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Local business owner Sanna Clark is excited about being a part of Leadership Toole County, stating “I hope that at the final session, the participants can work together to construct an action plan that gives real ideas that we can each work on that will be mutually beneficial to each of the entities we learned about. Rural communities are at a crossroads right now, and it will take each of us to make sure our small communities in Toole County can make it through tough economic times and thrive well into the future.”

Photo by Jennifer Van Heel

Last month, nearly 30 people attended the first Leadership Toole County program organized by Community Development Director Lorette Carter. This presentation was very successful, with many of the participants gaining insight into different components of the community, including education, local media and civic organizations. 

“It was refreshing to see so many people at the first session who are genuinely concerned with the future of our community,” said Shelby business owner Sanna Clark. “It gives me great hope that we can find ways to work together to make sure Shelby and our other communities in the area can be relevant and successful in the future. When I heard from Lorette about the formation of this group, I knew I wanted to be a part of it since I’m concerned and interested in the future of Shelby and Toole County.”

The group’s primary focus is learning about the different components that make up the community.

“There are so many pieces of the puzzle that must fit together to form a successful community, and understanding each is important before we can address any issues,” said Clark.

Getting to know the different entities and the resources they provide the community is only part of what the group is about. Many of the members attending are younger, 30s and early 40s, and see this as the opportunity to get more involved in the community.

“I’m not an organizer of this group, and I don’t think I can speak to Lorette’s vision in putting the group together,” said Luke Casey. “However, I think her goal is to get a new generation of community members and leaders interested and invested in making decisions and taking action on behalf of the community. I think she is attempting to expose young community members to the different components of a healthy community, and start a dialogue about how we can get involved in those components.”

“I feel that the main focus of this group is to inform younger community members and leaders on the many dynamics of our community and to enable them to be a voice into and provide a fresh perspective on those important topics,” added Pastor Chad Scarborough. “I think that the whole community benefits from this group. While the county and those participating seem to be obvious beneficiaries, by their cooperation together our community will reap the rewards of a greater informed and empowered populous; which will enable each member to influence positive change and opportunities in the future for the greater good of all.”

Positive change and opportunities that benefit all members of the community is a common thread amongst those involved. Excited and ready to learn more and in return, be able to better give back to the community is something the group is working together to do.

“What I think we could see happen is the current groups we have working together accomplishing more, pooling our resources and all of us working as team in order to prevent one person from being overwhelmed with the commitment it takes to run some of these organizations,” said Jade Goroski. “What you don’t want to happen is to have one person volunteer and everything get dumped on that individual. When you’re sitting in a room with friends and colleagues and hear some of the current struggles it can inspire you to step up and volunteer to lend a hand.”

Pulling together and combining resources to address different issues facing the community is a primary objective of the group. The first session has already led to people stepping up and volunteering their time and talents in assisting with issues Toole County is currently facing, one being Dwaine Iverson.

“One of the major takeaways from the first session is the understanding of how the protested taxes are effecting the school systems budget and operations,” said Goroski. “Through this group Dwaine Iverson volunteered to write a letter for us to send on to our local representatives, Governor, and Department of Revenue, stressing the importance of NatuEner protested taxes being settled in a urgent and timely manner. Hopefully, through this group, there will be enough correspondence for this issue to be settled in a much more timely manner.” 

Goroski continued, “I think what it is important for the community to understand is the potential tax increase that we may see in order to cover the shortfall of NaturEner’s protested taxes. On a positive note we were able to hear about some of the great new programs the school is implementing.”

Leadership Toole County offers a sounding board for the residents to share their concerns and be heard. Members can bring back to the sessions some of the main issues and work with others in the group to find solutions or resources to make improvements.

“Leadership Toole County is providing a broader voice of our community members to be heard. It can be easy to simply exist in a community and not play a part, but this group is being given the opportunity to speak into the well-being and future of Shelby and the surrounding area,” said Pastor Chad. “I count it a very wise thing for the County to look for more voices rather than fewer regarding its future and current status, as it looks to grow and benefit all of its residents. This is also a platform for the county to better inform its citizens on where it stands on various issues and provides, again, that fresh perspective on these important topics. This group, to me, has the betterment of our entire community in mind and I feel that it will further enable our county to continue in a positive direction.”

At a time when rural communities everywhere seem to be struggling having a dedicated group of bright, ambitious, dedicated and community-minded people is an asset. And while the first session did have amazing attendance, Hovland encourages more Toole County residents to look into it.

“The turn out was incredible! With that many new faces wanting to get involved, there is no way there won’t be a positive impact on the community,” said an excited Hovland. “I was the only attendee from North Toole County, I am a Shelby native, and I really hope that some interested people from up north will attend the next one. They don’t know what they are missing.”

“The success of our community benefits all of us as community members, and that community success and growth doesn’t happen on its own,” Casey added. “It’s only with the interest and involvement of well-informed, thoughtful members that we can have a prosperous, safe and enjoyable community in which to live.” 

“I think it’s an important step toward motivating the next generation of community members to take ownership of their community and hopefully this generates important discussion and ideas about how we can improve upon the excellent work of folks like Lorette and other community leaders,” he concluded.

The next session is planned for Tuesday, Nov. 21, when law enforcement, the judicial system, legal experts, corrections and local government experts will be on hard to speak. 

If you are interested in attending the November session, please call Lorette Carter at the Office of Community Development at 424-8799.

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