November 13, 2006
23 Communities Apply for Next Horizons Program
Twenty-three communities have applied to participate in the North Dakota State University Extension Service’s next Horizons program, which starts later this month.
Horizons is an 18-month community leadership program to help rural North Dakota communities with fewer than 5,000 residents that are struggling with poverty, shrinking populations and dwindling resources. The St. Paul, Minn.-based Northwest Area Foundation awarded NDSU Extension a grant for the program.
“Horizons believes that if small communities can strengthen their leadership systems, they may be able to reverse economic and population declines,” says Lynette Flage, NDSU Extension’s Horizons program coordinator.
The 23 communities were among 50 eligible for the program. To be considered, communities were required to send at least five residents to one of the six Horizons showcases Extension staff held throughout the state in October. The showcases gave participants a taste of the program, provided them with leadership and poverty-reduction strategies and connected them with people from other communities interested in working on the same issues.
A total of 320 people attended the showcases.
“The turnout at the showcases was incredible,” Flage says. “People left feeling hopeful about their communities and the ways they could make a difference together.”
Once communities are selected for the program, the next step is for them to work with NDSU Extension to organize study circles and a LeadershipPlenty program.
Study circles are community conversations. Groups of about 30 residents come together to discuss poverty and other community concerns. The groups develop possible solutions with help from facilitators.
LeadershipPlenty is a nine-unit program the Pew Partnership for Civic Change in Charlottesville, Va., developed. The program teaches people to become effective leaders by learning to build partnerships, manage conflict and work as a community to solve problems and create opportunities.
After completing those steps, NDSU Extension will work with the communities to tailor a Horizons program to meet their specific needs. The grant allows Extension to hire staff to help communities obtain the training, support and other resources they need to overcome issues such as out-migration of residents, particularly young people; a growing elderly population; low-paying jobs; and lack of funding to improve essential city services.
This Horizons program is the second phase of a partnership NDSU Extension and the Northwest Area Foundation formed in 2003. The foundation is a nonprofit organization working to overcome poverty in an eight-state region. During the first program, the foundation provided a grant to aid five North Dakota communities - Ashley, Beach, Ellendale, Mott and Regent - and Eureka, S.D.
As a result of the initial program, 27 communities throughout North Dakota are gaining moderate-income housing. Residents from communities in the program convinced the 2005 Legislature to pass a law allowing towns of fewer than 5,000 residents to form housing authorities and issue bonds to pay for moderate-income, as well as low-income, housing.
Other results from the program included a cell phone tower being erected near Ellendale, which improved the area’s telecommunication service. Also, communities developed strategic plans for their futures, involved young people in community decision making, encouraged more people to become leaders and explored ways to help residents feel better about themselves and their communities.