I grew up in the 1950s through the 1980s.
This sentence can be confusing, so let me see if I can explain it.
As I mentioned in my last post, I turned 45 earlier this month. So, I am undeniably an 80s kid. And yet the context I grew up in often felt more like the 1950s than the 1980s.
I was born and raised in Clearfield, Pennsylvania, about two hours north and east of Beaver County. My hometown of Clearfield was the county seat and had a population of about 6,000. Although I grew up “in the city”, much of the community was much more rural. The community had a very intimate feeling about it – everyone seemed to know each other and if they didn’t, they definitely knew their mother, uncle or cousin.
You would think that coming from such a small rural community, I would have liked an opportunity. But, thinking back to my youth, that is not at all how I would characterize my experience. In fact, on the contrary, I grew up in a context where opportunities seemed to abound. I was deeply involved in the high school music program, I was part of the local community theater, I worked several part-time jobs, I was deeply involved in my church, I spent tons of time at the outside and I was generally encouraged to pursue whatever future seemed most interesting to me.
By outsider standards, the community was, and still is, a bit “backward.” But, for a young child, my hometown was the perfect incubator. Clearfield was, for me, a site of education and opportunity, safety and encouragement. It had all the benefits of a tight-knit 1950s community alongside all the “progress” of the Roaring 1980s.
I think a little about my life as a young adult. And I often reflect on how my efforts as a community leader can help contribute to more rewarding and impactful opportunities for young people in Beaver County. To that end, just before March 2020, RiverWise was about to launch a Coalition for Youth Sustainability in partnership with several youth development organizations in the region. Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 put those plans on hold and eventually forced us to drop the idea. But we kept thinking about how best to connect the region’s youth to the themes of sustainability and community leadership.
This summer, under the leadership of Beaver County resident Julian Kröger, and in close collaboration with Chatham University, RiverWise is thrilled to announce the launch of the 2022 Sustainability Summer Institute.
Designed to be a hands-on educational experience, this program has two related components, one held in Beaver County, the other on the University of Chatham campus. The first half of the program consists of six weekly meetings held at various locations in Beaver County. These meetings will introduce students to exciting and innovative organizations and initiatives in Beaver County that exist at the intersection of community and sustainability. After this six-week on-site introduction to Beaver County, students will spend a week on the University of Chatham campus where they will participate with students from across the country in Chatham’s Sustainable Leadership Academy. While living on campus, students will benefit from both a local and global introduction to sustainability and leadership issues.
There’s a lot I can and probably will write about why this type of program is so important to the future of Beaver County. Previewing some of this future writing, let me say this here. A program like the Summer Institute on Sustainability is essential because it engages young people early on in their development and planning for the future. It shows what happens and can happen in their own backyard when you apply imagination and learning to your own community. This type of program creates a pipeline of local leaders who think about big ideas and cutting-edge opportunities with their hometown in mind. Such a program connects students to changing narrative histories about Beaver County and the wider region, disrupting the false belief that they have limited influence over the future of their hometowns. And this initiative grows and expands local relationships with like-minded youth and professionals from the wider region and across the country.
In short, this type of program reminds students that forming healthy communities is indeed important and matters whether or not it happens in the future of Beaver County.
If anything I’ve written here resonates with you or a young person you know, please contact us immediately. This program is free to all selected applicants and all students who complete the program will receive a certificate of completion along with a personalized letter of recommendation.
Eligible applicants must be Beaver County students who have just completed ninth, tenth, eleventh, or twelfth grade. All participants must register and commit to portions of the RiverWise and Chatham University Sustainable Leadership Academy program.
This initiative came together quite quickly and we are actively recruiting participants over the next two weeks, with applications due by May 27th.
If you or someone you know is interested, please email Julian Kröger at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and contact information to begin the simple application process. Or go to getriverwise.com where you can learn more about this program.
Healthy communities need to nurture, encourage and empower local youth. We look forward to focusing more deliberately on creating these conditions here in Beaver County through the inaugural offering of the Sustainability Summer Institute.
We hope you will join us.
Daniel Rossi Keen, Ph.D., is co-owner of eQuip Books, a community bookstore in Aliquippa and executive director of RiverWise, a non-profit organization employing sustainability practices to create a regional identity around Beaver County’s rivers. You can reach Daniel at email@example.com.