’t see a future living in rural America.

WHAT IF… some sort of loan repayment or tax credit program was offered to the spouses of healthcare professionals to encourage them to set up a business in a rural community where their spouse was practicing?  So for example, the husband of a physician wanted to set up an accounting firm.  Hubby would be offered a $5000 loan to start the business, and for each year the business existed and the healthcare professional continued to practice in the area, a portion of the loan was forgiven."


From Brad Kik, Crosshatch Center for Art & Ecology:
"What if we implemented these three simple programs nation-wide, not with a top-down approach but as toolkits to be used by community groups in each small place? Each program addresses one of the triple bottom lines:

1) ECONOMIC: producer exchanges - small groups of 10 to 50 individuals, families, small businesses, farms and non-profits, each who agree to offer for sale something they have produced that month. Instead of US dollars use a LETS, which is as easy as a Google Sheet, or a pen and paper. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Local_exchange_trading_system

This teaches us two things - first, that we all can be producers and not consumers, whether it's a pint of jam, a dozen eggs from the backyard hens, a roast of venison, computer help, a massage or car repair, it's something we can do for ourselves. Second, that saying we can't build local trade because there aren't enough US dollars to go around is like saying we can't build a piano because we are out of inches.

2) CULTURAL: the long memory project - connect artists under 35 with elders over 60 for a weekend of storytelling about the elders' shared work in the community. Then, give the artists two weeks in a local artist-in-residency program (existing or makeshift) to create new work about what they've heard. Then, connect this art from community to community through national platforms like NPR and a central website to facilitate an extended conversation about the role of long memory in our communities.

3) ECOLOGICAL: carbon farming - develop local, state and/or national incentives for grass or tree farmers to build organic matter and sequester carbon in their soil. When good, small, ranching programs with diversified livestock and holistic management techniques seek to stockpile carbon the numbers can go through the roof.

These are three programs being implemented by Crosshatch Center for Art and Ecology with the hope that we can build national networks of small rural non-profits to implement one or all of these with us.


From Kyle Zimmer, President and CEO, First Book:
"

WHAT IF . . . CHILDREN GROWING UP IN RURAL AREAS - AND THE EDUCATORS AND PROGRAMS THAT SERVE THEM – HAD EQUAL ACCESS TO RESOURCES OF ALL KINDS TO FUEL LEARNING AND OPEN NEW OPPORTUNITIES FOR CHILDREN TO REACH THEIR POTENTIAL?

First Book is a nonprofit social enterprise and our BIG IDEA is to fuel learning and help children growing up in rural areas reach their potential.

First Book has started to work in rural communities through individual opportunities with national and local partners, fueling education with high quality affordable books and educational resources of all kinds for children ages 0 – 18.

Here’s what we know:

  • Poverty impacts many rural communities: Nearly 85 percent of the counties in the U.S. with persistent poverty are in rural areas.
  • Child poverty rates are highest in rural communities. In 2012, rural child poverty rates were 26.7 percent, compared to 17.8 percent in urban areas.
  • Rural school funding is limited. The average expenditure for rural students is $5,826 per pupil, compared to the national average of $11,153. Educators in rural communities face substantial challenges in securing crucial educational resources for their classrooms and programs.
  • Families in rural areas have some unique challenges.  Unemployment, physical isolation, and lack of transportation further challenge rural families and put children at an even greater disadvantage.

ALL kids need basic tools for learning - and educators need our support.  We are working to create opportunities for more children and their communities – and need to build new partnerships and identify funders to help us expand successful efforts like this:

  • First Book’s focus on tackling all barriers to education supports formal and informal educators working with children who often don’t have access to books and who may experience cold, hunger and stress.  Working with a wide range of publishers, content developers, research organizations, and suppliers, First Book brings a surround-sound of affordable educational resources through our online First Book Marketplace – from books for all ages and backgrounds, as well as school supplies, sports equipment, family engagement resources and digital learning games, to nonperishable food, computers, winter coats and basic hygiene items, such as toothbrushes and toothpaste.  We are working to tackle any and all barriers that stand in the way of learning for children growing up in low-income circumstances.
  • First Book helps rural communities stem summer learning loss – such as including books with Summer Meal programs, like this initiative in Davis County, Iowa  
  • First Book provides resources for rural Library Makeovers, such as this example: Children in Lyman, Wyoming have a 4-day school week.  Shortening the weekly schedule means the school district pays for one less day of electricity, transportation and staff.  But with most parents working a 5-day week, kids from this rural community flood the doors of their local library each Friday.  But funding for the library was cut two years ago.  Through First Book, the librarian was able to stock her library with recent titles, STEM books, award-winners and new series – purchasing 450 new books for the children of Lyman, thanks to First Book and funds provided by a national First Book partner.
  • First Book recruits third party funding, from corporate, foundation and individual donors, to help pay for books and resources, such as in Lyman.
  • First Book provides free downloadable tipsheets and related education resources, curated with collections of books, to make recent research assessable and actionable for those serving children in need.
  • First Book enables educators to drive the very resources they need for the children they serve.  As we build our outreach in rural areas, that means that those serving in rural communities can help direct what is most needed to support education and bridge the rural/urban divide.
  • First Book’s Stories for All ProjectTM helps further understanding in communities experiencing changing demographics and increasing diversity, as well as to provide relevant stories featuring characters with a variety of individual abilities, family structures, neighborhoods, cultures and experiences.
  • We believe sharing curated collections of books that feature diverse and inclusive content, and developing accompanying  innovative content, videos, tip sheets and other coaching tools, can support learning and a focus on the diverse lives of children in rural and urban settings. By identifying these ‘best in class’ titles, First Book elevates the quality and relevance of books in classrooms and afterschool settings. Currently, 30% of the books that First Book offers represent diverse cultures, experiences, and/or authors.

First Book works with any program serving kids in need – whether that be an afterschool program for teens, a WIC or HeadStart, a park and rec program, a Title I or Title I equivalent school, a homeless shelter, food shelf, faith-based program, library or museum, a health clinic and more.

We are building relationships to help guide and inform our rural outreach strategy – and are seeking partners who would like to engage in funding these efforts.  We would benefit greatly from working with and having support from the National Rural Assembly and your participants."