RARE: To Be Uncommon Among Common People

By Garett Peterson

As a Program Analyst in the planning department at the City of Scappoose, I’m responsible for multiple projects that relate to small city planning and community development. In the short time at my placement, I’ve already had the opportunity to work on multiple meaningful projects that will help advance my future career as a sustainable land developer, such as write staff reports and present them to City Council for adoption, help manage the City’s Park and Recreation Committee, and create a framework for an adopt-a-park program that will be implemented this spring. However, my most significant project completed thus far is planning and overseeing the City’s Annual Town Meeting which has been planned and managed by RARE members for the last three consecutive years. The general purpose of the event is to update the public on current and future City projects, but more importantly, it is an opportunity for residents to give feedback on the direction of the City. These meetings are essential for a healthy and vibrant community because they help hold City staff accountable and provide clarity to the public on decisions that will impact their daily lives in Scappoose.

Since the meetings are surprisingly well attended by the community (usually between 120-175 people), there was a lot of pressure to meet the expectations set by the City and my own professional standards. When I first started to plan the event, my first course of action was to break the project down into more manageable pieces to aid in the organization and execution of necessary tasks. For example, I had to create promotional flyers, reach out to stakeholders to participate, find local businesses to sponsor, and create the presentation, among countless other things. This experience taught me that the devil is in the details and that there is a lot of things that need to happen behind the scenes for a project to be successful.

When the day of the meeting arrived I was somewhat nervous that something bad would happen, but ultimately I was confident that the City and I had done our due diligence to ensure a quality event. The first half of the meeting focused on updates from City staff who discussed progress in meeting community goals that had been identified in the 1st Annual Town Meeting two years ago. This helped demonstrate how the City actively pursues many of the concerns identified by the public. This section led perfectly into the follow-up break out session which asked the attendees the same three questions from the 1st Annual Town Meeting. The second half of the meeting featured several speakers who discussed a number of important issues facing the City. Most notably, State Senator Betsy Johnson updated attendees about efforts to promote and develop OMIC (Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center) which she has been closely involved with and that could lead to significant new job opportunities in Scappoose. Throughout the meeting there were a few bumps in the road, but overall I am pleased with the outcome and I believe that most people walked away more informed and satisfied with the direction of the City.

Before my placement in RARE, I had limited amount of experience in community engagement and event planning so being responsible for such a big event seemed like a daunting task. Where do I even begin? I felt lost before I even started. But before I allowed doubt to take up residency in my mind, I took time to reflect on the RARE program and I quickly realized that facing uncomfortable situations is essentially the main purpose of being a RARE member because it forces you to grow both professionally and personally. Realizing that planning this event was not merely an additional burden on my workload, but instead an opportunity to test my abilities, converted my hesitation into excitement for the opportunity to challenge myself with something that will help me in the long run. This mentality is usually shared among successful RARE participants, the ability and willingness to spin negative into positive, but unfortunately it is not held by the general public which causes RARE members to be uncommon among common people.

A bit about Garett Peterson:

  • Currently serving as a Program Analyst for the City of Scappoose.
  • Bachelor of Science in Environmental Policy Analysis and Planning, University of California, Davis, Spring 2015
  • People may be surprised… “Recently backpacked through eight countries in Europe over a span of two months this past fall.”

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-proces

 

Never Say No

By Norah Owings

Talent is a small city 20 miles from the California border tucked between Ashland and Medford in the Rogue Valley. It often doesn’t stand out from the large city of Medford that boasts most of the infrastructure and needs of the valley or the niche market of the Shakespearean Ashland. However, if you happen to take exit 21 off I5 you just might fall in love with this dedicated and passionate community just like I did.

Adjusting to a new community is hard, especially when you’re in an area you’ve never been before. You need to learn the culture of the area, any important people who can help you, as well as figuring out where the best grocery store is. It may take you a week to get your bearings, or you could be like me and not full adjust until month 4. Although you might not feel fully comfortable and not know exactly what you’re doing, the best thing I learned during my time in Talent was to never say no to any opportunity you’re invited to. Whether that is city council every other Wednesday at 6:45 or the small community group that meets in the town hall to discuss zero waste or weed abatement. It may feel awkward and weird at first, but it will help you in the long run understand your community and see who the key players are.

One of the first things I agreed to was to have a booth at the annual Harvest Festival, which was less than a month into my project. It was one those situations where you really don’t want to, you don’t even know what the Harvest Fest is and you don’t even know what you’re exactly supposed to have at this booth. But in the end you throw something together show up an hour early to set up and have an amazing day. I got to talk to citizens, volunteers, council members, and staff all within a 6-hour period in a place that I never would have if I hadn’t agreed to have a booth.

The first city committee meeting I went to was the complete opposite of my Harvest Festival experience. It was HEATED. I was also the only person in there who wasn’t part of their group. Within the first 10 minutes I was like what did I get myself into?! There were arguments about things I had no idea about and deep discussions about plans they had been working on for months. However, I learned that some of these people I would be working alongside with for my entire program. A group of dedicated volunteers wanting to make their community the best town in Jackson County.

No matter the occasion or whether you think you should be there if you’re invited to something or you see an event that you’re interested go! This is your time to make the contacts and learn about your community. The individuals in those first meetings I see now on a weekly basis and have become great colleagues and friends. It has made me one of the passionate dedicated volunteers working to create a better Talent.

A little bit about Norah Owings:

  • B.S. in Environmental Economics and Policy and a Minor in Natural Resources – Oregon State University
  • People may be surprised when they learn that I appeared in Time Magazine
  • One of my most significant accomplishment was my internship at the Corvallis Environmental Center. I was hired to intern for community outreach and event planning for the annual Cooped Up in Corvallis where people got to tour local chicken coops.