Why Do We Hate Our Kids?

Montana’s Joint Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee (in the state I live) turned heads in June when it made the decision to consider cutting the department’s budget by $93 million during the next two years. That’s a 15 percent reduction during the last biennium and on top of cuts proposed by Governor Steve Bullock during the legislative session.

Recently revised revenue projections revealed an additional ten percent cut will be required. Since then a daily war of words has played out in the newspapers. Democrats in the minority party have decried the fate of our state’s children, while the state Republican majority have stayed hard and fast in the need to maintain fiscal conservatism – even in the light of homeless and neglected children running abandoned in the streets at ever-increasing numbers.

The Child Services department has struggled to deal with an increase of children in care. In 2008 there were 1,507 children in foster care. By 2016, the number of foster kids had grown 111 percent to 3,179. And as of June of this year, the number has risen again to 3,454 kids. Methamphetamine use by parents has fueled the number of severe child abuse cases and fatalities. More than 1,000 foster kids had parents who were using meth. That’s four times as many as in 2010. Welcome to the new realities of life in idyllic rural America.

Child abuse and neglect cases filed in court more than doubled to 2,321 — up 125 percent from 2010 to 2015. Yet the caseworkers handling the flood of calls, the permanent staff in the state Division of Child and Family Services, actually decreased 4 percent. The 2013 Legislature provided more money for Child and Family Services, but ordered reductions in employees – figure that one out. In Montana caseworkers carry workloads that “far exceed national standards.” This is compounded by the fact that working conditions are atrocious. Computer systems are older than many tasked with working on them, resulting in an average job tenure of less than two years. By the time they’re fully trained, they’re burned out and out the door on the first bus out of town (since they can hardly afford anything else).

Child Welfare Is Not A Cold

Rep. Kim Dudik, D-Missoula, carried several bills during the last legislative session, among them was one to designed to create more pilot projects to look at working with families who come into contact with Child and Family Services before they go to court. The bill passed the House with a 99-0 vote even with a $75,000 fiscal note attached. The bill would revive a pilot project approved last session that is meant to let division employees work with children and families on treatment plans before having to file a court case.

While on the surface this program seems like a logical answer … it’s nothing other than window dressing – and on a dirty window at that. More studies looking at what we already know. A statewide allocation of $75,000 is hardly enough to buy donuts for the planning meetings – let alone actually doing something that these studies might come up with. And tell me where are the people going to come from to do this pre-emptive intervention when there isn’t enough human resources available to handle the cases they already have. This is just more of government vying for press over production. After the local news crews pack up and go home – the children behind the soundbites will still be making Top Romen for themselves at home (if they have one) and falling through the cracks at ever-increasing numbers as their so-called parents are busy “chasing the bag.”

While I applaud the efforts of Dudeck and her recognition that efforts need to be focused before-the-fact … they’re still nowhere enough, nor far enough before-the-fact. Governmental efforts to deal with societal child maladies are too often treated like the common cold. We look at the symptom thinking if we mask them with a short-term solution like a Tylenol (or in the child’s case – foster care), with time it’ll pass. Let the virus run its course and endure the discomfort in the interim. But even with a cold, eventually – sooner than later there’s a test for an infection. And if the test is positive then antibiotics are prescribed. Without them, the problem will only get worse. Somewhere underneath there’s an underlying cause. Waiting out a child’s social problems and hoping they’ll pass is tantamount to waiting out an infection. The prognosis will not be good … possibly even fatal.

Where’s The Community?

Governmental departments operate in silos. It’s a little of poor design and obsession with protecting turf. They seldom communicate, let alone coordinate efforts. Conducting a deep dive into a community’s true problems is well beyond the scope of any of their job descriptions – whatever the silo. Child service problems are normally attributed to unemployment, drug use, lack of affordable housing – or all of the above. These causes are really just symptoms too. Dig deeper, the more complex the situation gets … and yet the solution may be more simple.

Take drug use. Addiction is not only a psychological problem – it also has sociological and even anthropological components. A drug user or alcoholic could have PTSD or other psychological issues contributing to a dual diagnosis. Neither component of the diagnosis can be treated separately or without consideration for a person’s environment. Treatment rarely works when the patient is returned to associate with the same peer group they left (or were removed from). Yet where do they go? Most of the time – right back to where they were in the first place. This is their familiar point of social contact. Helping them find another one, one more conducive for a positive change in behavior, is far beyond the “job” of the governmental social safety net our society has become addicted to rely on.

And even if drugs were the problem, how did the situation get to the point that there was no safety net for the child available other than the government. Where are their friends and their parents? Where is the family?  Where’s the community? It’s understandable it’s possible for someone to go off the rails, whether they have a child or not. But to have this happen and there be no one there to help – especially in the case of the helpless, is not understandable … nor is it acceptable. Has our society become so torn apart and callous that even the basics needs of our children are looked at optional? And are they subjected to the same budget priorities as digging a hole in the ground to build a road out in the middle of nowhere where maybe five pickup trucks an hour will use.

Animals abandoned by their packs and herds in the wild seldom make it on their own. Why should we expect a different fate for humans? Is it we think it’s alright to just “go it alone?” Have we become so collectively stubborn that we don’t think we need help? Or do we know we do, but just can’t find anyone – anyone but the government, which is pretty much a feel fall into Dante’s Hell. If those who need basic neighborly help can’t find it … what does that tell us? How far are we willing to go to let this John Wayne, Clint Eastwood loner Hollywood prototype manifest into reality. At the end of the day John and Clint could get off their horse and go home to a house, a soft bed and a hot meal cooked by someone who loved them.

Outside of Hollywood in our real lives – this doesn’t seem to be the case. And with it we take our youngest with us on this journey of living hell. Where did they sign up for this? Many, policy makers included, wholeheartedly believe “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I suppose in some circumstances that’s true. But for the ones it’s not – there will be a lot of carnage. Is this the Machiavellian society we want?

Rebuilding The Middle Ring

In 2014, Marc Dunkelman wrote an excellent book on the evolution, or should I say the de-evolution of the American neighborhood, The Vanishing Neighbor.” In his book Dunkelman introduces the concept of the Middle Ring. The ‘Middle Ring is what Dunkelman calls our neighbourly relationships. This is in contrast to the inner-ring of family and close friends, and the ever-expanding outer-ring relationships fostered by the digital age and social media. Unfortunately the “middle” is not holding, collapsing from pressures on both sides. Social media has brought our closest contacts closer and expanded our reach to include “weak ties” that we know only through cyberspace. Compound this with the proliferation of politically segregated cable and internet news outlets, we have little time or attention for anyone else, physically or philosophically. And what suffers are our neighborhood acquaintances, our communities and the memories of what they used to stand for.

There’s been much discussion in the last decade about the decay of the American community, at least as we like to remember it, or as Hollywood portrays it. But really it’s the loss of the Middle Ring we’re seeing. We still have communities, they’re just not inhabited by “our neighbors.”

“Few Americans today say they know their neighbors’ names, and far fewer report interacting with them on a daily basis. Pulling data from the General Social Survey, economist Joe Cortright wrote in a recent City Observatory report that only about 20 percent of Americans spent time regularly with the people living next to them. A third said they’ve never interacted with their neighbors. That’s a significant decline from four decades ago, when a third of Americans hung out with their neighbors at least twice a week, and only a quarter reported no interaction at all.” (Community Ties in an Era Isolation)

It’s the loss of these neighbors who were physically around that could be counted on (often without even asking) that’s creating a social divide in America. In the past, before World War II, our neighbors were our support. They were the doctors, the midwives and the handymen. They were where we could go to get food when we needed it. It’s what got America through the Great Depression.

We didn’t have to agree with them politically, socially or otherwise, but we knew them and they were still our neighbors. And we could count on them.

But with Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, the government became America’s support system. The help of your neighbor wasn’t as important. That worked fine, but that reliance on the township, the community, the neighborhood and in turn the nurture of our Middle Ring began to wane. It wasn’t so evident at first. But the chinks in the armour, so to say, were beginning to show, even back then.

And now it seems as if we’ve all but lost our Middle Ring. Maybe not physically. There’s still people who live next door and down the street, but we don’t know them. Maybe we’ve never even met them. We don’t know where they’ve been or where they want to go. And it kind of makes it hard to help them get there.

In this time of Trump we’re going have rely on our neighbors as the government is on a fast track to absolve itself of any responsibility of the well-being of the populace it supposedly represents. I guess they feel if we a have a horse and a cowboy hat we’ll be able to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and ride off. This being the case – maybe we can use this governmental neglect as wake up call. Maybe we can face the inevitable that the days of Roosevelt may have irreparably aged. And from it, maybe we can usher in a new age, one not based on Leviathan to take care of us, but rather one that values the Middle Ring and the benefits of having neighbors close. This involves work on our part though. The government can’t legislate that we go meet our neighbors. It can’t make us shovel out the driveway of the elderly woman down the street … let alone move in with her. And it can’t make us be a friend with guy down the street who’s glued to Fox News 24/7 and overcome whatever ideological differences we may have. And it shouldn’t.

Isn’t it time we take back our communities and neighborhoods? It’s not that anyone or anything really took them from us. They’re still there, but they need care like a garden. Left unattended, they’ll dry up or get taken over by weeds – figuratively and literally. The way we start this “garden” restoration project is by rebuild our Middle Ring … and recognize the solution has been here all along no matter the age or their plight.

That shovel is waiting … and so is the woman down the street and the child cooking Top Romen.

If you’re interested in moving on from the status quo that will inevitably take anyone and anything down with it … please check out Community 3.0, my vision of an evolved society where self-efficacy and the well-being is priority. Or even better email me, at clayforsberg@gmail.com and we can set up time to have a conversation.

_________________________________

Related Posts:

Advertisements

Tsunami on the Prairie

As the adage goes, if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, it’ll jump out. But if you put that same frog in a pot of room temperature water and gradually heat the water, the frog will stay in the pot until it’s cooked. As the current disaster in Houston plays out, the response we’ll see will be like the “frog in the boiling pot.” There’s no disputing those affected by the hurricane have major problems, but they’re acting even as you’re reading this to put things back together.

I live in Montana, a rural state. We are facing demographic issues that are the textbook definition of “the frog in the room-temperature water” (actually more warm now) and the burner is on. Minor statistical changes from year to year receive little more than a note in the back third of an article in the newspaper. But what these statistics tell us is irrefutable. Rural populations are skewing older and for the most part people are living longer. And with living longer comes more health issues, especially chronic ailments such as diabetes and heart conditions. Combine that with fact the overall population of rural America (all ages) is not increasing. In other words, there is and will be more people who will need care – and fewer people to do the caring.

If those demographic realities weren’t enough, we have the actions (or should I say lack of actions) by governmental entities in rural states. Most rural states are run by politicians hell-bent on low taxes and not spending money. Their older constituents increasingly have more needs and their representatives are more concerned with maintaining an ideology that placates the most vocal (and often extreme) members of their party. Too often these unmet needs result in despair, depression and isolation. Being old and geographically spread out is a bad combination and a prescription for mental maladies. In fact isolation is now the number one health issue in America amongst the elderly. And it’ll get worse if we don’t confront it head on. What rural America is seeing is an increase in demand for the exact services that are being cut and de-prioritized.

Even if state and local governments aren’t going to provide adequate assistance for this increasing needy segment of the population – at least it wouldn’t it be prudent to help create the environments required to attract the young people needed to assist the elderly – regardless of their ability to pay? Not only do they provide the bulk of caregivers (along with those of diverse ethnic backgrounds), the civic amenities young people value are the exact ones that benefit an aging population, whether they support them or not. For example: farmers markets and ample produce championed by Millennials are crucial to well-being later in age: and parks and common areas provide the activities and stimuli needed to counter both physical and cognitive decline.

Unfortunately most governments in rural towns and cities don’t make attracting Millennials (and immigrants) a priority. In fact, often their actions have the opposite affect. In Billings, Montana, where I live – the city government refuses to pass a non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) to protect the rights of gay people. Gay rights are probably the number one issue for Millennials, regardless of their own sexual preference. It shows a community values inclusion. “We’re all different in some way and if the community we lives in hates one person for their difference, who’s to say tomorrow they won’t hate me for mine.”  Any city who chooses to go down this path of discrimination (regardless of the bogus rationalization) will do so at their own peril … all while their “old people” will have no one to take care of them. Not only will new young talent not want to move in … the top talent that was raised there will be lining up for tickets on the first bus out of town. What will be left is a community of hate and exclusion, with the few outliers who haven’t or can’t leave, being pushed into the shadows to scavenge any civic crumbs left by the so-called city leaders. Welcome to the slow-burn of a dystopia in the making.

What I described above is a Perfect Storm facing rural communities throughout America; thus the title of this piece, “Tsunami on the Prairie.” Not all is dire though. We can still get out of the pot before it’s too late. But our biggest obstacle is ourselves, led by those we’ve put in positions of power and influence: those we too often rely on to map our futures. Much like the road to recovery for any addict, step one is acknowledging that’s there’s a problem. Rural America, and I speak specifically to where I live, can’t afford to ignore the ominous clouds rolling in. These clouds and what they bring won’t just pass over. They’ll keep coming until there’s little left.

Abandon small town

Once we accept our demographic destiny and that fact our political malfeasance can’t continue – we can begin the battle. It’s a battle that will require all hands in the community to work together, regardless of ideology or political affiliation. It’ll require we focus on inclusion and the embrace of outliers, those different than us. We don’t know where the next Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Jennifer Lawrence or Chance the Rapper will come from. But chances are they’ll be the ones who were disenfranchised and looked at with indifference. These are the people who will have the ideas we need and drive to put them in play. As Albert Einstein famously said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” And much of the time this same thinking comes from the same people we too often rely on. To face this Perfect Storm, your community will need new ideas and new people to rise in the heat of battle.

The Norwegians have a word, dugnad – that can best be described as a type of civic and communal mindset where people get together and volunteer to fix, clean, paint or tidy things up for the betterment of their community. Dugnads are organized in neighborhoods, at summer homes, marinas, even at schools and especially places of work. It can be summed up as a time of coming together and contributing. In America one can see these dugnads as being small businesses or what I call Front Porches. This network of local merchants, their employees and their patrons are the people who want to change the status quo; people who want to pull the best from those around them and make it the future … not just look for differences. These Front Porches, while now probably just local hangouts, will be become hubs of civic engagement and volunteerism.

The Front Porch’s primary role is to identify community Solutions projects, whether they be in response to needs or opportunities. These Solutions are designed to help your community pick up the slack and mend its societal safety net as well as lead it into the future. They can range from organizing a cleanup effort, to fixing a playground, to even spearheading a high school mentoring or apprentice program. And most of all – these Solutions can be directed towards helping the elderly.

Imagine creating a program – call it: “I’m Not Alone Anymore.” This program, based out of a local business or Front Porch, would assist an elderly person with not only their physical needs but also provide emotional support by giving them an avenue back into the community. Even if just means a weekly visit for a cup of coffee … these people will no long be feel isolated … or alone.

Helpers (customers and employees) will organize through community network of Front Porches (local businesses). The first step will be to identify the elderly (Clients) needing that little extra help (physically or just emotionally). They can be found directly or through referrals. Each Client will be entered into a central database that Helpers will have access to. The database will include information such as contact information, medicines, favorite foods and activities, and anything else that can be used by the Helper to improve the lives of the Client. Also included will be contact activity data; date of last visit, schedule date of next visit and relevant information concerning these dates. The database will also provide an informed point of reference for anyone that might have to step in for the primary Helper should they not be able to visit. 

What if we designed our communities around the idea of maximizing engagement. The more engaged our residents are … the more empowered they would be. They would feel more in control of their health and their futures. Imagine if a chance to engage, whether it was physical, mental or social was just around the corner. And what if opportunities to help others realize the same were part of the fabric our daily lives. What if our physical security and well-being was not dependent on government assistance or the whims of a fickle market driven economy. What if our neighborhood was our safety net, a safety net that knew best in our time of need. And what if the streets of our community became melting pots of serendipity – places where curiosity was bred and benevolence was the norm. And what if engagement, well-being and self-efficacy was how a community measured itself, not obtuse economic activity often distorted through the one-dimensional filter of irrelevant statistics.

From this hands-on street-level altruism will come your community’s vision – a Vision Map of sorts. You and your neighbors will see directly what’s needed and what works, rather than blindly following a plan cobbled together by elected officials who may or may not be qualified vote on such a plan – let alone construct one. From devising and implementing Solutions, your community will find out who the true leaders are – not just the ego-driven politicians. You will see who is tirelessly mission-driven and able inspire those around them to be the same. You’ll see expertise and imagination come from the least likely places. You’ll build your community’s talent pool, rather than continually leaning on the same people time after time, board member after board member. Consider this map a guide of sorts for an evolved society … the society I call Community 3.0

None of this is revelationary. This is not a magic pill that will make everything and everyone in your community better. What this is a wake up call. We’ve laid out your clothes and turned on the coffee pot. And maybe we’ve even started your car and got it warm for you. But it’s up to you to get to work and make it happen. Too often we stare at our cable news channels obsessing over the government and who we should or should have votes for. We expect the government to heal whatever ails us. You’d think we’re locked in medieval times living a serf-like existence dependent on the scraps our lords in the towers above toss out to us. Instead I offer an alternative – one of collective self-determination, altruism and a self-transcendent focus on our neighbors.

Ironically some of the most independent people in the country, people who are used to back-breaking work in the cruelest of weather have no qualms complaining the government isn’t giving them enough. I see it and hear it everyday. It’s easy to affix blame when we see others prosper in comparison to us (whatever that reason may be). And much of the blame is directed towards those on the coasts. Whether or not rural areas are short-changed is not the issue; even though statitistics show it’s probably the latter. But still we have to blame someone. But for those of us who live in small or rural communities – the luxury of blame isn’t an option. Neither is circling the wagons and focusing on how far back our rural lineage goes. You’d think the generationally deeper our rural roots go – supposedly the more worthy we are of living here. It’s this thinking (if you call it that) that hastens the demise of the very communities we so ardently aim the protect. 

Our real enemy, the tsunami of demographics and governmental malfeasance rural America faces, is banking on the fact that we will continue think outsiders and the ideas they bring are the demons coming the change our idyllic lifestyle firmly rooted in the past. We must prove this storm wrong … or we will perish in our myopic naiveté.

_________________________________

Related Posts:

The Caregiving Dilemma …

One of the most difficult circumstances affecting families is the care of an elderly member. I remember when I was growing up in North Dakota thirty years ago, common practice was to put them in an “old folks home.” Or should I say commit them, commit them to their death. I hated visiting my grandmother in the Lutheran Home in Minot. Not because I didn’t want to see her, but rather the place. It was an abyss of hopelessness. Everyone there was just waiting, just waiting for the inevitable staring them in the face every morning … if they even dared to look in the mirror.

Often family members don’t live nearby. They’re states removed. And the patriarchs and matriarchs of the family don’t want to move. Often where they’re living, they’ve lived for decades. It’s the only place they know. What few friends they have left are nearby. The garden, the porch … it’s home. 

The only other option is to put them in an “old folks home.” Often these “old folks” can take care of themselves with just a little assistance. It’s the younger family members who want them sent away. It puts them at ease. Out of sight – out of mind. This way they can tell themselves they’ve done something. But instead – what if that “something” was just that little assistance. It may only be by checking in on them every other day, making sure they’re taking their medication, washing the dishes, washing their clothes or making sure they have a supply of healthy food. Or much of time it may just be sitting down and having a cup of coffee or taking a walk around the neighborhood and listening … listening to stories of the way things used to be in time when things were simpler.

old woman posterize

In the last few weeks there have been a couple newsworthy stories here in Montana on the caregiving front. First, Montana’s Democratic Senator, Jon Tester, announced he was proposing a bill in Congress intended to assist caregivers, often family members, who lend their time and financial resources in aid of others. Tester’s bill offers up to a $3000 tax credit for anyone who invests at least $2000 assisting the elderly.

While well intended, I look at the proposal as little more than political posturing. Caregivers who most need assistance probably don’t pay $3000 total in taxes, since a good portion of their time is spent rendering unpaid assistance to those needing care. And even if they did, I didn’t see the proposal offering any concessions for investment in time and labor – only hard financial outlay.

Being a caregiver myself for my two elderly parents, I can empathize with those put in this situation, voluntarily or not. To not take on this role isn’t even a question. You just do it, regardless of what effect it had on my personal life. I view my job description here as, “I make sure things don’t go sideways.” I make sure there’s good food on the table, food bought from the end isles at the grocery store … not from boxes in the middle. I make sure they realize they can’t do the things they used to do. What is it about ladders. Ladders and old men are like bees and honey. But all this is nothing compared to the effort needed to make sure “sideways” doesn’t include mental atrophy. I’m living in their world. Mine is fifteen hundred miles away in Los Angeles. But I recognize this is what I have to do and deal with it accordingly.

The second bit of news related to a work group put together by Montana’s Governor, Steve Bullock. Bullock announced the formation of an Alzheimer’s assistance plan for the state. Alzheimer’s disease falls dead center in the middle of the caregiving dilemma – stretching its tentacles of family overwhelm, economic and emotional, far and deep. From what I can gather, this initiative mainly concentrates of public awareness and connects dots between the different services the states and communities already have. In addition there’s some mention of training existing nurses on dementia and Alzheimer’s care. Nice idea but pragmatically naive since Montana already has a chronic nursing shortage.

The creation of this plan recognizes grim reality of the generational shifts America is facing. And with these shifts we’ll see also an increase in dementia and Alzheimer’s. Montana is projecting an increase of 40% by 2025. State governments are now starting to see the picture, but they have a long way to go.

However, government and formal institutions can only do so much, in fact they normally end up doing a lot less than even that. Even with the valiant attempts to streamline the formal assistance process  – the responsibility of navigating the maze is still up to the overworked caregiver, or worse yet the elderly person directly affected. Having dealt with my personal battle with lymphoma and its treatment, I know the integration between the medical system and the effects it has on the realities of a person’s actually life is greatly lacking. Formal institutions don’t play well others … and silos are their specialty. The healthcare industry is much the norm rather than the exception.

While much attention is directed to those in the most dire situations, such as what we’ve discussed above – dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, we can’t ignore our elderly that can still function in society. There’s always formal care in nursing homes as a last resort.But what about those who are just getting old? But shouldn’t we make every effort to keep our elderly loved ones at home if possible?

Being cut off from society is a killer for the elderly and shut-ins, literally. The less fortunate often have no family or friends around to make sure their basic needs are taken care of. They don’t have anyone to make sure they eat properly or take them to the doctor or get their medications. And that’s not even saying anything about mental support. Their likely future involves depression … or even premature death at home or worse yet, in an “old folks home.” And for those who have experience, “old folks homes” aren’t cheap. If caregiving family members can avoid bankruptcy – they are some of the lucky ones. My parents weren’t when my grandparents got old.

I’m not a fan of the government, but here’s an area they can help with and all they have to do is divert some of the money they’re already paying out to “old folks homes” and at the same time get a much better return on it.

Medicare pays these institutions at a rate of up towards, well who knows – it’s a lot. It’s well into the tens of thousands of dollars a year. What if in some cases this care could be handled at home with a periodic nurse and a live-in relative. The nurse would be paid by Medicare, but so would the relative – say a grandchild. This way not only would the care be handled, but the family ties would be maintained and the young person could have a source of income when they may not have one – or maybe not a full-time one.

This cross-generational solution is especially attractive in rural communities that are experiencing severe generational greying. These communities are literally dying off. And the ones that aren’t often move away to a care facility in a larger city. By compensating young family members, you’ve not only provided a healthcare and wellbeing solution … but are doing it by rejuvenating the small community. And imagine if these young people had children of the own who would replenish the schools, both financially and socially. And what if on the side a couple of young people worked together to breathe some fresh air into one of those abandon buildings on Main Street – turning them into organically founded and operated small business ventures. Small towns, specifically rural ones, rely on the maintenance of family ties to survive. Once those ties are severed – so is the lifeline. Hoping this lifeline will be repaired by unrelated newcomers is an unrealistic pipe dream.

Now I’m sure there are hurdles that would have to be overcome to create a system that extends Medicare vendor or provider status to family members, but there are hurdles in any new idea. But the institutional stakeholders in an idea like this are significant and diverse. Rural states, the elderly (i.e AARP) and small business organizations all could see their members benefit greatly. The existing players in the elderly care facility industry would most definitely provide resistance though. So be it. They’ve had a free ride for too long.

But let’s look past the government as being the solution. Even if they are, it’s just a bonus. Ultimately the solutions will found closer to home, and not just with family members – but also within the community as a whole. Through organized efforts of friend and neighbors, community caregiving efforts are a perfect application of solutions generated by the Front Porch method I’ve been advocating. We just need to adapt our social behavior to make this happen.

“Few Americans today say they know their neighbors’ names, and far fewer report interacting with them on a daily basis. Pulling data from the General Social Survey, economist Joe Cortright wrote in a recent City Observatory report that only about 20 percent of Americans spent time regularly with the people living next to them. A third said they’ve never interacted with their neighbors. That’s a significant decline from four decades ago, when a third of Americans hung out with their neighbors at least twice a week, and only a quarter reported no interaction at all.” (Community Ties in an Era Isolation)

This needs to change. We have neither the time nor the resources to waste to think that these issues, specifically with the aging, are going to solve themselves – or be fixed by the government. Even the Medicare idea I laid out above, however much common sense it makes, has little if any chance of becoming reality in today dysfunctional Congressional state. Instead, the clowns in Washington will pat themselves on the back celebrating Jon Tester’s pragmatically inept tax credit plan instead – or something equally vacuous.

The first step we need to take is to “bridge the gap”  between our generations. It’s the young people in our community who are our biggest asset. Not only will the young provide the physical care the elderly need, they’ll also be the ones we need to rejuvenate our communities so there’s something to live for … regardless of generation.

Back a hundred years a community had to look after itself – young and the old. They had no choice. Their survival was at stake. They didn’t have the sophisticated market system of exchange spanning unseen geographies nor live in the relative luxury we do now. They just had themselves. And with age expectancy increasing and the Millennial generation being smaller than the retiring Boomer generation was at this time in their lives, we have a ticking time bomb. Cross-generational cooperation will not be an option … it’ll be a necessity.

Through the program “I’m Not Alone Anymore,” Community 3.0, and its Front Porch network, aims to not only help these forgotten people with their physical needs but also provide emotional support by bringing them back into the community. Even if just means a weekly visit for a cup of coffee … they will not be forgotten for long. The weakest link of a community ultimately determines the health of the overall community.

We can’t let our neglect of the elderly and resulting burden that would put on our young be the undoing of our entire society.

Each “Client” (elderly person) can be entered into a central database that Front Porch “Helpers” will have access to. In addition to the basics, the database will include information such as contact information for friends and family, favorite foods and activities, historical info and anything else that can be used by the “Helper” to connect with and make the lives “Client” more meaningful. Also included will be logistic information: date of last visit, schedule date of next visit and relevant agenda information. The database will provide an informed point of reference for anyone that might have to step in for the primary “Helper” should they not be able to visit.

I’m not insinuating that the community can provide that magic pill that will solve everything. But what it can do is provide the tools to mend the “safety net” that we’ve let fray to point of utter disrepair. Turn your entire community into the caregiver who helps make sure “things don’t go sideways” by maybe catching things before they become problems that are beyond fixing.

And who knows … you might even make some new friends.

_________________________________

If you haven’t, I invite you to start by delving into my ideas by reading the series, On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.

_________________________________

You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+.

Cheating the Grim Reaper of ‘Small Town U.S.A.’

Four years ago, I first addressed the issue of the plight of Small Town U.S.A. After living five years now in a small town with a population of 500 which is essentially a bedroom community for Billings, Montana (pop. 100,000), I believe the issue is even more relevant today than then. And even though I labeled this post ‘Small Town U.S.A.’ … it could be anywhere, here or abroad. 

Back in 2012 I saw an MSNBC piece on an independent movie made about the small town of Medora, Indiana. Medora has a population of about 600 and is known, notoriously, for its high school basketball team, and its 2009 twenty-two game losing streak and their pursuit to win just one game. But there’s much more about the film than just basketball – and there’s also much more about Medora.

Like many, many other small towns around America, they’re struggling for their survival. In Medora’s case, they’re reeling from losing a plastics factory, the town’s main employer … as well as staring at the possibility of even losing their identity, their high school. Below is the interview on MSNBC with directors Andrew Cohn and Davey Rothbart.

A major tenet of this blog, “On the Road to Your Perfect World,” is community empowerment and self-sufficiency. I’ve been lamenting ad nauseam that our government will not be there for us, and nor will corporate America. In fact, on the contrary, corporate American is doing it’s best to destroy Small Town U.S.A. (whether intentional or not). It’s up to us to fight back and save our communities, and save our neighborhoods. Because if we don’t – nobody will.

But it’s not that easy. What if the people can’t help their community, can’t be there to help their neighbors … and maybe can’t even help themselves. What if the people of your community don’t have the ‘skill set’ to make it in this new world that is evolving faster than most can keep up. Relying on what worked in the past often doesn’t get it done in the present – let alone in the future. Make no mistake, experience is a valuable component of civic and personal sustainability (and if sustainability isn’t a term you regularly use then you have a lot of work to do). But the trick is converting that experience into action that is applicable today and in the future.

Door

Your Small Town needs to develop a ‘Survival Skill Set’

So here is my idea on how convert this experience your community possesses into the proper ‘skill set’  for “Small Town U.S.A.” – circa 2015 and beyond. Actually, it’s more a set of attitudes. Because without the proper frame of mind – all the training money can buy, will be all for not.

  • Embrace change and be flexible: Expect your life to be turned upside down tomorrow when you wake up. Strike the word security from your vocabulary. The only security you’ll have in 2015 and beyond, especially in a small town, is yourself and ability to navigate the inevitable changes that will “slap you in the face” when you least expect it. Don’t be pre-occupied with trying to hang on to “the way things were.” The only constant in life is change … so deal with it!
  • Embrace technology: Technology and specifically the internet is everywhere, and embedded in everything. Technology will buffer you from the ups and down of a local economy. Become adept at social media. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) will widen your reach of contacts and ultimately the support when you need it most. The internet will also enable you to create income being a “location independent” micro-entrepreneur.
  • Embrace your community: Your community, your neighbors, are your primary safety net and support structure. Don’t be a recluse. Lend a hand whenever you can. Be the “go-to person” in your town. Be the ‘help leader’ that people will follow. Be the one that is the first one to rally the people to make things better for all. A positive, action oriented attitude is contagious.
  • Embrace the youth: Make your town the one that welcomes young people. For it’s the young people who will create the new opportunities, the opportunities that will keep your town’s death at bay. Don’t be part of a town that only tries to “hang to yesterday,” and tries to prevent any intrusion into this allegedly idyllic time … the time that is no longer and never will be. Business owners need to part of the solution also. Mentoring and internship programs do wonders keeping your young talent at home, rather than having them leave town for better opportunities.
  • Focus on businesses that serve out-of-town customers: If you’re an entrepreneur, stay away from ventures that serve only your fellow community members, especially if the services you offer already exist locally. Don’t depend on revenue only generated from your community. Be responsible for bringing needed money into the community rather than cannibalize the existing businesses of your neighbors.
  • Foster cross-generational cooperation: I already mentioned a small town needs to ’embrace its youth,’ but that doesn’t mean neglecting the rest of its residents – especially the elderly. It’s the mix of the young and the old that create a town’s personality, one that’s unique. Make it a point to identify areas of generational cross-pollination. Retirees can mentor high schoolers, while the younger ones can assist the older generations get up to speed on technology. Turn schools into community hubs for all ages. Silos are for grain and corn, not for a society or your community.
  • Support your local businesses: I could have labeled this “Don’t buy into the Snake Oil of Wall Street.” 40% to 50% percent of each dollar spent at a locally owned business stays in the community. And only 15% percent does with a large corporate entity, like Walmart, Target or Home Depot. What does that tell you! That’s 30% that could go to local parks or local business owners that would in turn spend it at other local business owners and on and on.
  • Embrace your Weirdos: It’s the creative people, the out-of-the-box thinkers … who are ones who push the boundaries and shatter the status quo. They tremble at the words – normal, or conventional. These are the “Weirdos.” The ones who don’t conform, the Albert Einsteins, the Steve Jobs, the Truman Capotes and the Orson Wells. They scare the normal people. When this country has made strides and moved ahead – it’s the “Weirdos” that blazed the way for others to follow … often to much prejudice and ostracism. But we forget that those proverbial roads we often take for granted – were the result of the chances they took … and not us.

In the end, all the above suggestions are about change, or at least being open to it. People generally want things to be the same or the way they were. It’s this attitude that decimates a community. “Small Town U.S.A.” doesn’t need to be a thing of the past, only a distant memory.

It just needs only to change … to change its attitudes.

_________________________________

If you haven’t, I invite you to start by delving into my ideas by reading the series, On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.

_________________________________

You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

The “Kernel,” Your Community’s Cross-Generational Ecosystem

“Beth Jacob is a New Orleans architect and historian whose research specializes in the historic preservation and adaptive reuse of New Orleans’ public markets. Jacob found that these markets and public spaces did more than just offer a space for communities to buy staples. They were true neighborhood places that served as anchors that attracted other businesses to the area as well as providing a physical space for civic discussion.”

These community oases, such as the public markets described above by Beth Jacob, won’t create themselves. In fact any community based effort is competition and will face obstacles put in front of it from big business and very often local government compliant in their activities. It’ll take a concerted effort by all residents of the community, young and old. In my previous piece I discussed the need for us to “Bridge the Gap” between generations as a vehicle for community and societal sustainability. Now it’s time to become pragmatic.

“We can’t just ignore the fact that our generations aren’t connecting and it’s hurting our ourselves and our communities. However disconnected we are today, it will probably be even more in the future. Change isn’t slowing down. And we can’t just wish or legislate away this divide. We have to make a concerted effort to connect the ages – for everyone’s benefit. We have to create the environments and situations that accommodate and nurture these connections.

Imagine if we lived in communities where “shared generational experiences” were a priority. These communities would have abundance of opportunities for “shared experiences; serendipitous opportunities for the young and old to enter each other’s “experience worlds, worlds where the mentee could also do the mentoring. We can do it. And I described in my previous piece, we don’t need a Lady Gaga reaching out to a Tony Bennett on every corner in each of our communities and neighborhoods. We just have to give serendipitous encounters some space to happen.”

But to do this we need to expand our minds to the definition of what these spaces can be. Public markets are just one type of these ‘spaces.’

What this bridging of generations will do is form the foundation for the re-building of the ‘Middle Ring’ housing the melting pot that innovation needs to percolate. And we have a movement, or should I say a mindset, afoot right now that may well prove to the perfect vehicle for this foundation, the makerspace.

A makerspace is a community-operated workspace where people with common interests, often in computers, machining, technology, science, or art can meet, socialize and collaborate. In general, makerspaces function as centers for peer learning and knowledge sharing, in the form of workshops, presentations, and lectures. They usually also offer social activities for their members, such as game nights and parties. Makerspaces function as open community labs incorporating elements of machine shops, workshops and/or studios where makers can come together to share resources and knowledge to build and make things.

“Bridging the Gap” through film and 3D printing

“With one somber PBS documentary and a second project about “negative addictions” under his belt, William D. Caballero wanted to lighten the mood for his next film. That’s when he started giving a close listen to the rambling phone messages left by his Puerto Rican grandfather. “I’d laugh and play them for my friends,” Caballero recalls. “I realized I should do something with the voice mails because I felt like my grandpa’s messages had a universal quality that anybody could identify with.”

But instead of crafting a conventional documentary portrait of the colorful old man, Caballero twisted technologies, including 3D printing, to his own filmmaking ends and made the hilariously charming “How You Doin’ Boy?”

With his 3D printed inch-tall protagonist primed for action, Caballero drove from his New Jersey home to North Carolina and shot the short film’s co-star: a 20th-century rotary dial telephone, in his grandfather’s house. As a final touch, Caballero used Flash software to transform his grandfather’s handwriting samples into a custom font that spells out voice messages on screen.”

Technology is often a great divider amongst generations. But it doesn’t have to be. Technology is nothing but a means to an end. And it’s this that can be the common ground that connects people regardless of age. Remember the workshops of our fathers and grandfathers, and the tinkering that went on there? It was the same with our grandmothers and their crafts. How many grandparents homes aren’t adorned with needlepoint on the walls. Our grandparents didn’t buy art, they made it.

Bill Zimmer, a middle-aged software engineer at the Asylum in New York City, says that what’s going on in the maker movement would be more familiar to denizens of the year 1900 than any period since, because manufacturing is not only being domesticated — it’s being democratized.

Makerspaces aren’t a new thing, they’re an old thing. They’re that old shoe box on the top shelf of the basement closet that you’ve now figured out there’s a lot of interesting stuff in it – stuff that is surprisingly relevant today. Regardless of age, boys and girls like to make things, just like their grandparents do. Why don’t we create a ‘space’ where they can do it together? And let’s make it a space where one can mentor the other.

The older generations can teach the younger generations on the basics and history of ‘making things.’ And then the younger ones can teach their surrogate grandparents on how to bring these basics into the year 2015 through technology advances.

A makerspace should be a community serendipity hub where collaborative ideas can turn into real life things. And the more generationally inclusionary your makerspace is … the more your community will benefit from it.

This ‘space’ can be the seed of the “Bridging the Gap” initiative. We need a ‘Kernel’ … a space where things can grow – physically and sociologically.

chaos

A cross-generational co-creating ‘space’ where everything and everyone is a project

Imagine your community having a ‘space’ where everyone is welcome regardless of age, wealth or any other differentiating factor. Your ‘Kernel, would be a place where things happen, not just talked about. Your ‘Kernel’ is a ‘space’ where people come together under common goals, working together. Imagine your ‘Kernel’ being your community’s hub … a place where anytime of the day of night – things would be discovered, transformed and created.

Imagine your ‘Kernel’ being a makerspace not unlike a modern-day version of your grandfather’s shop – only where the skills and knowledge of yesterday are synthesized with the technology of today. Imagine your ‘Kernel’ being craft center much like you’d see in grandmother’s spare bedroom when you visited her, filled with yarn, paints, fabric and any other material you’d need to ‘make things’ you’d end up taking home to hang on your wall.

Imagine your ‘Kernel’ being a ‘space’ where the smells of its latest culinary concoctions emanate from its doors and windows, all created in a  physical melting pot representative of the metaphorical melting pot making up your community’s residents; young and old, male and female, rich and poor. And all these creations are started right there at your ‘Kernel’ in its greenhouse and gardens. And of course what isn’t eaten of premise is delivered to your community’s unfortunate and those most in need.

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

Your ‘Kernel’ must be about help, cohesion and collaboration. Every member of your community in unique and adds to its social and intellectual fabric. And every member of your community has gifts, talents and resources to offer. Sometimes they are evident to those who possess them. But often they’re not. It’s at this time when it’s up to you and your fellow community members to uncover them and expose these talents to the light so all can see them and benefit.

All too often people treat the knowledge and expertise as possessions to be kept close. It’s up us to show them it’s better for this knowledge to be is spread throughout their community … especially to the young. Your ‘Kernel’ should act as a nexus for these mentoring activities. Research indicates that community centers, even in much lesser forms than what I propose here with the ‘Kernel,’ provide young people with a physical and emotional safe haven. These ‘spaces’ result in higher levels of self-esteem and confidence for its participants than any other social settings including family and school.

“Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises” ~ Demosthenes (384 BC – 322 BC)

Mentoring and guidance in your ‘Kernel’ need not be limited to the young though. Consider your ‘Kernel’ an “Idea Farm” where through collaboration and expertise sharing, pipe dreams turn into community entrepreneurial ventures. Consider your community’s ‘Kernel’ a technical innovation hub where it’s power is derived from solar and clean energy. And the tools available for creative endeavours include 3D printing technologies, laser cutters, screen printers, electronic lathes and all the latest software to run them. And imagine everyone, regardless of age having access and teaching other.

Gugnad (Norwegian): Unpaid voluntary, orchestrated community work.

View your community’s ‘Kernel’ not just a technical incubator, but also one for social innovation. Imagine a social hub where organization, groups and individuals can come together under no auspices of hierarchy to create a new evolution of community involvement and betterment … a hybrid or sorts. And these ideas being shared amongst other ‘Kernels’ throughout the world.

Your community’s ‘Kernel’ should be a melding of librarians, civic leaders, students, professors, union members and trades people. It should combine high teachers with grade school students and grade school teachers with high school students. It should mix small business owners with the unfortunate who make their way via the streets and shelters along with the retired. And your ‘Kernel’ can even bring government and elected officials into the mix … as long as they understand their position is no higher or their influence no more than anyone else.

It’s impossible to calculate the effect your ‘Kernel’ will have on your community. The old will transfer their valuable professional and life skills to the young who are so in need of them. These same young will in turn have a ‘space’ where they can focus their attention and their dreams, other than biding time waiting for the other shoe to fall – standing on the street corner.

Your community will turn into one of a problem solving mentality where everything is a resource and waste has been truncated to a ‘four letter word.’ ‘Resource Maximization’ will be imprinted in the minds of everyone. The elderly, rather focusing only on their next doctor’s appointment, will be exercising their minds, their bodies and the most of all … their spirits. And they’ll be doing all of it in an outwardly community benevolent fashion rather than just holed in their home obsessing about their personal condition.

Your community will be revitalized. New businesses will be created. Not those derived from Wall Street chains and franchises, but ones of ideas born in your community and run by people from your community. And these will be the businesses that provide the genesis for the future to build on – ensuring its legacy and prosperity.

Old building

The concept of ‘Resource Maximization’ should not start once the walls of your ‘Kernel’ have been constructed. It must start at the very beginning. Assume traditional methods of financing won’t be available. Assume bids will be irrelevant, let alone the lowest one. Your ‘Kernel’ is about community and the resources it has available. Create your ‘Kernel’ with materials that are indigenous to your community’s locale using what’s at its disposal. And most of all … assume money is not first priority, but only the last resort when all other acquisition options have been tried and exhausted.

Your ‘Kernel’ should be a co-op venture between property owner and tenant. Rather than relying on old the “fallback” of the two-year lease with set rental rates, landowners should participate in the success of the ‘Kernel.’ This success can be defined in returns on joint ventures created in the facility, or it could be participation on monthly users fees by members of the ‘Kernel’those not on scholarship because of age (young or old) or waivers due to income restrictions.

Schools and existing community buildings could be co-oped. In return the landlords would get use of the facility for projects they would otherwise be able to do. Your ‘Kernel’ could even act a recruiting firm for local businesses in need of talent. A business could pay a retainer for access to contract expertise and mentoring generated by your ‘Kernel’ or a contingency is a member referred to them is hired full-time.

“Start your own personal industrial revolution” ~ Mark Hatch, CEO TechShop

Your ‘Kernel’ is an ‘opportunity ecosystem. It is the physical manifestation of my community employment platform, Community 3.0. It provides a ‘prototype’ cross-generational, cross-collar, entrepreneurial learning Hub for smaller communities and neighborhoods in larger communities.

Your community’s empowerment starts with a seed … it starts with a ‘Kernel.

_________________________________

I invite you to start by delving into my ideas by reading the series, On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.

_________________________________

You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

“Bridging the Gap”

“Torii Hunter was drafted by the Minnesota Twins back in 1993, and his first two spring trainings happened to coincide with Kirby Puckett’s final two years in the majors in 1994 and 1995. As a high school kid out of Arkansas, Hunter soaked up as much knowledge as he could from the future Hall of Famer. Whether it was about baseball or life, Puckett was quick to offer advice to the young Hunter.

“He was my guy, seriously. He was the guy that in spring training he always took me out,” Hunter recalls. “I called him constantly to try to figure out different things. He was there for me. He didn’t have to pick up the phone. He did pick up the phone. I’d call him and tell him what my problem is, whether it’s finances, family or baseball. He was there for me.”

Now Hunter finds himself on the other side of the teacher-pupil relationship as he returns to Minnesota. The Twins signed the 39-year-old veteran this winter after he spent the last seven years with the Angels and Tigers. Minnesota believes he can still be a productive member of the lineup and someone who will get a decent amount of playing time in right field, but his ability to mentor the team’s younger players was also appealing.”

Hunter makes a leaping catch

Being a huge Minnesota Twins fan, the re-addition of Torii Hunter to the club was wonderful news. I lived in downtown Minneapolis in the late ’80s and attended thirty games during the Twins 1987 World Series championship run. I took advantage of the being able to walk to the Metrodome. And having Torii Hunter, one of the really good guys in baseball come back to mentor one of the youngest teams in the big leagues is a godsend for the Twins and their fans.

Unfortunately we don’t see enough of this anymore. In past societies, especial indigenous ones, mentoring and the ‘passing of the torch’ was not only commonplace … it was mandatory behavior for the senior generations. Communities looked towards the preservation of the “tribe” and that meant educating the younger generation to continue the tribal social lineage.

While Torii Hunter is only a generations removed from his younger teammates, mentoring and tutelage can be spread across a divide of two generations or more. There seems to be a natural connection between grandparents and grandkids. I don’t know why this, but often the bond is stronger than between the grandparent and their adult children. Unfortunately though, this ‘natural connection’ this doesn’t often seem to transfer over other people’s grandkids. In fact, much of the time, it’s just the opposite.

‘Young people’ and ‘old people’ don’t have much in common anymore

Racial and religious differences get most of the attention in the media and in social discussions, but the age divide is probably a deeper and more pronounced obstacle. The rapid-fire pace of societal and technological change is seemingly making much of the past obsolete. The value of passing information from generation to generation does not appear as relevant today as it used to be. ‘Young people’ and ‘old people’ don’t have much in common anymore.

Even a couple of decades ago, we saw young people step into their parents or grandparents roles at companies. Older relatives helped younger ones get on with a company, especially in manufacturing. Nepotism on the factory floor was not only allowed, it was condoned and expected.

The work world has changed though. Jobs are not life-long as they once were. There is no guarantee your employer will even be around – let alone your job. The preoccupation with efficiency and automation has rendered job security a relic of the past. With retirement savings shrinking, older workers are more concerned with keeping the jobs they have rather than grooming the next generation to take over for them. Younger workers are often viewed as a threat, and the secrets of the trade are looked at as an asset to be protected, rather than wisdom to be shared. Ivy league schools have even created new degree programs for executive retirees enabling them to transition into new careers. These are exactly the people at the exact time of their life that should be mentoring their successors … not clogging up the professional pipeline.

And this lack of connection (and often animosity) in the workplace has spilled over into our streets and in our communities. Generations don’t mingle. Differences in political views, social norms and technological aptitude have created a generational gap of epic proportions.

And if the economics and technical change isn’t enough, we have unprecedented divide and animus between political parties. And as one would expect, allegiances often fall along generational lines – with the Republican party representing the elderly, the status quo or worse yet the return to “past times behind;” and the Democratic party representing the young, change and the future (generally speaking). The recent fervor over a potentially discriminatory bill against the LGBT community passed in the Arkansas legislature highlighted this. During a press conference Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson proclaimed the issue of gay rights to be one of difference in generational opinions. He also mentioned his son signed a petition urging him not to sign the bill – of which fortunately he didn’t.  Add cable news networks and their political agendas, primarily Fox News, led by Williams Ayers, Ronald Reagan’s former communication strategist – and the waters of the chasm become unnavigable.

Cross-generational cooperation is not an option … it is a necessity

This ‘gap’ has created a lack understanding of each other’s generation. I don’t believe this is the goal of either though. This happens mainly because of lack of exposure and the misinformation it generates. There are few points of interaction between different generations, physical or online. There are no ‘spaces’ where serendipitous social exchange can happen. Even actual polling places in some states are going the way of the dinosaurs. I went into great detail in an earlier piece on the deterioration of the ‘Middle Ring’ and phenomenon of neighborhood connection. Neighborhoods have lost their function as the ‘Front Porch’ of civic discourse – one that neighbors of different ages can exchange stories and ideas – and help each other out. 

The fastest going city in the country is a retirement community outside of Orlando, Florida. And they don’t allow kids. It’s kind of hard to get any cross-generational interaction when you literally don’t even have to see anyone from the generation you’re supposed to be interacting with.

I don’t mean to putting blame on the older generations though. There’s plenty of it to go around. I used to mow lawns in the summer when I was a teenager. That doesn’t happen here where I live. Older people either do it themselves, or when they can’t anymore they move to a place where there isn’t any lawn to mow. I find this odd considering the huge untapped market with the proportionately high elderly population and kids always needing money. I maybe the ‘youngsters’ can’t be bothered. Or maybe it’s the ‘oldsters’ being too proud to ask. I don’t know. I haven’t tried to find out. Apparently I’m part of the problem too, or at least not the solution … yet!

Aside from nurturing the underlying tensions, we are missing out on the ‘carrying on’ of traditions and skills. Look at the lost potential we leave on the table because of all this disconnect and distrust. Once these connections are broken, often they can never be repaired – and these traditions and skills are lost forever. Do we really want this?

Back a hundred years a community had to look after itself, the young and the old. They had no choice. Their survival was at stake. They didn’t have the sophisticated market system of exchange spanning unseen geographies nor live in the relative luxury we do now. They just had themselves. And with age expectancy increasing and the Millennial generation being smaller than the retiring Boomer generation was at this time in their lives, we have a ticking time bomb. Cross-generational cooperation will not be an option … it’ll be a necessity.

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

Neither generation sees the need or value in the other. What a loss. But fortunately there are signs of hope. The recent Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett collaboration being a visible one. But there are few. And just the fact that it garnered so much attention is sad in itself.

What made this collaboration work is that they had a “shared experience. They shared what I call an “experience world, making music from the ’50s. Lady Gaga stepped into the musical world of Tony Bennett. The significance of Gaga’s effort cannot be understated. But that had to happen to make their collaboration. With her more adaptable mind, she was the natural candidate to initiate it.

I had a similar experience while I was attending college in North Dakota. It was 1980 and my father was involved with a company that marketed and installed solar and wind energy systems. This was during the first alternative energy boom with oil price being at all-time highs. My dad relentlessly pushed me join him in his ‘solar world.’ After a year and a half … I finally relented.

I sold systems with him, wrote an economic feasibility program that ran on the university’s mainframe computer, and even wrote and sponsored a Net Billing energy bill in the North Dakota legislature. But even with this involvement … I was still in my dad’s world.

At the time I was young and my mind was malleable, like Lady Gaga’s. The result was a connection that is still strongly intact after thirty years. And now with the resurgence of solar and wind energy – this “experience world” we shared is once again relevant … to both of us.

Imagine communities where “shared generational experiences” were a priority

We can’t just ignore the fact that our generations aren’t connecting. It’s hurting our ourselves and our communities. However disconnected we are today, it will probably be even more so in the future. Change isn’t slowing down. And we can’t just wish or legislate away this divide. We have to make a concerted effort to connect the ages – for everyone’s benefit. We have to create environments and situations that accommodate and nurture these connections.

Imagine if we lived in communities where “shared generational experiences”were a priority. These communities would have abundance of opportunities for“shared experiences:” serendipitous opportunities for the young and old to enter each other’s “experience worlds” – worlds where the mentee could also do the mentoring. We can do it. And we don’t have to have a Lady Gaga on every corner. We just have to give serendipity a space to happen.

Our communities need to create opportunities for the diverse to connect around a common activity, purpose or goal. And this has to be an initiative much like any other social program. I call this initiative “Bridging the Gap.”  This synergistic approach to the ‘generational resource maximization’ of a community is an integral part of my vision of ‘community based’ societal evolution.

In the next post I’ll let you in on one component of the “Bridging the Gap” initiative … The Kernel.

But in meantime, your assignment is to figure out your own way to “Bridging the Gap.”

_________________________________

If you haven’t, I invite you to start by delving into my ideas by reading the series, On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.

_________________________________

You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+

‘Farm-to-School-to-Market’ … Cross-Generational Entrepreneurial Synthesis

A couple of days ago I was having a Twitter discussion with Sandra, from Nebraska. Sandra is hard-core in the ‘farm-to-school’ movement. Actually it really shouldn’t even be called a movement since it’s just common sense. She posted an article from NPR discussing the fact that revenue from farmers markets nationwide have more or less peaked and in some locals even declined. There are areas that are still seeing increases, but overall the trend is not what you’d expect considering all the publicity of the last few years.

The article detailed several of possible causes. According to Sarah Low, a USDA economist and lead author on the report; “Farmers are increasingly using middlemen to sell to restaurants, grocery stores and distributors. With an increasing share of their produce, dairy or meat going to those channels, some farmers may choose to forgo the farmers market.” Simply put, the farmers market phenomenon may just be ‘growing up.’

However there was one quote that caught my attention.

“It’s just not as cost-effective for producers to be face-to-face with consumers,” Low says. “A lot of farmers like to spend their time farming, not necessarily marketing food.”

IMG_445732030

Thinking about it, this makes sense. And taking it one step further – what if this reason is a major factor why there’s not more locally grown food available overall. This especially hits home with me. I live in a farming community outside of Billings, Montana. The farmers around here grow either corn or sugar beets if their land is irrigated, or barley and wheat if it’s not. And that’s it. Aside from an occasional ‘corn-on-the-cob,’ nothing grown in the fields here make it to my table.

I have a small garden and grow herbs, kale, tomatoes, carrots, etc. And they all grow very well. Yet our local farmers don’t grow any of this, and most don’t people in my town don’t even know what kale is. I know since I give away a lot of it. Their crops are put in big trucks and driven to processing plants owned by multinational corporations headquartered in lands far removed from this little farming town.

But what if the farmers had another option, an option where they didn’t have to spend their time marketing to and groveling in front of those picky consumers looking for ingredients for their next caesar salad or Chicken Florentine (just kidding).

Now on a different subject, but not really, as I’ll come back to this in a minute: My town has a big generational gap. I’m not saying this divide is intentional, but rather I just don’t think there’s much contact between the teenagers and the retirees (or even just adults). And I guessing this might be the case in a lot a small towns and even big cities in America. We’ve always seen age divides, but with the advent of the diversion of personal technology, these chasms may be getting even wider. There seems little opportunity for common ground.

Schools are part of your community – and your community should be part of its schools

I believe a lot of this is the fault of schools. After all, aren’t schools responsible for developing the young talent that supposedly is the future for the community it serves? Yet how much connection is there actually made with its community? And yes schools are supposed to serve the community. The residents pay property tax to fund the schools. But schools are often viewed as the castle on the hill … including the moat. I’m not going so far to say there are crocodiles in the water under the drawbridge, but what hell. In some schools there might as well be. For example, in my little town, even my father, a high school teacher with 25+ years experience, is uncomfortable even going in the building. Here’s someone with a wealth of knowledge at their disposal he’s willing to share … and nothing. Yet they have no problem sticking their hands out asking for money for renovations to update a school that should be closed and consolidated with those of the neighboring towns.

But what if we could change this, especially in rural and farming communities. We have the perfect vehicle for it too … the farm.

Now, let’s get back to my previous point about farmers wanting to farm and not be marketers. After Sandra initially posted the NPR article I mentioned above, I tweeted back:

What about a middleman between farmer and a  handling marketing, packaging, distribution, etc.

And her response was:

One local farmer I know hires students from a nearby school to come out to help him get ready each season. Great experience.

And there was the synthesis that sparked the fire that created this piece and my Farm-to-School-to-Market’ concept.

What if rural high schools and middle schools created programs where students could be the marketers for local farmers producing farmers market ready crops. Not only could the kids market the crops, they could handle the whole post-harvest process as fledging entrepreneurs. Heck they could even help with the harvest if need be. And why stop there, they could even work out co-op deals with the farmers helping grow the crops in the first place. And who says the Farmers Market has to be their only outlet for sales? The students could negotiate deals with local independent grocers and restaurants for additional revenue streams for their products.

Kale 2 crop posterize

I’m sure virtually all rural schools have Vo-Ag programs in their curriculum, but what I’m outlining here isn’t just a farm project. It’s a hands-on exercise in entrepreneurialism and business development. Imagine each school having several groups of students, each potentially spanning different grade levels – creating mini-produce companies. The students in each group would be responsible for all aspects of their micro business, possibly even working with the farmer for crop selection down to the branding and packaging of their product. They would also determine where they would sell them; retail through farmers markets, door-to-door in town, or contract out for wholesale (stores and restaurants). And who knows, maybe some enterprising group could create packaged products from their raw crops – like kale chips. Their options are limited only by their imaginations.

Each group would structure their company how they wanted and allocate duties and decision-making accordingly. Some members of the group may want to take on more responsibility and then be compensated accordingly. I want to note that ‘Farm-to-School-to-Market’ is not meant to be a school fundraiser. It’s the kids who are putting in the work, so they should be the ones who are rewarded financially. The school benefits by the fact that here’s a ready-made curriculum piece dropped in their lap that actually provides real-world benefit, unlike most activity associated with the dreaded standardized tests, so much in vogue.

Many aspects of ‘Farm-to-School-to-Market’ could be integrated directly into regular class activity, either as part of traditional instruction or as independent projects. Each student group would also have to keep an account of their experience with their company, probably through an online blog. Their ideas, tips and suggestions would also be included and shared as other ‘Farm-to-School-to-Market’ groups spread geographically and became commonplace in the rural eduction curriculum.

Students who attend schools with farm-to-school programs are 28% more likely to choose healthy food options. This is especially important given the recent findings showing that once a person becomes obese they will most likely fight obesity all their life, regardless of whether healthy eating and exercise routines are adopted. Anything that can be done at early ages to promote healthy eating, must be done. And imagine if these healthy eating habits were taken home as homework to benefit the whole family. But these farm-to-school programs can’t happen with just desire. They need a supply of healthy food. And that means local farmers raising it … the core tenet of ‘Farm-to-School-to-Market.’ 

Be part of making your community’s school a real world experience

America’s public schools are often accused of creating test-ridden robots of their students. Here’s a way to counter that accusation, and at the same time help bridge a generational divide all too prevalent in rural America. Combine this with helping seed and nurture a much-needed ‘farm-to-school’ movement … you have trifecta of benefits.

Rural America needs outlets for its young people. The best and brightest of these communities will go where they can express themselves creativity, artistically or through business endeavours. Whether they flex these creative muscles in the towns they grew up in is up to their communities and the metaphorical canvases they provide. Their home towns have the advantage. Retaining talent is a lot easier than attracting new. But make no mistake, having young talent is not an option for a community to flourish. It is mandatory.

Literally and figuratively … it’s on your plate. Now it’s up to you. Wake up your schools! After all … they are your schools.

______________________________________

I can be reached on Twitter at @clayforsberg or on Google+. And also please follow Sandra at @_prairiespirit. If it wasn’t for her … you wouldn’t be reading this.

______________________________________

Related Posts: