About 50 turned out for a youth leadership gathering held at the Granite Falls Legion on Friday.
Locating spirited youngsters in excess of the high school aged cohort, can be pretty tough to find in rural in Minnesota. But for years Clean Up the River Environment (CURE) has stood contrary to this narrative, drawing young and impassioned individuals drawn by the opportunity for meaningful service, collaborations and creative expressions in the context of a restored, recreational and aesthetically engaging environment. And so it seems appropriate that the Montevideo based river and environmental policy and advocacy group is stepping to the fore to develop a network through which such youth can connect and potentially leverage shared resources.
This past Friday, some 50 local and Minnesota River Watershed area youth gathered at the Legion in Granite Falls during CURE’s gathering of rising leaders, “Don’t Worry; We’ve Got This,” to discuss the networking concept as well as other ideas and opportunities to revitalize rural areas and effectively re-write the longstanding narrative of decline.
Organized and facilitated by CURE Director of Communications and Engagement Sarina Otaibi Engagement and Watershed Sustainability Program Coordinator Ariel Herrod, it was the first of what is hoped to be many social networking opportunities geared toward the 1981 to 2000 age cohort, “the Millenials, whether in a physical or online scenario, that are still being defined.
A welcome by Mayor Dave Smiglewski opened the meeting with a tip of the hat to the civic engagement and noted that like Otaibi, who is also a Granite Falls City Council member, he also joined onto the council as its youngest member at the age of 26. Recalling the awkwardness of learning the ropes, he also acknowledged the importance of elder guidance and encouragement that served to inspire him to continue on as councilman and then mayor––spanning nearly four decades in which he has led the community through two floods, a tornado and flood mitigation.
“I think some communities are just glad to have people step up and do whatever it takes,” the Mayor told that audience. Everything you do sends a message. It’s a huge message that you showed up today.
Following a brief overview of CURE intentions for inspiring rural leadership, Otaibi and Herrod turned it over to a panel of presenters covering a gamut of expertise from arts to community demographics. Lastly, those in attendance utilized Art of Hosting methods in small group discussions.
A strong themes emerging from the event was the idea of mutual respect and “radical trust” between varying demographics so that new ideas, created in respect of tradition, are allowed to come forth and not inhibited by outdated or destructive models.
Given the numbers of individuals who attended the gathering for five hours on a Friday, and then stuck around to socialize long after, left no question that the passion and interest is there to provide the revitalizing energy of which rural communities have so long been in dire need.
To emphasize the factual nature of the statement, included in the follwing is an excerpt from a community profile published by the Advocate Tribune 50 years ago.
We now bring to a close our story of the history, growth and development of our city of the past 90 years. In this short period of looking back over the changes that have come about in that space of time we have come to some conclusions which we offer for your serious consideration as vital to our future as a community:
It is impossible for any community to grow and prosper unless the citizens of each generation are willing to accept their responsibilities and obligations as citizens to promote and perpetuate the positive, rather than the negative, aspects of community life. Without care and nourishment the vine dies, without flower or fruit. The community is like that. It requires attention and care. Unless a community grows and keeps up with the times, it will soon lag behind its aggressive neighbors and soon become just another town.
So we say again, as we said in our dedication: Granite Falls is a city of character and individuality. There have always been leaders willing to take a stand and to fight out the issues, willing to shoulder the responsibilities, accepting curse and consequence, the price we must pay for leadership.
We have benefitted by the fore- sight of men like Henry Hill, and others who made sacrifices to in- sure the future of this community.
We have seen what industry can do for a community since the arrival of the Northern States Pow- er company. Once our rural communities were all dependent upon agriculture for their existence.
During the past 10 or 15 years we have lost more than 50 of our best customers, the farmers. Every year the competition increases and more and more farmers leave the land. The average farmer spends more than $10,000 a year for living and farming expenses.
Multiply this by 50, and figure the loss to the community. We can sit back and say, it's. too bad, and sympathize with each other, but how about finding an answer? And where is the answer?
For" lack of vision, the people perish. For lack of courage to make decisions, to plan ahead, communities fade and die. We want our successors to know that we, too, had visions; we, too, had dreams, and worked to make them come true.
It seems to us that in this year 1962 we can see the beginning of a new era for Granite Falls and
its environs. We are at the beginning of an era of revolutionary change in the economy of the re- gion. How will you, personally, measure up to the task that is before us?
Will be a builder who works with care, Measuring life with a rule and square, Or will you be a wrecker who walks the town
Content with the labor of tearing down?
Now that the slough on west 9th avenue has been filled in another of Granite's watery landmarks is
gone forever. In the early years there was a long- wooden bridge over the slough just west of the DuNord- hotel on 8th avenue. In wet years the athletic field was often covered with water, but it has now been tiled and drained.
The long and short of it, is that none the happenings to rural areas over the past 50 years should come as any sort of surprise (the information was there at least)––especially since so communities by and large did not respond to calls for change and instead became doubly more dependent on an unequal system that has the power to dictate these communities’ livelihoods.
And so, just as Smiglewski and Otaibi’s similar paths concerning community leadership have served to bring the past, present and future full circle––so to does today’s economic and agricultural circumstances that again suggests the need to Grow or Die, albeit at a far more bombastic level. And without perhaps a second chance this time.