Leadership group studies community, looks to improve Mills

Kevin Cederstrom Through a program called Horizons, study groups consisting of New York Mills area residents met for five weeks to discuss poverty and how Mills residents viewed their community. While in these study circles partici...

Kevin Cederstrom

Through a program called Horizons, study groups consisting of New York Mills area residents met for five weeks to discuss poverty and how Mills residents viewed their community. While in these study circles participants set out to make the community stronger by reducing poverty. The goal for each group was to come up with three action ideas to improve the community. On Monday, the groups presented their ideas at the school.

The first group, led by school superintendent Todd Cameron, came up with a mentoring program, recruitment of businesses, and establishing a student-run business at the school for its three ideas.

A portion of the groups discussion centered around youth as an important asset to the community. That's where the mentoring program would come into effect. The group stated youth in the community need positive role models and encouragement as a way to bring the older and younger generation together. By bridging the gap between young and old, the group feels, the community needs to keep supporting the system and keep the community moving in a positive direction.


Ideas for recruitment of businesses includes establishing a finders fee for those who get former Mills natives or others to come back to the community and start a business. This is part of the idea process to figure out what business and employment opportunities are available for young people.

Group two, headed up by Dennis Anderson and Lynn Kasma, set its priority action ideas as a mentoring program, job counseling and a setting up a community newsletter. Ideas for mentoring include something similar to the Big Brother/Big Sister, and Kinship programs. Included in the mentoring and job counseling discussions is building off the school to work program to help teens find jobs in the community. The group's discussions came back to having good jobs and a strong workforce in Mills.

The idea behind a community newsletter is based on "how things used to be" when neighbors got to know each other better and worked together more. This would help the community feel more unified and a newsletter would aid in getting information about community events and activities out to more people.

The third study group, led by Davis Leino Mills, presented its three action ideas of a community pride project, support network for information, and to create a thrift store in NY Mills.

An idea to increase community pride is for the city to offer free trash pickup and junk removal through a joint effort between the city and community organizations such as the Lions and school groups. Part of the discussion was the reason some people may keep junk in their yards is they don't have the financial resources to dispose of the items.

The thrift store idea is to have a business set up where residents can donate their old clothes, furniture and other items for others to purchase at a reasonable price. This could create some jobs and the group feels would be a good community pride project.

During Monday's meeting the groups ideas were presented but details as to how to put them in motion were not discussed. The implementation of the ideas will be studied further in the process.

Once the action ideas were presented Monday a list was compiled and those in attendance voted on priority of importance. This is how the vote came out: 1. Recruitment of Businesses; 2. Mentoring Program; 3. Thrift Store; 4. Job Counseling; 5. Community Pride Projects; 6. School Business; 7. Community Newsletter.



The Horizons program is a partnership between the University of Minnesota Extension Service and the Northwest Area Foundation. Horizons is intended to build rural leadership that reduces poverty. It is a community-based initiative open to the 124 rural Minnesota communities with fewer than 5,000 people with poverty rates of at least 10 percent. The U of M Extension Service provides training, support and resources to members of these communities, including NY Mills, to strengthen community leadership and civic engagement systems.

The program is set up in five phases. First the Showcase, which is a one-day overview of the program to help communities decide to become part of Horizons. Second is the Study Circles, organized to discuss poverty and a plan for community action.

The next is LeadershipPlenty, is where community members receive nine sessions of leadership training. Two Mills residents, Amy Wallgren and Marcia Abbott, are certified trainers for LeadershipPlenty. Those two, along with Julie Adams and Michelle Helmeke, are looking to recruit 25-30 more participants to lead through the program. Once the group is established participants will complete nine modules of training over two weekends in April. They will learn leadership skills and deal with ways to reduce poverty in the community through the action ideas established in the study circles.

The three main goals of the NY Mills Horizons program is to try and reduce poverty, teach leadership skills and to get participants for LeadershipPlenty. Upon completing LeadershipPlenty the group will then take on the final two phases of Strategic Visioning, where neighbors will come together to prioritize the next steps to enact poverty reduction; and Action to make the vision become reality.

Once all phases of the program are successfully carried out NY Mills will receive a $10,000 grant to implement the action ideas.

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