Calling all Youth, Your Community Misses You!

As we emerge from COVID-19, it's imperative that we help young Oregonians catch up on the exploration and experiences they've missed this year.

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Current director of High Desert Partnership, a nonprofit organization in Harney County, Oregon that seeks to find common ground through collaboration.

We have missed a lot of things in this past year. The local gathering places for our rural communities, our community centers, so to speak, have been quiet. Here in Harney County, those “community centers” include the high school football stadium, the gymnasiums, baseball field bleachers, the cafeteria where band and choir concerts are held, and the county fairgrounds. These are some of the main places where we gather as neighbors and support our youth. These places have been quiet due to COVID closures.

In our communities you don’t have to have a kid or even know a kid to attend youth events; we still go to show our support, to be among the community, and, I might add, do a fair amount of good-old-fashioned business. In other words, a football game in Harney County can at once be a community-building exercise, a backroom for deal-making, and, of course, a source of entertainment. 

These events also play a major role in weaving our social and economic fabric. We buy popcorn at the concession stand or buy a raffle ticket for the junior class fundraiser, volunteer at the snack shack or even coach a team. 

It’s been hard this last year for students to know the community is always rooting for their success. After all, it’d be a little odd to make a sign and go cheer on a student from outside their window. It’s also been hard for the rest of us not to be able to show our support and to pay it forward. I know I sure miss making a couple of pies for the science club fundraiser pie auction. 

As I would hope is the case for most communities, we believe that Harney County’s youth are the lifeblood and future of the community. We want our youth to know they have opportunities in Harney County, whether they stay in Harney County or go acquire education and training elsewhere, this will always be their home. 

Over the last few years, the High Desert Partnership has been working to bring together a diverse group of community members including youth to help enhance opportunities for youth. When working in a collaborative space this effort can take different forms. For instance, we can support youth and youth activities, we can help support our schools and teachers, we can help support families with our time, our experiences, our talents, and more. 

One focus this work has taken is creating more career connections with the community; we have businesses offering internships, we have summer positions available across several agencies in agriculture and natural resources fields; we have downtown businesses offering opportunities; and, we have a great program to support youth in being entrepreneurs and starting their own businesses. 

This career connection represents an opportunity to help Harney County youth find their interests and passions, and gain relevant work experience to put them on a pathway not just to a career but also a long-term community home. Our youth also help support our small businesses and the work of rural communities. This interdependence has never been more important and has always been a cornerstone to thriving rural communities. 

It's been said so many times and in so many places but it bears repeating: this pandemic season has been especially difficult for our kids. When their world should be expanding and full of discovery, it's been shut down and their worlds have gotten very small. Thankfully, doors are starting to crack open and opportunity is out there. We're excited to get back together with our community supporting our youth and in turn, each other. 


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