Rural by choice
By Jennifer M. Latzke
Much has been said and written about the migration of rural youth to urban centers and what a tragedy it is for the communities they leave behind. I'd wager not a morning goes by around the coffee pot at your co-op where the topic doesn't turn to which kids are leaving for the lights of the big city and never coming back.
But what about those who stay behind and choose to be rural, or their spouses from outside the community?
What can we do for them? What entices them to settle and raise their families in our communities? Is it obligation? Is it default?
Let's face it, there's not much rural picturesque beauty that can outweigh a higher paycheck in the city.
There's a grassroots effort out of the Kansas Sampler Foundation called the PowerUp movement that aims to answer some of these questions and remind people that it's OK to be "rural by choice."
The group is loosely organized but it has five core values: To be positive and yet constructive; to act with purpose; to respect ideals and remain neutral in politics, religion and social views; to appreciate history and tradition; and to support local businesses.
Sure, young people can get involved in more traditional civic and social groups and may find their niche there. But this group of 21- to 39-year-olds who are rural by choice is looking outside of those traditional venues to brainstorm ways of improving the quality of life in rural towns. And some of their ideas are phenomenal.
Last fall I attended a gathering of PowerUps near Jetmore at the request of a couple of my friends involved in the movement. What I saw was inspiring.
For example, one PowerUp shared that they have community movie nights in the town square during the summer, where they show a movie on a large screen and families can watch on blankets under the stars. Local civic groups provide snacks and the Chamber of Commerce helps with coordinating the project.
Another shared how their Main Street Association hosts "Pot Parties" in the spring--where they plant petunias in the flower pots along Main Street and make a block party out of it.
From creative financing of start-up businesses, to social gatherings for young people, to finding affordable housing in a rural town, no topic is off the table for PowerUps to discuss. It's crowd-sourcing on a rural scale.
I think the PowerUps are on to something. I think that the health of our rural communities isn't in just the number of people we can attract to them, but what we offer once they're settled here. And, it's going to take creativity, optimism and energy to find the answers.
We're rural by choice, not by default. We live and work in small towns because we find value in it for our businesses and our families. We have to start giving people reasons that they should be rural by choice too.
Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or firstname.lastname@example.org.