“For me, collaboration—to labor together—captures the sentiment and essence of the rural ethos. Just as one cannot raise the barn alone, a single organization or group cannot regenerate rural towns and spaces.”
As we leave the struggles of 2020 behind us, I want to take a moment and reflect on the lessons learned from a year of uncommon isolation, disrupted community interactions, and changes in the nature of communication. What I find is that, despite the pressures to keep us apart, I have spent the majority of the year finding ways to connect with others in the community. I discovered that when we are facing individual hardships it is essential that we have a community that offers opportunities and reasons to act together, through unifying work, to find common comfort.
At Monmouth College, we recently inaugurated a Rural Education Initiatives (REDI) program, partnering with other community stakeholders, to create sustainable rural revitalization and renewal efforts centered around education, economy, and local ecology. The Covid outbreak forced us to spend this year focused on planning, with few opportunities to activate those plans, but now we are ready to begin the work of change and transformation. If REDI is to be successful, it will be due to a single factor—collaboration.
For me, collaboration—to labor together-- captures the sentiment and essence of the rural ethos. Just as one cannot raise the barn alone, a single organization or group cannot regenerate rural towns and spaces. It requires many hands and voices to give expression to collective ideals. During the past year, I have found that all people and groups we approached to discuss our REDI program were excited, enthusiastic, and prepared to enlist. The outpouring of those committed to contributing resources and cementing relationships was overwhelming. Ideas, energy, and cooperative projects naturally flow from each conversation as we move toward a shared understanding of the rural experience.
Our community includes the YMCA YAcademy program, Warren-Henderson Farm Bureau, FFA, Compeer Financial, United Way, Rural Schools Collaborative, Galesburg Community Foundation, Monmouth-Roseville School District, United School District, Jamieson Center, Grand Victoria Foundation, Monmouth Chamber of Commerce, Teton Science Schools, and Monmouth College. These partners, together with other members of the community who have offered their time, networks, and monetary support, have already started building an infrastructure of social projects that engage educationists, the economy, diverse cultural aspirations, and the agrarian philosophy of progress. The path forward is through a collaborative impetus ensuring individual engagement across the lifespan coupled with rural identification and success.
As these partnerships continue to expand, and the common vision coheres, I have begun to realize that the people and local organizations I approached were all far ahead of me--it was not so much they were excited to join the REDI program--they are really excited that REDI is joining this area’s pre-existing collaborative.
We invite you to learn more about our work with Monmouth College and our Illinois Hub.