In late 2017, I was invited to participated in a Catalyst group, and I attended my first meeting about a year ago. These are groups around rural Nebraska that bring together “change agents” to provide networks, support, training, and development to individuals to have a larger impact on rural communities. I am in the 14th group. CAT 9 wanted to pass forward their experience, and arranged a funding source to bring in Deb Brown, co-founder of SaveYour.Town to a current catalyst member’s community. When I received the invitation to apply for this, I wrote out the proposal and submitted it last fall. This was a competitive process, and I was pleased when CAT 9 and Deb Brown choose York to visit. Many of you saw the articles, emails, ads and social media promoting meetings and participated, or sent in feedback. We thank those that participated! Below is a summary of the report.
March 18 to 21 of 2019 Deb Brown visited York, Nebraska for an Embedded Community Experience (ECE). An ECE is when SaveYour.Town staff come to town and meet as many people as they can, see what they have to offer, stay with a local resident (thank you Jim and Jamie Ulrich!) and have conversations to move the community forward. In this ECE we began the process of Gather Your Crowd and learned how to use the Idea Friendly method. We brought together positive people to crowd-source the future. SaveYour.Town developed the Idea Friendly method for small towns to do big things. There are three parts: Gather Your Crowd around your big idea, create a powerful network by building connections, and then take small steps to achieve the big idea.
During Deb’s time here, we met with nine different groups, held two public input sessions, completed tours, and stopped in at various places. In the course of the visit Deb spoke with nonprofits, government officials, entrepreneurs, business owners, students and citizens. She asked all of them “what do you want?” This report focuses on those answers and gives stories and suggestions of ideas we can use. Deb Brown made a point of mentioning “I do want to emphasize that you have a lovely community doing a whole bunch of things that are working. It really was a pleasure to visit and spend time with you.”
Far and away, every answer to the question “What do you want for York” was community belonging and involvement. This includes better communication among locals, being ready for the new job market, and support for all the schools including the college. Welcoming newcomers into the community was discussed. We are all guilty of getting into a routine, and not always inviting someone new along. A stronger focus on quality of life was important and identified in at meetings and in the report, however, many people identify quality of life differently. Another outcome of the report was people want locals to notice what is already here, and to starting local when they shop. There is a misconception that you must drive to Lincoln (or elsewhere) to get what you need. Deb spoke while she was here about starting a local hashtag program. One group came up with #StartLocalYork, which could represent York County. As various groups visited, I was glad to hear an underlying theme that what they wanted would impact the whole county. When asked what was here, they talked about county-wide activities.
During the discussions, people stated they wanted later business hours. Deb pointed out “70% of shopping occurs after 6 pm, and the best money-making times for retail are on the weekends.” She also recognized that owners of stores want to spend time with their families. One of the links in the report gives insights on how this business challenge can be tackled, such as using shared staff, which would be people that could work at more than one store and the businesses coordinating their schedules. The report also recommends businesses stay open during community events. If you’ve tried it before, and it didn’t work, try taking the store out front to get people’s attention. During her visit, she strongly suggested that if businesses changed their hours or added a marketing strategy, to stick with it for at least a year. If it’s evening hours, it’s better if several in the same area participate.
The report talks about wayfinding signage (directional signage pointing to destinations like the downtowns or parks), adding color, art, creating pedestrian friendly areas, and involving the youth! There was discussion on a community calendar that could serve the entire county, which made the report. It also has a marketing section that every business and community in the County could benefit from. There are several resources listed in the report. If we start in York County, and then share what else there is to do in our region, it will showcase a great quality of life for anyone that is looking at our area.
One challenge Deb made to me while she was here, was to not always post on Facebook as YCDC. She told me community members and business leaders who are connected to me on Facebook want to see that I’m shopping local, and it’s another way of promoting York County businesses. I believe this applies to every community leader. Are you being seen at community events? Are you starting local? Are you sharing these activities? Or are your only social posts when you’re at a concert or out for dinner in other aeas (Lincoln/Omaha/Grand Island)? Besides that, it helps share what’s available here. I can’t say how many times I heard during a meeting that week “I didn’t know you sold those or did that” from an attendee. I’m challenging you! Let’s flood social media with our businesses showcasing what they have when we are starting local.
Deb really stressed during meetings that most of what people want to see does not require money or permission at the start. It really starts with a group coming up with an idea, and then identifying small steps to prove the need. I love her idea of community ninjas. What’s that? It’s a group of people that see something needs done, and just do it. Not for credit or recognition, but just calling your connections and saying let’s do this! It doesn’t take permission or funding from anyone to pick up trash, hose down some dirty public art or playground equipment, or to personally welcome people to the area. Some ideas will eventually require money, but if you can build a base, need, and market before investing in a larger endeavor, it’s a safer endeavor.
I’m excited to see where this effort leads. Since Deb was here, I’ve had a couple of entrepreneurs reach out to me. I’ve also been invited to a community calendar (for the county) meeting, and I believe we’re making headway on that. Some old conversations are now restarting, which is exciting to see. I hope you take the time to read her report.