Congratulations to the 2017-2018 Rural Voices winners!
First Place Video Entry: Sydney Johnson, Beloit Junior-Senior High School, Beloit, KS
First Place Written Entry: David Lutgen, St. John’s Catholic High School, Beloit, KS
View the winning video and read the winning essay below.
Rural Kansas… If I Were in Charge
By David Lutgen
Rural Kansas is a great place to call home. Growing up in Beloit, Kansas, has taught me the values of family, hard work, dedication, thankfulness for my blessings, and giving back to others. I love the small town atmosphere where neighbors are friendly, people know and respect each other, and it is a safe place to raise kids. There are many other positive aspects of rural communities in Kansas; however, changes are needed in order to maintain, or, more importantly, to allow these communities to grow. It is necessary to keep up with the times and be willing to make changes. An unknown author said, “Old ways won’t open new doors.” I believe a good place to start would be to attract young families to rural communities. Without increasing and revitalizing the population, these rural communities will die out.
The current housing market deters young people from moving to rural communities. It is not feasible because it is unaffordable for most. I would start by making affordable housing available. In addition to building affordable homes, it would also be beneficial to repair run-down homes, as well as clean up areas in need of refurbishing. This would not only make more housing available, but would enhance the appearance of rural communities, making them more attractive to potential residents. In 1973, a group of people from a rural community in Texas realized a growing need in their community. Their neighbors’ homes were in disrepair, and the homeowners could not afford to fix them. These individuals volunteered their time and skills to help their struggling neighbors. They realized the good their work was doing and its potential. They began an organization called Rebuilding Together to repair and rebuild homes that had fallen into disrepair. Rebuilding Together is now a nationally recognized non-profit housing organization. Organizations such as this would create an improved rural environment. I would create a volunteer home-repair organization for those who would be willing to help others who are not physically, or financially able to make repairs on their own. People who work in their community also take pride and ownership of it. An attractive housing market would encourage growth and revitalization in rural Kansas.
If affordable housing were available, it would be easier to recruit start-up companies or those seeking to expand. Companies such as Sunflower, Carrico Implement, and Agco have had a positive role in attracting young families to the Beloit, Kansas, community by providing employment to a large percentage of residents in Beloit. Other examples of employment that I would promote would include: construction (building new housing developments), civil service jobs, financial institutions, and restaurants. With that being said, big chain stores such as Walmart would devastate rural Kansas. Kenneth Stone, a researcher at Iowa State University did a study on the effects that Walmart had on local businesses in rural Iowa. The study compared thirty-four rural Iowa towns that had Walmart stores nearby to fifteen Iowa towns that did not. Populations in these towns ranged from 5,000 to 40,000 persons. The results concluded that some small towns lost up to forty-seven percent of their local retail trade after ten years of having Walmart stores nearby. I would be strongly opposed to allowing businesses such as Walmart to take up residence anywhere near a rural area that is wanting to grow. A business such as Walmart would put local stores out of business, which would have the opposite effect of building up small towns.
Hospitals and/or medical clinics are also key components to a thriving rural community. Not only do they provide employment, but also healthcare close to home. People shouldn’t have to travel long distances to receive medical treatment. Some people may argue that traveling long distances is worth it for quality healthcare. Yes, Mayo Clinic may provide better healthcare than a rural hospital; however, rural hospitals are vital for everyday and emergency needs. Take for example, eighteen-month-old Edith Gonzalez. Edith had a grape lodged in her throat and tragically died in her desperate parents’ arms. Edith’s parents could not reach medical treatment before she passed away, as there was no hospital in their rural Texas county. The problem was simple, yet there was no solution. According to the American Hospital Association, there are about 5,700 hospitals in the country, but they tend to be unevenly distributed–only thirty-five percent are located in rural areas. According to the federal Office of Rural Health Policy, researchers at the University of North Carolina have determined that there are 640 counties across the country without quick access to an acute-care hospital, roughly twenty percent of the nation’s 29,000 residential areas. Tragic situations such as this are very preventable with healthcare close to home. Since the rural environment may not be appealing to many doctors, I would promote a student loan forgiveness incentive for young doctors fresh out of medical school to practice in rural communities. This would be a win-win situation for both rural communities and young doctors. Rural communities would have the opportunity to have healthcare, and young doctors could receive a great start to their career, while not having to worry about their student loans.
Schools are also a priority. Parents should not have to worry about their children receiving a quality education. We can’t produce leaders of tomorrow if we don’t give them a quality education today. I would increase funding for grade schools and high schools to ensure all children receive a quality education. Also, perhaps there could be an incentive for college students to work in a rural community after graduation, if jobs were available to them.
Local shopping and recreational activities also boost the rural environment and economy. Many people shop on the internet or commute long distances to shop. I would encourage competitive pricing in local businesses to entice people to shop locally, keeping money in the community. I would also promote new local business by providing a tax-free incentive for new business owners. Entertainment also plays a role in rural areas. For example, Beloit, Kansas, has a community movie theater, new water park, Chautauqua Park, Isle of Lights during the holiday season, bowling alley, and community concerts. Restaurants are also important to a community. More people than ever before are eating out. Why not bring in quality, affordable eating establishments and keep the money in town? Activities such as school and church functions, county fairs, festivals, barbeques, car shows, parades, farmers markets, and fundraisers also contribute to a small town atmosphere. Recreational activities and restaurants make rural life enjoyable.
A young generation rejuvenates rural communities. A thriving rural community is built around its people. The sense of family, rural atmosphere, and small town values are attractive to young families; however, there is always room for improvement. Rural communities must be willing to change in order to grow. If I were in charge I would provide affordable housing, quality jobs, healthcare, and schools as they are all key components in bringing young families to rural Kansas. Young families are the future of rural Kansas.
Stone, Kenneth “Impact of the Walmart Phenomenon on Rural Communities.” Iowa State
University. Iowa State University. Web. 12 Oct. 2017.
Williams, Joseph “What Happens When a Town’s Only Hospital Shuts Down.” US News and
World Report. US News and World Report, 8 Nov. 2013. Web. 10 Oct. 2017.
About the Contest: The Rural Voices Youth Contest is sponsored each year by the North Central Regional Planning Commission (NCRPC) to engage high school seniors in North Central Kansas in thoughtful reflection on rural Kansas and to promote a discussion among citizens based on their insights.
The next contest deadline will be November 15, 2018. Further details will be announced and registration for the 2018-2019 Rural Voices Youth Contest will begin in September 2018.