If I asked you, “what would make your small town thrive?”…would you have an idea? Is there something that’s been on your mind that you’d love to kickstart in your community?
Maybe you’re thinking of a new event that would bring in visitors from out of town.
Maybe you know how to bring in new volunteers for that decades-old committee that needs a breath of fresh air.
Maybe you know of a family looking for a new town to call home.
Or maybe you have dreams of a new type of business that your small town could benefit from.
Many of us have ideas for how grow our small towns into the future, but we don’t know exactly where to start. And at the same time in many small towns, we have to overcome stigmas of failed undertakings in the days of yore and comments from locals of “this is the way it’s always been.”
So as movers and shakers looking to bring new things to our small towns, it can be intimidating to initiate large scale change.
Today at Small-Minded Podcast, we’re sharing the story of one small town in Iowa, and how the citizens in that community are embracing change and seeing positive returns as a result.
One world you’ll hear me say over and over again is “community.” No one in a small town can accomplish big change without uniting others around a common cause.
In my small town of Cascade, Iowa (pop. 2500), many large-scale projects were initiated by an individual or small group with a big dream. But it wasn’t until those few people tapped into resources from the larger community and community-based organizations that real change was initiated.
- In the early 2000s, a couple of local teachers had the idea to take the high school’s speech/drama department off of the stage in the gymnasium and into its own proper auditorium. By uniting alumni from the school, key citizens, and creating a nonprofit, the CARE foundation has not only constructed an auditorium, but it has been an integral part of funding educational projects in our community for over 15 years.
- In a small town, childcare is an essential, but often hard-to-find, resource for working parents. In the mid 2010s, Cascade’s only daycare center was operating out of a repurposed convert originally constructed in 1966. This meant outdated infrastructure, narrow hallways, rooms in need of repair, and lack of space for new and growing families. It was time for a new facility. The daycare’s director had a vision, and united other daycare employees, parents, grandparents, and community members, to start the “Building for our Future” campaign and get the ball rolling. First they conducted a feasibility study in Cascade to see if citizens would support constructing a new center. With the results of the study indicating that it was doable and a dedicated committee of volunteers, a capital campaign began. And less than two years later a $1+ million daycare center was opened to the children of the community.
What commonality do the above stories have? Dedicated people who were willing to share their ideas and allow others to help their visions become reality.
Without people who cared an awful lot about the future of your town, you will not be able see these major projects through.
Volunteering takes dedication.
Sticking with a singular project over the duration of years takes tenacity and perseverance.
Coming together as a team to use each other’s unique gifts is what will keep you motivated and making continuous progress.
Figure out who in your community you can go to for creative ideas, who can keep your team grounded and inspired, and who has access to resources, both capital and interpersonal.
You’ll need a lot of people united by a common vision to bring new to your small town.
All the motivation and volunteers in the world still need to learn how to push in the same direction and get small wins under their belt to achieve success. And sometimes that strategy your town needs will require you to reach out to regional organizations like Economic Development Committees or Community Foundations to connect you with grant writers, strategic planners, and the like to help you make better progress towards your goals.
Having partners from larger organizations can help guide you in the process of large-scale projects, and help you tap into local and state resources that you may not otherwise know about. Having an objective third party can also be helpful when you reach a plateau in your progress or need to navigate roadblocks along the way.
Bringing new things to a small town is a lot of work, but it’s work that is necessary if we want to see our small town live on for decades to come.
Having people who are willing to share ideas and volunteer, strategic resources you can consult for help, and a community of allies who unite behind a common vision are critical for bringing new ideas to small towns.
If you read through this and feel like “yeah that’s great for you, but what about me?” and you don’t have all three of these right now, believe me when I say…
All it takes is one person to get this started: you.
If you have a great idea that you just know in your heart will bring great things to your town, share your ideas with someone and take one small step to making your idea into a reality. Many times one small step is enough to bring about big change.
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