By Darryl Birkenfeld, Ph.D.
Nearly 10 years ago, Ogallala Commons conducted its first Youth Engagement Day (YED) in Atwood, KS (October, 2006). Since that beginning, we have helped organize more than 25 YEDs in rural communities located in Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.
With recent grants from new funding partners in Colorado and Texas, OC is currently gearing up to conduct five YEDs for more than 400 high school students during the fall semester. These half-day gatherings help students to connect to their “E-Dreams” and to learn about entrepreneurial skills and career options that can create pathways back to their hometowns or regions. The YEDs also convey a vital message to youth: “Your hometown and region need you and we invite you to consider coming back!” Other key features of the YED are the young entrepreneur panel, speed career exploration, and learning about next steps like Youth Entrepreneur Fairs and OC Community Internships. In 2015, a total of nine OC Community Interns applied to and were accepted into our program after attending YEDs some months earlier.
As a result of a $49,821 grant from the Daniels Fund, Ogallala Commons and its partners are launching a youth engagement project for seven counties of southeast Colorado (Baca, Bent, Crowley, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Otero, and Prowers). Phase I of this project will include partner building and two Community Champions Workshops, and will culminate in two YEDs: one at Lamar Community College on Nov. 17th, and another YED at Otero Jr. College in La Junta, CO, on Nov. 18th.
“Across the state – and in fact, across the nation – we are finding that after high school or college, many youth wish to return to their home communities,” said Julie Worley of the Rural Economic Developer and Project Implementation Team based in Rocky Ford, Colorado.
The Daniels Fund, established by cable television pioneer, Bill Daniels, is a private charitable foundation dedicated to making life better for the people of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, through its grant program, scholarship program, and ethics initiative.
Additionally, through collaborations with other partners, OC will conduct YEDs at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, TX on September 16th, at Floydada, TX on Oct. 7th, and at Clovis, NM on Nov. 4th.