Local/Regional Economic and Community Development

November 13, 2014

Hometown. Collaboration. Initiative.

By Scott Hutcheson

Assistant Program Leader for Community Development, Purdue Extension and
Senior Associate, Purdue Center for Regional Development

Scott Hutcheson works with local and regional communities across the U.S. and abroad, helping civic leaders implement strategies to grow their local economies and ensure quality of life for residents.

 

It was like a scene from a movie. The kind Frank Capra would have made, had he made one that took place on Halloween. A nighttime streetscape canopied with a thick blanket of leaves in hues of red and gold. Front yards transformed into graveyards and other ghoulish settings. Just the right amount of fright. Gaggles of trick-or-treaters - straight from central casting - from toddlers being pulled in wagons to teens, too old to give much thought to a costume but not old enough to resist the lure of free candy. Parents, and even adults sans children, out enjoying the brisk night.

It was our first Halloween in this tiny place. We were big-city people temporarily locked into small-town purgatory as one of us finished a graduate degree at a school 45 miles to the north, with the other working a job 35 minutes to the south. We had picked this place off a map, purely for the fact that it sat in the vast space between two larger somewheres.

All that changed that evening. Although we did not yet have children, we were each suddenly and completely overwhelmed with the sense that we wanted our kids, should we decide to have them, to experience this night, in this place. That evening a dot on a map became a place in our hearts.

I recounted this experience in front of two different groups recently, as part of a series of meetings rolling out a new program from the Office of the Indiana Lt. Governor and the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. My university, Purdue, along with Ball State University, is a partner in the program, the Indiana Hometown Collaboration Initiative.

I asked conference attendees to reflect on their own hometowns and what made them special. What they hoped to see preserved for generations to come. I then asked them to find someone in the room from somewhere else and swap stories.

We then discussed the two other words in the name of the program: collaboration and initiative. We defined collaboration as what occurs when people in communities come together to accomplish something, something that no single person or organization could pull off alone. We also talked about initiative. Not as a program or an event, but as an attribute, as in, "that student shows real initiative." Communities demonstrate initiative when they drive forward despite potential setbacks.

Hometown. Collaboration. Initiative.

Many of our hometowns, perhaps even yours, are doing just fine. They weathered the Great Recession with minimal bumps and bruises. Others are not fairing so well, in decline long before the most recent economic woes. That may be a better description of the place you call home. Still, even in places feeling the most distress, there are people who love their hometown, people with a long list of what makes their town special. In fact, I've never encountered a community with a shortage of things that made it special.

Instances of unrelenting initiative and powerful collaboration, however, are fewer and further between. There is a valid reason this. Collaboration has been called "an unnatural act between unconsenting adults." Collaboration, at its highest and most productive, isn't easy. And initiative may be demonstrated by a handful of folks, but widespread, sustained initiative is a rarity.

These are, however, skills that can be learned, and programs like the Hometown Collaboration Initiative are designed to help people learn these valuable community habits. If you are interested in learning more about the Indiana Hometown Collaboration Initiative you can do so by visiting www.indiana.gov/ocra, or if you would like to know more about other ways to build the skills of collaboration and taking initiative, head to  or if you would like to know more about other ways to build the skills of collaboration and taking initiative, head to www.pcrd.purdue.edu.

My kids' trick-or-treating days are coming to an end. Now I have my mind set on my future grandchildren. I'll do what I can to assure that my hometown can be that special place for them - to visit or maybe even live. I know what it will take to make it happen. It will take initiative, and it will take collaboration - not just among the few, but among the many, and for the long run.

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