Rural flight is when rural people leave to urban areas. Many reasons have been discussed why this happens.
I wonder if there is a reason we are not really talking about. I wonder if a bigger reason is if we are creating a community where our children want to come back to. Are we creating an environment where we can thrive? Thriving in a community doesn't only mean financially, but also being a part of something.
As my son Everett was preparing to play his violin during the Christmas season for his recital with the his preparatory orchestra and in church, I paid attention to everyone who created a positive environment of learning for him and the other students. It was the family and friends attending each event. It was the people behind the scenes doing everything from making sure music stands were where they needed to be to serving lemonade and cookies after each performance. It is the dedication of Everett's violin instructor, Bobbi French, and all the instructors at St. Francis Music Center to each and every one of their students. It was Bobbi making sure each of her students act like professionals creating something wonderful. It was Mike, the church choir director and Bowlus fire chief, practicing "Silent Night" with Everett after church every Sunday until Christmas Day.
In rural communities, are we mentoring our youth to show them the wonderful things our rural life has? Mentoring can be just showing up. Do we show up to support at school events open to the public? Do we take the time like Mike did with Everett? Do we show our youth that arts can be achieved in small communities and be spectacular like Everett's instructor did?
In our own school district, the youth are important to the community. The school itself is looking at ways to ensure students are encouraged and feel validated by choosing a trade job or going to trade school. These positions are crucial to rural communities. There are members of our community who are thinking outside the box of creating creative spaces for our youth to be able to thrive. We need to ensure urban youth in our small communities value the importance of agriculture.
We need to create opportunities or give support for our youth to thrive. We need to stop saying, "You can't do that here," when new ideas come. We should ask, "How would that work? What would that look like? What would be your first step?" By doing this, we will create a place where our youth want to stay.
We shouldn't feel like we are competing with urban areas. We need to find what makes our own community awesome. Each community has an important role. Our rural communities are not just a place to retire but a place to thrive in.
I heard a quote this winter: "Adults bring the stability and the youth bring the energy." We need to take this to heart.
If we are the adults, we need to bring the stability of mentorship. If we are the youth, we need to bring the energy wanting to stay.