Tag: Stories from the Field: A RARE AmeriCorps Perspective

I Too Believe In Participatory Planning

All I remember from a recent work group about solar energy in Oregon is a colleague standing up in front of a group of important community leaders and preaching that he believes in participatory planning. It maybe did not come across as a hugely impactful or uncommon statement to others (it was also right before lunch), but it certainly resonated with me. Participatory planning, or the idea of a community-level and community-engaged planning process, is something that we have to stand up and believe in. It is not always the status quo, especially in energy decision-making, but it is a framework that is needed if we hope to tackle some of today’s most pressing issues.

A large part of why I elected to participate in the RARE program was to understand how communities can engage in their energy systems and take charge of the future of their environments. My project work falls under the broad category of energy and sustainability planning – a category that can often be difficult to see the benefit of at the local, community level. However, serving with a municipal government, I have again and again seen why it matters at the local level. The local level is where neighbors know each other and care for their shared natural spaces. It is where government staff live alongside and truly understand the values of the citizens they serve. It is where people care that their waterways stay clean, their air is breathable, and their way of life remains an option for their children. As I am serving with Clackamas County, a county that extends to the foothills of Mt. Hood while simultaneously containing parts of the Portland metro area, it is a unique space to be exploring energy and sustainability. Clackamas offers a front row seat to urban-rural interactions as well as to the intricacies of striking a balance between conservation and development.

I think the most impactful – as well as humbling – part of my experience thus far has been to see the ways my community has already been taking action on its own. I have been amazed by the interdepartmental Climate Exchange group that already exists and is discussing how all of their interests, from public health to transportation, are interrelated. They already understand that they must work together across their networks to address climate change now in Clackamas County. I have been moved watching the Energy Educator of my community meet residents, often elderly and lower income, in their own homes to teach them low-to-no-cost ways to lower their monthly electric and heating bills. I have on multiple occasions left the room with my mind spinning after discussing with planners the delicacies of promoting solar energy in the County while also ensuring the protection of its cherished farmland. Finally, it was most heartening to sit by and just watch as the Board of Commissioners unanimously and triumphantly decided to begin work on a new climate action plan for the County.

I have found that my role in my community is not to be the change-maker, but to lend capacity to the change-makers that have already been tirelessly working and laying the foundation. This is not to say I will have done nothing by the end of my service. I will have completed the County’s first greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inventory to boost them on their way to reducing their carbon footprint. I will have aided in the scoping process of their next big journey towards a comprehensive climate action plan. I also will have increased overall knowledge on the value of solar energy and pushed forward opportunities for shared solar development throughout the County’s rural communities. The to-do list goes on.

All this to say, I too believe in participatory planning. I believe that communities should be their own decision-makers and their own change-makers. I feel quite lucky that participating in the RARE program has offered me the opportunity to watch this first-hand in my community as well as play my own small part in it.

About the author, Claire Trevisan: Claire completed her undergraduate studies in Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Virginia. With this background, she is interested in exploring the connection between rural communities and natural resources, hoping to better understand the role infrastructure can play in this complicated relationship.

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 

Making New Friends in Unexpected Places

Coordinating the logistics for Mid-Columbia Economic Development District’s (MCEDD) annual Economic Symposium was not only the first big project on my designated work plan as a part of my RARE term with MCEDD, but it was my very first time planning a real event. To say that I was pretty nervous is a vast understatement. Luckily I had an outlined list of tasks to complete in preparation of the event so I set to work on getting tasks done so that I could begin gradually crossing off the empty checkboxes that covered the page.

Aside from the tasks I had to complete by myself, there were a variety of things that I had to coordinate with other partners, which gave me the chance to start meeting some of the people in the community. One such partner that I met with and steadily worked with in preparation of the symposium was Skot, the Events Manager at the venue space we were going to be using to host the symposium. As far as the event space was concerned all that had been done before I arrived at MCEDD was that a deposit had been placed in order to secure a room at The Dalles Civic Auditorium, a concert hall and event space that I later learned had been around since 1921 (There’s a cool fun fact for you.)

I reached out to Skot to ask if I could tour the auditorium since I hadn’t been able to see the physical space we were going to be using and wanted to get an idea of the layout of the space in order to better figure out the logistics of the room and the equipment we would be using for the symposium. Skot happily agreed to give me a tour, and when I arrived he ended up giving me a tour not only of the room we would be using, but of the entire Civic Auditorium, which was really cool because as I learned from Skot, the building had been restored only a few years earlier and was in pristine condition. I appreciated the opportunity to learn about a little piece of The Dalles’ history while simultaneously working on my designated task at hand.

After the venue tour I continued working with Skot until the day of the symposium to figure out how many tables and chairs we would need, where the projector screen would be placed, how many microphones we would need, and other logistics of that nature. Skot was extremely patient with me and accommodating throughout the entire process, even as I continued to ask an abundance of questions and emailed him frequently to give him new information. On the day of the symposium Skot was there at the auditorium to make sure that all the equipment worked properly and to take care of any technical difficulties we encountered.

The symposium ended up being a pretty great success, and the only negative feedback we received was that there wasn’t enough room to move around in the room we reserved, which was because we ended up putting in two more tables at the last minute to accommodate all the additional people who bought tickets at the last minute! After the symposium was over and we had wrapped everything up and got ready to leave, I thanked Skot again profusely for all the help he gave so that the event went on smoothly. Not only did he give me some words of encouragement and validate the good job that I did, but he then invited my roommates and I to come to the Civic Auditorium for a concert that was going to be held there later that week, for free. Through this experience I learned that
1. I’m capable of a lot and I need to believe in myself and my skills
2. Catered cookies are absolutely delicious
3. The importance of building relationships with people and partners in the community who can make your job a whole heck of a lot easier if you work to foster a positive relationship

I learned that building positive relationships with project partners is extremely valuable and can go a long way in making my own working experience a positive one. And if I’ve learned anything from my own experience, you never know where a positive relationship might take you! Like to a free concert, for example.

About the author, Tatiana Eckhart: Tatiana has BA’s in Sociology and Planning, Public Policy, and Management from the University of Oregon. She is originally from a tight-knit community in Hawaii and enjoys the sense of communal support that living in a small town provides. She loves exploring the great outdoors, especially hiking and camping, and has traveled to over a dozen countries! Tatiana is excited to being back in Oregon and serving in a rural region, learning new skills, and helping build strong sustainable communities.

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