Solutions and Inspiration at Radically Rural

By Taneum Fotheringill
Associate Director of Community 

Here at the Rural Assembly, we’re big fans of anything that brings people together —especially gatherings which unite folks from across the country to celebrate the amazing work going on in rural communities. Last month in Keene, New Hampshire, I had a chance to participate in just that by attending the Radically Rural Summit organized by the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship. 

Radically Rural, which began as a summit in 2018, is now an organization offering year-round programming as well as the annual summit, all dedicated to building “powerful networks of passionate, engaged, innovative people willing to share ideas and resources and take action to strengthen their small communities across the country.” 

Of all the sessions I sat in on, my favorites were the ones sharing creative solutions that community members have been implementing. By hearing and then spreading these ideas, lessons learned, and pro tips, a community member from anywhere can better the lives of people everywhere. Here are a few that stood out to me:  

Drew, Mississippi: Creating Change 

Gloria Dickerson of We2gether Creating Change shared the process that her hometown Drew, Mississippi, went through as they invested in themselves and the Delta region. By acknowledging and honoring the aspects that community members did not like, they were able to move beyond those limitations into visionary dreams for their future. Through a series of town meetings, they identified what was needed to get where they collectively wanted to go and could pursue the resources and help they needed to get it done. Gloria centered the young people of Drew and then engaged their families which created a process that centered focused on the future of Drew.   

Aspen Institute: Lead with opportunities   

Chris Estes of the Aspen Institute’s Community Strategies Group reminded us that we must lead with opportunities and be honest about what we need.

He addressed the conference with a message of interconnectedness and encouraged attendees to never have single issue conversations in siloes. When we think about issues such as health equity as it is impacted by other factors – such as broadband connectivity and telehealth – we are able to understand much more complex issues and make progress across the board.

South Dakota: Expanding Access  

South Dakota has piloted Virtual Crisis Care to better serve community members who are experiencing mental health crises. They’ve equipped police officers, who are often the go-to first responders in rural areas, with tablets with which they can directly connect any person in distress with trained mental health providers. According to the Crime and Justice Institute, 60 percent of rural Americans live in mental health professional shortage areas making access an enormous challenge. Following South Dakota’s successful implementation, Nevada will be replicating the program. 

I left Radically Rural feeling really full – enough to keep me energized on my long trip back to the West Coast. There is so much we have in common across this great big country. So much so that a Washingtonian like me can travel from one corner to another and not feel out of place amongst the people and ideas I encountered. When it comes down to it, we all want to give back to the places we call home. 

Keep an eye out for more stories and reporting on the work shared at Radically Rural by our friends at the Daily Yonder. 

Taneum Fotheringill joins the Rural Assembly as the Associate Director of Community. Taneum takes pride in being a connector and looks forward to developing positive relationships with Rural Assembly communities across the country. Her work is informed by a lifelong interest in civics and the belief that everyone’s voice matters. 

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