The Trust Agreement

By Titus Tomlinson and Aniko Drlik-Muehleck

History and relationships in rural communities run deep. This creates a rich web of networks and shared wisdom that can support a community through tough times.

The flip-side of longstanding relationships, however, can be paralysis. As humans, we remember the past and in particular, we remember the wrongs of the past. If someone snubs or undermines me, I’m not likely to want to work with them again. I might even go so far as to tell all my friends and colleagues not to work with them again. Word spreads quickly, and factions start to develop; we dig in and don’t cooperate with people or groups we don’t respect.

Sometimes, it’s perfectly legitimate to cut off relationships. You don’t, for example, want to keep working with someone who is stealing from you. In the context of community development, however, holding grudges does not pay off. If you’re serious about getting things done in your community, you can’t let the past get in your way.

Here at the Community Service Center, we’ve been experimenting with the Strategic Doing framework as a way to move community conversations beyond the usual sticking points of tense relationships and power struggles. It is never easy to change the direction and mood of a community conversation, but here’s something we’ve tried that you might be interested in bringing to your own community work: The Trust Agreement.

The Trust Agreement is simple, but powerful:

We believe in behaving in ways that build trust and mutual respect. That means:

  • Leave your ego at the door.
  • The past is the past.
  • Treat others with the respect you hope to receive in return.
  • We are a coalition of the willing…
  • …ALWAYS focus on the positive. We’re here to talk about what we CAN do, not what we can’t.

When you’re coming in to a particularly difficult meeting where you know egos and historical grudges might be at play, consider beginning your discussion by laying out these concepts. Then courteously yet firmly let meeting participants know that if they can’t embrace the Trust Agreement, this meeting probably isn’t for them.

A RARE Experience

By Marina Brassfield

A highlight from the past four months in my RARE position as an Economic Development Specialist has not been one single occurrence, but it has been the continuous building of relationships with community members – specifically, with one volunteer who has been engaged, motivated, and possesses an excitement that’s contagious to those around her.

At our first ad hoc committee meeting, dedicated to business relationship building and networking, the group brainstormed potential projects we wanted to focus our energies on for the next 11 months. This particular volunteer came up with the idea to plan an event celebrating the local products and businesses unique to the Fern Ridge Area. Not only would it encourage residents to shop local, but it would also allow for business-to-business networking and encourage membership in the local Chamber of Commerce.

She’s had lots of ideas since then, such as talking to the Eugene Chamber of Commerce for event planning advice, fundraising ideas, entertainment and game ideas for the day of. She also reached out to venue owners, and because of her efforts, our event will be held at one of the nicest spots in West Lane County, free of cost.

I’ve found that we are extremely effective in working together. After meetings with her, I always leave motivated, with improved ideas and plans I had been contemplating but unsure of how to execute. For this committee, my focus has mostly been project management and organizing, research, and outreach; however, I feel she has been most forceful in moving this project forward, by exciting other committee volunteers and coming up with creative ideas to work through.

This volunteer is still in school for Business Administration, and recently asked me more about my position, besides the context she works with me in. She said she is interested in pursuing economic development as a career; surely, she would have found a passion with or without having a RARE placement in her community, and the ad-hoc committee I am working on would have likely progressed with or without me. But being a part of someone’s experience, and sharing the work of a meaningful project with someone who loves, cares about the future of their community, and gives back to it has been an incomparable experience.

A bit about Marina Brassfield:

  • B.A. in Environmental Studies and a Minor in Planning, Public Policy, and Management – University of Oregon.
  • I spent each summer of my childhood sailing in the Hawaiian Islands with my dad and my sister. When I was nine years old, we sailed across the Pacific Ocean to return the sailboat from Honolulu, Hawaii to Port Townsend, Washington.
  • Before studying abroad in Italy, the experience seemed very attractive to me but unattainable. I worked restlessly to apply for loans and additional scholarships, sold possessions I did not need, used savings from high school, and continued to save a little from each paycheck. Through my planning and efforts, I obtained enough for the program and travel costs.

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: