One of the things I encounter working with rural communitites is bringing awareness to the queston of “what are we going to do to reach and engage the next generation?”. The more I talk with community leaders, the more I hear a response that goes something along the lines of “well, we haven’t really thought about it…”. As someone who at least tries to plan with a big picture result in mind, I had no frame for this response. I understand not having a 5-point plan with milestones, but no plan?
Then it hit me. I was listening to some music while doing some paperwork, and the song “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zepplin came on. I had heard this song many times before, but a couple of the lies decribed the state of our rural communities today so well. “If it keeps on rainin’ the levee’s gonna break. When the levee breaks, I’ll have no place to stay”. This is the state of our communities. There has not been a coordinated effort to reach the students together for many years. There has been an increase in the number of things that disctract, harm, isolate, and even end lives early for our young people. At some point, the social pressures will may be greater than a community can handle. Then what? What does that community look like? What happens with the students after High School? What then becomes the role of young pople in our rural towns?
I have seen glimpses of this in some midwestern communities over the years. The response comes in another part of the song I mentioned above… “If you’re goin’ down south, they got no work to do, if you don’t know about Chicago…” In many of our small towns, many of our best and brghtest have left for colleges far away, training for jobs that do not exist in our communitites. Few of them return. The ones that do may not be able to find jobs in a shrinking small town job market. The few that do return and find jobs may not be able to balance life with the ever-growing sizes of student debt loads. Some researchers have referred to this as the “rural brain drain”.
Now is the time to come up with solutions that will reach your young people. Solutions that build a solid foundation for the next generation. I will tell you that in a small town, not one church, one business, one organization, or individual holds the key to this. The key lies in working together to improve your community for your children and grandchildren. Because “sitting on the levee and moaning” is not going to bring solutions.