Building Community for the Common Good

By Julie Tesch, President & CEO

Do you know what the bedrock of any town is, rural or urban?  Community. 

In this age of technology, it is very easy to isolate yourself.  You can be listening to a podcast on your phone while you are emailing for work and playing a game at the same time.  If you wanted, you could chat with friends and family without ever having to say a spoken word.  Just message them on any communication app or email and you don’t have to have any actual face-to-face contact.  While this all sounds like genius to some people, especially introverts, we’re starting to recognize that this trend is disintegrating our sense of community.

Living in a rural area can at times be challenging.  In some rural areas there just aren’t a lot of people to talk to or be involved in organizations with, so the internet is a fabulous way to connect with people around the world without having to leave your rural home.  Again, this sounds great until you realize that you don’t know your neighbors and very few people are volunteering for community organizations.

And yet we rely on those activities.  Suddenly, the church is closing, the exercise classes are cancelled, and the Girl Scout troop is no longer.  Why?  Because there is nobody to lead them.  Not because of lack of people but for lack of interest. In a larger community, you can typically rely on the fact that “someone else” will handle those volunteer projects.  In rural areas, that “someone else” just might be you.

Rural areas rely more on the public good to get the job done.  Just the sheer lack of population makes citizens of rural areas more likely to be involved in community, church and fraternal groups.  Somebody has to organize the town parade, right?

The problem is that fewer people are stepping up to help the community.  We are so into ourselves and our phones that we aren’t thinking of the common good of those right around us.  Before we realize it, that parade we take our children to every year is gone.  Why?  Because nobody stepped forward to organize it. 

There are plenty of people in rural areas with plenty of talents to offer, and you’re probably one of them.  Why not see how you can get involved?  Maybe it’s volunteering at your local library or taking part in raking leaves for the elderly.  There is always someone to help if you look hard enough. 

Now, I’m not asking you to plan the town parade, but I bet somewhere there’s a niche where you and your special skills with a computer or music or art or heavy lifting would fit right in. The only way rural America is going to continue to survive is if we all offer our talents to make sure that our communities are thriving. 

A town can receive all the government support, all the economic development funds and all the construction projects it wants, but that town will not flourish unless the residents of that town are connected with each other.

In our research, we hear time and again that people are moving to rural areas because of the feeling of community.  We need to continue to foster that feeling in our rural areas so that we can have rural communities in the future for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.

So, what do you say, can I sign you up to rake leaves for your neighbors?