At some point, Marci Penner of the Kansas Sampler Foundation realized that rural communities weren't maximizing the potential of young people. Some towns were, some weren't. The towns that had that young energy in gear had a noticeably different feel about them.
Some young people were asked to be on committees or councils just to fill a chair. What would happen if those young people became engaged and empowered? What would happen if older folks asked how younger people viewed things rather than just asking them to come into the "old" system.
Marci called some of the young people she had been impressed with and asked for a meeting. And that's how in July 2009 the Miracle Cafe in Reading became the first meeting site of this movement. The invitees were Abby Amick, Wabaunsee County Economic Development director; Julie Roller, Pottawatomie County Econonomic Development; and Ashley Bogle of Greenwood County Economic Development. Abby's intern Kayla Anderson was also with us.
It didn't take long before the notion took hold that doing this right could change rural communities. It could change Kansas.
Before long the following were added to the mix: Christy Hopkins, Greeley County Economic Development; Erika Nelson, Lucas artist; Liz Sosa, Inkt Graphics, Garden City; Kristy Rupe, Golden Belt Community Foundation, Claflin; Jennifer Arnold, Clearwater Chamber; Sarah Werner, Winfield Convention & Tourism; Jeff Sackrider, Wamego Telecommunications; and WenDee LaPlant, Kansas Sampler Foundation.
We've been meeting for over a year now and after having presented test runs of the idea to the Kansas YP Summit, a conference in Nebraska and one in Oklahoma, it was clear that young people were ready to be recognized as positive forces for moving rural communities forward.
We decided to go with the definition of PowerUps as 21-39s who are rural by choice. The phrase itself has a positive connotation. It means that someone is in rural Kansas because they want to be. If you don't want to be there, you're just not a PowerUp.
We also knew that this wouldn't work by just focusing on one age group. This is more than just about empowering an age group, it's about helping sustain a lifestyle, a rural lifestyle. It's important that this movement also be about the PowerOns (40+ who are positive and passionate about being rural by choice) and about Sparks (those not yet 21 who aspire to be a PowerUp).
If you live in an urban area and are rural in heart or just want to be part of this, we're glad to have you on board.
Liz Sosa and Erika Nelson are the PowerUp Liaisons to the Kansas Sampler Foundation. We'll be on a funding search for the PowerUp Movement because if this thrives, rural communities will be the better for it.
We'll have some kinks to work out but you can help us with your constructive comments on the blog. We'd love to have your positive energy be part of creating a New Rural.