A Traveling Account of Community Assets in Action, Pt 2
November 10, 2014

Guest blog by OC Intern Beto Rincón

OC Intern Beto Rincón recently had a chance to travel with Executive Director Darryl Birkenfeld on a journey through some of the communities we have the opportunity to work with in OC.  Beto will share about his experience in a two part-series on our blog, as well as the aspects of the .  Below is Part Two.

Arnold, Nebraska

Through the hard work of Arnold Economic Development Corporation, community assets are continuously improved and promoted as meaningful parts of the community in Arnold, a village of about 600 people. As for the 12 key assets of the commonwealth, Arnold promotes the arts and culture through the restoration of the Realta  movie theatre, celebrates its history by getting its library recognized as a historical site, and strongly encourages education not just through the strength of its schools but also through organizing youth engagement days for its high schoolers. In my opinion, these would all signify the people of Arnold’s commitment to establishing a certain sense of place. Perhaps the most attention-getting and impressive feature that I learned about in Arnold is the high caliber of leisure and recreation activities it has. In short, the  Sandhills Open Road Challenge or SORC race reportedly brings in $100,000 a year and hundreds of visitors to the small village. The race takes place on a 26 mile stretch of open highway that rolls right through the sandy hills just north of Arnold.

 

Arnold NE

Program book from the annual race in Arnold.

Taking a cruise of moderate speed on this highway with OC Board member and Arnold Economic Development Director Sandy Hicks and OC Executive Director Darryl Birkenfeld gave me enough of a taste of this road that I hope to make it back someday to check out the actual race!

Chadron, Nebraska

Chadron, a city of about 6000 people, was a very interesting place to visit. The downtown area has a refreshing vibrancy about it that is in large part due to the fact that Chadron State College is there to liven up the night life. The community asset of education was not only made evident by the school but also, the locals are big supporters of having the college there. One way this was made evident was from the fact that business owners gladly welcome college students into businesses such as  the Bean Broker Coffee House, Cafe, and Pub. The owner, Andrea Rising has clearly created a space in the community where people can go and expect to be treated by family. The place has an overwhelming sense of community gathering that will be hard to forget.

Chardin NE

In addition to the Bean Broker, Chadrin also has a unique museum experience for visitors in the Museum of the Fur Trade, located just outside of Chadrin. This museum is a great example of the preservation of the History and Culture of Chadrin and this part of the country.

 

Pine Ridge SD

Pine Ridge, South Dakota

The visit to the Pine Ridge reservation, home to about 40,000 natives was an absolutely unique experience for me. The trip also served as a reunion of sorts with Mr. Steve Hernandez, a Oglalla Lakota Tribe member whom I had met at the OC Orientation retreat this summer and a very key figure in the initiatives supported by OC on the reservation. Amongst the many issue issues that the reservation has historically faced, I saw great initiatives being taken by Steve, people that work close to him but also others who truly believe in the drive of the people that live on the reservation. While conditions on the reservation such as the unemployment rate and lack of financial credit, are unlike those that most of us can fathom as far as the unemployment rate and lack of financial credit, I was truly inspired by what I was seeing as a response by the people themselves.

Education was just one asset which has been built upon on the reservation. As I understand it, the people of the reservation have established their own university which is comprised of 9 decentralized campuses. Within the university “campus” which we visited, thehistory of the earlier peoples and their demise at the hands of the white man has been well documented, compiled and presented in a rather impressive manner there on campus through an on campus museum.

Finally, we were also able to observe an example of how the community is contributing to their own foodshed not just through growing their own food but also teaching the younger generation how to farm. This is especially important and continues to be a crucial point in that grocery stores on the reservation are sparse and limited in their selection, contributing to the various health issues on the reservation.

Reflections

This trip allowed me to drop in on many different communities and get a feel for how the community members interact with these assets. Rather than focus on what these communities may be lacking, the focus seemed to be more about what was there and how those could be utilized to their upmost potential.

This was truly inspirational for me as I look at my own city.  Seeing what is currently happening in Taos, for example, gives me hope in that despite a major push for more industry and job creation, hard work and dedication can still also be put towards successfully establishing a community food system that is “just”, in this case one that is fair for/to all,  in Seguin. This trip really motivated a drive in me to be creative with the possibilities and the possible outcomes that come with trying to improve one’s own community. It also motivated me be an advocate in my community for my beliefs having to do with what I see as being good for my community despite those things that I may see as discouraging.