As we close out the year, I wanted to share some reflections on our work.
1. Center staff, board and grassroots supporters are fantastic people - As I crisscross the state and the country visiting with Center folks, I’ve come to see how deeply you care about your community. You are passionate about everyone having opportunity no matter where they live or who they are. And many of you dig deep each year to make a gift that supports our cause. You are fantastic.
2. Entrepreneurship in rural places is alive - We lent $1.7 million to 123 main street businesses, and helped another 2,372 through training and one-on-one assistance this year. Increasingly, we see new immigrants emerging as entrepreneurial leaders in their communities. In farming, the brightest spots for the future are those where the focus is on niche markets. At the community level, there is increasing interest in strategies such as community solar.
3. Arts, culture, inclusion and social infrastructure matter too - The Center’s historic focus has been on issues of small town economic prosperity. This remains at the core of who we are. We’ve also grown to recognize that the future of small towns depends on more than economic prosperity. Does a small town welcome newcomers? Are there arts, culture and a strong social infrastructure in the community? Our work has expanded to focus on these components of community vitality, too.
4. Our work is hard, but we are not easily deterred - The path forward is not always straight or straightforward. We often confront challenges and surprises: elections, unsuccessful grant proposals, political resistance or community resistance. We shouldn’t pretend it’s always easy, but we are bound together by a mission, a set of values, and sense of optimism for the future. These values and our hope for a better tomorrow drive our work forward, even when the work is difficult.
5. Our vision demands rigor and innovation - The Center remains a strong and dynamic organization after 40 years because we always challenge ourselves to remain engaged with the people we serve and relevant to a changing landscape. We must continue to challenge ourselves to develop new ways of working. This is one of the most important things we do.
6. We do this work because we believe - We believe that that no matter where you live, you should have access to opportunity. We believe that citizens working in their own towns can make a difference. We believe that rural people banding together across communities can change policy. We believe that we can create a brighter future.
I want to thank each of you for your tireless dedication to the Center in 2016. The Center is guided by a mission and a set of values, but, most importantly, it is made up of you - our staff, our board and our grassroots supporters.
You are the force that makes our values come alive each and every day. My sincere thanks.
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