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Youth Serve Disadvantaged While Learning to Make Impact in Their Rural Community

Publication: W.K. Kellogg Foundation
Published: 09/12/2007

High schoolers in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, are partnering with adults in local organizations to supply toys, toiletries, art supplies and other items for the area’s disadvantaged homeless kids. They’re also making baby blankets and compiling information kits for use with newborns at the local hospital.

It’s a service program, but also part of a larger project to connect rural youth with their communities. The Rhinelander youth were awarded a $500 grant from Wisconsin Rural Challenge as seed money to undertake a local project that involves youth and local community organizations where the youth have input into the projects, and are involved in the decision-making and implementation – and not just the cheap labor. “The object of the projects is to involve rural youth in their communities, getting them to work with adults, and helping them see how they can have an impact on improving their communities,” says Ricky Rolfsmeyer, Wisconsin Rural Challenge’s leader.

“Involving youth in the future of their rural communities will help them see that there can be a future for them there,” adds Rolfsmeyer. He believes that too many rural communities do things that send youth the message that they need to go to the city to get a good job. “The level of entrepreneurship in rural Wisconsin communities is four times higher than in urban areas,” notes Rolfsmeyer. Yet, many of our local high schools’ business curricula is centered on preparing students for getting salaried city jobs, and not on teaching entrepreneurial skills that they could use in their community.” Rolfsmeyer believes rural communities should have input into their school curriculums and not just adopt the one provided for the state.

Wisconsin Rural Challenge is a member of Wisconsin Rural Partners (www.wirural.org), a network for rural community residents, leaders and service providers who want to improve the quality of life in rural Wisconsin. Wisconsin Rural Challenge is an at-large grantee of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Rural People, Rural Policy initiative – an initiative with a mission to build and strengthen skilled networks and organizations to advocate and act in the rural policy arena.

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