“Commonwealth consists of local and regional assets that can be enhanced, preserved, and invested in to generate more resources over a long-term horizon.”
The town of St. Francis (or Sainty as the locals call it) and the surrounding community are built on tradition and a long legacy of being culturally rich. The things that make this small rural town special are similar to what make all small communities in America’s heartland unique. The OC has a term for these characteristics, “commonwealths.” While I have been in this community for just over a year now, it is easy to place events and characteristics into each of the twelve categories and it is difficult to keep them from intertwining through three or four areas.
“No matter how financially poor or rich a town may be, there are 12 key assets already present in any community.”
Education: As an educator at the local high school, I have first hand knowledge of the public education system. Smaller class sizes allow for personalized instruction and give educators an opportunity to really get to know their students. Outside of the public area there are many options for education. The town recreation committee seeks out locals to provide classes year-round in art, cooking and specialty crafts. If you are a learner of any age you aren’t hard pressed to find a class.
Health: Sainty is home to the county hospital and has both a clinic and pharmacy. Like the educators, the clinic and hospital staff is able to meet their patients on a different level than those in larger areas. A year ago I went into the clinic with pneumonia and met a parent of a student and a school board member before I was even sent to the pharmacy and home to rest. The town recreation committee organizes town wide sports competitions and the school offers many opportunities for students to exercise and be active.
Leisure and Recreation: It is not uncommon to find the residents of this town wondering
around on foot, on bike or even by golf cart just enjoying town. The county runs the movie theater and it is the best place to find kids of all ages on weekends. The local coffee shop is always hopping as people meet up with friends and enjoy a “fancy” drink. The full schedule of recreational events can be found posted at most of the local establishments.
Spirituality: The obvious place that most people will find spirituality in this town is one of the many churches that open their doors every Sunday. There are more options than most people could visit in a month of Sundays (no pun intended). In addition to Sunday services many of the church goers also gather week mornings or evenings in small groups for fellowship, coffee and non-denominational Bible Studies. Outside of the obvious there are opportunities for locals to enjoy fellowship of those around them and nature to find their sense of spirituality.
History: Last summer the town celebrated their 100th birthday and a town doesn’t get that old without being rich in history and tradition. The local museum is an annual visit for grade school students and passersby. Some of the families are descendants of pioneers to the area and they love to tell you about how things were in the past. Two towns joined together in the 1800’s to form St. Francis and local resident Kaye O’Brien or any other the other museum board members are happy to tell you the history surrounding the area.
Arts and Culture: St. Francis is home to a unique gem as it is privileged to have the Quincy Street Gallery. There is a rotating display currently in the art gallery and the managers of the gallery are proficient at putting together shows and displays for the community. There are many local artists that also display their work on occasion. If you want a feel for the local culture I recommend spending an early morning at the gas station drinking coffee with the local farmers or at the school during a sporting event.
Water Cycle: Located over the Ogallala Aquifer and on the (dry) banks of the Republican River, Sainty is positioned where early settlers knew their water needs could be met. Unfortunately, like most of the country, the drought and old school farming practices have depleted the water source. As agriculture is the main industry in the area many steps have been taken to unsure that the future generations can continue to live here.
Wildlife and the Natural World: During the spring months all the high school students talk about is going fishing. In the fall, hunting season is the excuse given for absences. Parents and students alike take advantage of the unique geography of the breaks and both natural and man-made ponds to enjoy wildlife and sport hunting. The Riverwalk path is a great place to take a little nature walk and see what you can find.
Soil and Mineral Cycle: The Soil Conservation District works with local farmers and ranchers to help insure the longevity of the soil and land in the area. As a region, continue to try to rebuild the topsoil that was lost during the Dust Bowl and through poor management practices of the past. In the grade school and high school, students are taught better management practices through practical application in gardens and lab activities. Educating the future generations is the best chance at success.
Foodshed: Agriculture is the main industry in the region but Sainty is still considered a food desert by some professional. The food and products that are raised here are shipped to other locations before being processed and sent back to the grocery store shelves. Many residents have their own private gardens and can supply some of their own fresh vegetables in the summer months. The High Plains Food Coop is a locally operated cooperative that allows local producers to gather their produce and distribute it though parts of Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado. Just this morning there was a farmers market at the coffee shop on Main Street that allows residents the chance to enjoy the fresh, local produce.
Renewable Energy: If there was one of the twelve commonwealths that stand above the others in room for improvement it would be this one. Sainty has the opportunity to harness renewable and natural energy but has yet to really explore their options. The recycling center that the town provides is a great resource but steps can be taken here to make it easier to use.
Sense of Place: This category is where Sainty has many other small communities beat (I might be biased). There is a tradition in this community of the best and brightest students going off to higher education and then returning to invest their skills in this town. Most of the adults my age in this town are locals, high school sweethearts and people that are making a difference in the town that they love. Each generation adds a new layer of history and tradition to the community and they know that they have the power to grow this area. Locals gather for holidays, homecomings, alumni events and fellowship year-round and you are hard pressed to find someone that isn’t connected to another in one way, shape or form.
What does your community have to offer in the twelve commonwealth areas? I challenge you to sit down and make a list of the strengths and weakness of your local community and then take one action step to help improve your town.