By Paige Crenshaw, Resource and Collaboration Assistant, Gordon Elwood Foundation
It’s a swelteringly warm day in Southern Oregon, and I’m nervous. I’m about to attend a crucial meeting of community funders, high profile executive directors of nonprofits, and CEO’s of medical groups and hospitals. I’m overdressed, boiling in an itchy blazer, not understanding what the dress code of Southern Oregon is quite yet. There’s a pile of boxes clumsily stacked in the back of my car from my cross-country road trip from Northern Wisconsin. I know I have to introduce myself and tell everyone about the most recent work and future direction of the three non-profits I’m serving, which is not entirely clear to me. Oh, and it’s my third day.
Service with RARE is not for the faint of heart. On any given day, I’ve found myself attending board meetings with CEOs of hospitals, talking to a college campus on how to increase their local food purchasing, and co-hosting events with my local library on how to create diversified funding bases for non-profits. Often, I am moving between seemingly different worlds, at least to the casual observer. But the worlds aren’t so different, at least to me.
The nature of this service is constantly in flux, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. My position with the Gordon Elwood Foundation, a small private charitable foundation in Southern Oregon, has me serving two different community collaboratives, The Rogue Valley Food System Network and the Jefferson Regional Health Alliance. These groups, on the surface, might seem radically different, but as I’ve come to find out, there is so much to be gained from seeing them as partners in community building, rather than as opposing opposites.
The current that underlies all of this work is systems thinking. And I don’t mean systems thinking in some overly intellectualized, pie-in-the-sky way. I mean REAL cross-sector collaboration, where folks who otherwise might not engage, let alone consider the other, are coming together to move the needle. I’m currently undertaking a project for the Jefferson Regional Health Alliance where I will collect and enter vast amounts of data for the regions Community Health Improvement Plan, a process where local health partners are coming together to improve identified health outcomes in Southern Oregon. This data pertains to how different organizations, groups, and businesses are directly working on improving housing outcomes, behavioral health, and parenting and life skills.
People who are not inside the medical mainstream, but instead work in food systems, whether as growers, farmers, educators, and volunteers are being invited to meetings with doctors and nurses to talk about improving health outcomes. New people are coming to the table all the time. That collaboration, that need to come together despite vast ideological differences to better community, is the most rewarding part of this service.
I’ve come to love Southern Oregon, for all of its messy collaboration and muddled dress codes. I love the Rogue River, how it runs through everything. I love its dandelion goat cheese, its unabashed love of fermentation, its roadside farm stands. I love the resiliency of people, who despite all of the boom-and-bust-economic cycles of Southern Oregon, are devoted to this place. I love my friends in the RARE Cohort, who make me belly laugh every single day.
Southern Oregon is a place marked by hardship: a stunning landscape, an astoundingly rich ecological setting, and a tragic history of poverty amidst incredible natural resources. The relationship between humans and their environment, sometimes successful, sometimes otherwise, the struggle between the tenuous grasp of civilization and this marvelous, terrible place – that is the nature of this work. I love this marvelous, terrible place, despite it all.
About the author, Paige Crenshaw: Originally hailing from Chicago, IL, Paige studied Sustainable Community Development and Sociology & Social Justice at Northland College in Ashland, WI. After working on both urban and rural farms of different scales during her undergraduate years, Paige developed her own food ethic and understanding of what the relationships between and across food, soil, regional development means for community resilience and long-term sustainability. This understanding led her to explore other facets of community work, spanning multiple sectors — public health, sustainable food systems, and cross-community collaboration. Paige is thrilled to dig into potential and existing possibilities for community development in Southern Oregon. Paige is also jazzed about swimming in natural bodies of water, tidal pools, contra dancing, and garlic.
Does community development work interest you? Are you looking for a life changing experience in rural Oregon? Learn more about serving with the RARE AmeriCorps Program via our website: https://rare.uoregon.edu/application-process/member-application-process