Last week I had the pleasure of participating in a Montana Economic Developers Association (MEDA) Resource Team in Ronan, Montana. This experience was a wonderful opportunity not only to share the knowledge that Rural Economic Designs has but also to learn new ideas and resources from colleagues across the State. It is so incrediable to spend time in a community and truly learn from those passionate about their community.
Growing up in Western Montana, I drove through Ronan thousands of times. I spent some time down in the 4-H Extension Office for Lake County and attended the Lake County Jr. Fair a handful of times. However, I never took the time to really learn or see Ronan. It is a beautiful community with a rich cultural past and future. Though, there are difficulties facing the community, I am amazed at how resilient these folks truly area. I also had no idea how much agriculture they still have especially as agriculture in Western Montana continues to decline to make room for second homes and sprawling urban centers. Ronan has a ton of opportunities and I’m excited to be working with them even though it’s just for a moment.
The MEDA Resource Teams is a program that the MEDA organization provides for any community in the State of Montana. A group of volunteers, across the State that are engaged in economic and community development from State Programs to local development organizations to private consultants like Rural Economic Designs, come into the community for 2 to 3 days. The purpose of the visit is to listen to residents, business owners, community leaders, political leaders, and others about what is happening in their community. The Resource Team after gathering all this information creates a report that identifies potential projects, ideas, and resources based on what the community told the Team. Then members of the team will return to the Community in 3-4 weeks to help those engaged in the process prioritize and develop tangible projects that address key issues in the community.
It is truly a wonderful experience and Ronan was one of the more interesting communities I’ve gone to. The mix of cultures with the Salish-Kootenai Tribes, generational agricultural families, and emerging industries has created a uniqueness in this rural community, unlike what I’ve experienced in other areas. I think these folks have made huge strides in working together and has a lot of potential to retain the past while building a strong future.
And, I would be remised if I didn’t discuss the honor we had of attending the Salish-Kootenai River Honoring Ceremony on the Flathead Lake. To be immersed into their culture and experience a ceremony that has taken place for centuries was truly one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in Montana. Though the food was incredible, my favorite part of the evening was the releasing of a bald eagle that had been rescued and nursed back to health. What an inspriration evening to be connected to the land in such a way and experiance such a welcoming from a very rich and friendly culture.
I wanted to write this experience down not only to share the overall experience but to stress the importance of volunteering. Did I make any money from participating in this Resource Team- no. Actually, I’m a bit behind now with my paying clients thus why working on a beautiful Sunday morning, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. There is a sense of accomplishment by participating in volunteer opportunities as well as a great way to learn from the experience itself. It gives one the ability to step back from the day to day and see the world from a different view which in turns gives you new experiances and making you stronger in your daily life and work. My advice is to capture those opportunities and learn from them. Take the time to give back- you will say thank you in the end!