Defining key opportunities for attracting and retaining young adults to the community was the topic of discussion last night as students and community leaders met with Craig Schroeder in a Verdigre Visioning session.
After meeting Schroeder through a recent Leadership Knox County class, Kelsey Jelinek of Verdigre worked to organize this planning session, and the Pinnacle Bank, Carousel, Verdigre Improvement Club, Alpine, Verdigre School Foundation and the Verdigre Community Foundation partnered together to sponsor this event.
Schroeder has worked with more than 40,000 youth across 47 states and in Canada, Australia and Russia, helping rural community leaders and economic development professionals implement effective youth engagement and entrepreneurship strategies.
“There are young people coming back everyday to rural communities all over the United States, but individual communities may or may not benefit from that, depending if they respond to that opportunity,” Schroeder said. “But it takes a strategy to do that. What we do is help communities understand how to engage youth and build strategy around their resources, assets and priorities with their young people.”
According to Schroeder, who has been conducting assessments with young people across rural Nebraska and nationally over the past decade, half of rural youth would like to return home in the future if quality career opportunities are available. However, this research also documents that nearly 75% of rural youth surveyed have never been asked by adults for their input on how to create opportunities that would make their desire to return home a reality.
“The work I do is to help adults better understand the perspectives of young people, engage their young people, and this process allows them to create those kinds of opportunities,” Schroeder said.
Earlier in the afternoon, Schroeder facilitated a visioning session 18 eighth grade - eleventh grade students.
Junior Jace Forker said that they created models of what they’d like to see Verdigre look like in 10 years in order for alumni to return to their hometown.
“We did our likes and our dislikes about the community. And then we built a replica of what we thought the community should be in 10 years,” Forker said.
Emerson Randa, an eighth grader at Verdigre, said she got a lot out of the afternoon visioning session.
“We got to learn about our communities. We thought really hard about what we are going to become,” Randa said.
In the evening, community leaders, business owners and organizations participated in a session led by Schroeder and the students he met with earlier that day. The students presented their “vision” and what their hopes are for the future of Verdigre, and Schroeder facilitated discussions to create a gameplan.
“The reason these conversations matter is because young people have a love for their community. When we dig a little deeper, beyond just wanting more things to do as young people, we find that they value communities for the same reasons that a lot of adults do,” Schroeder said. “We are now in an entrepreneurial network economy. There is no reason that our communities cannot be successful in attracting more of these young people what want to stay or come back.”
Megan Hanefeldt, Knox County Economic Development Director, said she is excited about the opportunities to stem from here.
“This event sparked some new ideas on how we can effectively integrate youth into our community organizations so that the youth begin to have buy-in into the community and they feel involved,” Hanefeldt said. “They start to have a connection to the community beyond just the place they grew up.”
Knox County Economic Development Agency will continue to work with the Verdigre community to build and carry out a strategy stemming from this planning session.