By Claudia Denton
The small city of Veneta has been building to this point for years, and I had too.
Veneta had taken its time in recent years to make infrastructure improvements in downtown, create an EWEB inter-tie to meet future water supply needs, and invest in the new Fern Ridge Service Center and a Park & Ride. Veneta City Council had made Economic Development a top goal, and City staff had ensured that Economic Development was a priority by adopting an Economic Development Strategy Five Year Aciton Plan – with action item 1 directing the City to hire a RARE participant. That’s a lot of pressure.
I had persevered to college and graduate school, worked rewarding internships and student jobs with the City of Eugene and the University of New Mexico, and made plans for a career in local government or city planning. I felt prepared. Veneta needed someone to move forward their economic development efforts, and I wanted to gain experience working for a municipal government, so when Veneta requested me to be their Economic Development Specialist, we were both ready.
In the beginning of my service year, I felt both overqualified and underqualified at the same time. Some tasks, such as creating an inventory of available land, felt like the right balance of easy, challenging, and rewarding. Others, like my role as the liaison to the Economic Development Committee, felt strangely foreign and new. It sounded like an easier task at first, but creating agendas, public meeting notices, and typing up meeting minutes for a municipal government is not to be underestimated. For whatever reason, I was most anxious to type of the meeting minutes. And that first time, it felt like it took an eternity.
I made some mistakes along the way and had to try new approaches but soon found a rhythm, and slowly but surely everything started making sense and fitting together. More and more tasks were assigned to me, but I got better and better at accomplishing them with confidence. Starting in December, we got into the foundational work of putting together a Business Retention & Expansion pilot program from scratch with the Economic Development Committee and our nonprofit program partners. I was designated to be the program coordinator and perform the accompanying duties on behalf of the City.
At first I didn’t necessarily feel qualified to make these decisions and be the representative of the program to the community. Now, less than a short two months later, we successfully launched the program starting with a kickoff event at a local restaurant where local business owners, community volunteers, Committee members, the Mayor, and program partners gathered to learn more about how they could make Veneta a better place. And they were all there because I asked them to be.
I went from being unsure how to type up agenda minutes to coordinating the Business Retention & Expansion Effort in less than three months. Imagine what the 25 of us RAREs are going to do after the service year is over?
Claudia received her bachelor’s degree in Environmental Planning and Design with a minor in Sustainability Studies from the University of New Mexico, and she her graduate certificate in Oregon Leadership in Sustainability with a concentration in Sustainable Planning and Design from the University of Oregon. As a student, Claudia worked as a Transportation Options Intern with the City of Eugene Public Works, where she conducted research on international and domestic transportation-related programs, laws, and statistics, and assisted in creating and implementing a Pedestrian Safety Education Campaign. During her year with RARE AmeriCorps – Resource Assistance for Rural Environments, Claudia hopes to gain a deeper understanding of how work in community development, urban design, long-range planning, and transportation options is accomplished in Oregon. After her year with RARE, Claudia desires to become a city planner in order to improve communities in Oregon.