Last week’s Chinook Observer reprinted a speech that our home-grown visionary, Madeline Dickerson Moore, delivered at the Rural Women’s Summit in South Carolina. (Find it here: https://tinyurl.com/Moore-Rural).
Maddie weaved her growing up narrative partially through the thread of her father Mike Dickerson and his business partner John Berdes’ creation of an arm of ShoreBank Chicago (the mother ship community development financial institution) that they established in Ilwaco a couple decades ago. I worked for five years in the Ilwaco office — my desk adjacent to Mike’s — and from that distance watched Maddie grow into the impressive adult she has become. Her senior project at Hilltop was a film festival — and we so need a bigger spectrum of cinema on the Peninsula! She also broadened the perspective at the Chinook Observer when she interned there.
Maddie and other returning millennials like Jessika Tantisook, Jared Oakes, and Tiffany Turner are attempting to bust into the good ole boy club that has reigned for so long on the Peninsula by adding their voices to local boards and governance organizations, and by starting businesses that upturn the apple cart, or should we say cranberry basket. (Jared and Jessika started the first organic cranberry bog and opened up the Seattle marketplace for high-end juices.)
Maddie’s words have me — and should have us all — thinking about what makes a healthy, sustainable, rural community. The world is changing fast, and the dangers we thought were on the horizon — or at least far enough in distance or time not to affect us much, e.g. climate change, government corruption, digital technology, immigration concerns — have hit us right where it hurts, where we live.
Now’s the time for some deep conversation about how to keep our little neck of the woods livable. We know it’s stunningly beautiful, but how can it also be, in Maddie’s words, “diverse, vibrant, and resilient”? Madeline has tackled this question by forming “Rethinking Rural,” a growing movement of young folks dedicating themselves to this project. (See: https://tinyurl.com/Rethinking-Rural-story)
There’s probably no set of “right answers” to this question — each region will have its own unique strengths and challenges — but I’m sure we can find common solutions. The millennials are leading the way on this; but/and us gray-heads should join them. Yes, we’ve probably all started to hear that refrain, “OK, Boomer!” meaning “Yeah, yeah — you created this problem, now just get out of the way.” But we have resources and a historical perspective on things that have gone sideways in our lifetimes. And, it’s true, one of our tasks will be to gently let go of our positions of power in the community and be willing to make way for and mentor new young leaders.
Governance structures need revision
I’m going to reiterate something I’ve mentioned before: our Peninsula governance structures are inadequate for our current challenges. Our Pacific County commissioner system was established in the middle of the last century and does not represent the reality on the ground. The north end of the Peninsula — the largest base of county revenue and population — has one voice in a three-commissioner governing panel.
We have only two municipalities — Long Beach and Ilwaco — so all the administrative business of Klipsan, Ocean Park, Nahcotta, Oysterville, and Surfside falls under the purview of the county. (Think abandoned car removal, fireworks issues, building codes and compliance, neighbor disputes — you name it!) The boundaries of our port districts are also radically skewed. Properties and homeowners on the Willapa bayside of Sandridge, from the Nahcotta Post Office south, though mere blocks away from Port of Peninsula in Nahcotta, can't even vote on port issues!
Groups like Wellspring, created to fill in the gaps left by inadequate community governing structures, provide both financial and leadership support on issues affecting our health and welfare. They've pulled together grant monies to support the decrease of opioid addiction, youth alcohol use, and domestic violence; and to increase parenting education, counseling and policing supervision in the schools, youth leadership development, and proper drug disposal, among other issues.
Boys and Girls Club is another group that formed to pick up the need primarily of families with school-age students. Until the doors recently closed, it provided a safe place after school for kids first through 12th grade. The staff assisted in extra curricular activities, helped students with homework, and provided parental education and support.
As Maddie says, “We’re all in this together and the welfare of our children, whether you have kids or not, is the responsibility of our whole community. We do need governance structures that fit the century we’re in, and we need to do a better job of attracting new people to be a part of them. A position on the city council is nearly impossible for anyone who has a young family. When it doesn’t pay anything and there are multiple meetings a month how can you be a key part of the structure if you're not retired? That limits ideas — you're getting only a homogenized view.”
Latchkey kids and silos
The struggles of Boys and Girls Club illustrate perfectly another aspect of small communities. As Board Chair Mary Goeltz says, “Our club has a monthly operating cost of $14,500 and membership fees [paid by families] is only 2.5 percent of our budget. Our auction used to be our largest fundraiser, but in recent years it hasn't been as successful. A lot of different organizations are doing auctions now, so there is a lot more competition.” (By the way, if you'd like to donate to get the Boys and Girls Club reopened, you can do that online here: https://spccf.org/)
Maddie again, “We can't work in silos. You can't pull apart healthcare from education from childhood development from retirement resources — that doesn't make any sense. They all work together. We need a larger view of what education means: it’s not just a 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. school day. How do we educate not only our young people but our elders too? We need a holistic view of our community.”
Mary says, “We’re not giving up on Boys and Girls Club. The kids loved the place and had a good time and the staff were great. It’s been a difficult decision because we don't have a lot of day care possibilities in our community. So we know that now there are families who have kids going to work with parents after school, or going home with a friend, or just going home by themselves. Maybe we need to do something different. Is Boys and Girls Club the right answer? Does it need to be in a different location?”
To address some of these community questions, the Boys and Girls Club Board is sponsoring a community forum facilitated by Kelly Rupp, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 3, at the county building conference room. Please come and share your ideas.
As Maddie says, “We don't need to agree with everything our neighbors say, but we need what I call an open-handed versus a closed-fist model for our community. We need to be thinking about what we can do for others and what is best for the whole and not just our own personal needs. We need to have that mindset as a community.”
Step up and be part of the conversation.