Horizons II communities are planning for the future

Improving accessibility and sharing information about resources is the most common point of strategy South Dakota's Horizons II communities share as they plan for the future.

Communities are also working on beautification projects and business development as top priorities in their efforts to reduce poverty and build new leadership.

Horizons II is a project delivered to 24 communities by the South Dakota State University Cooperative Extension Service with funding through the Northwest Area Foundation in St. Paul. The program gives communities support for efforts to reduce poverty while strengthening leadership in their rural areas.

Communities working with SDSU in the southwest and south central region of the state are Philip, Hot Springs, Buffalo Gap, Martin, Murdo, and Presho. Communities in the northwest region of the state include Bison, Newell, Faith, Whitewood, Lead and Deadwood. In the northeast/east-central part of the state, communities include Sisseton, Frederick, Conde, Estelline, Iroquois, Oldham, and Sanborn Central. Southeastern communities include Montrose, Armour, Tripp, Scotland, Tyndall, and Wagner.

SDSU Extension Community Leadership Development Specialists Kari Fruechte and Karla Trautman said communities went through a process using "study circles" to zero in on specific areas where they can focus community energy in the short-term to reduce poverty. After the study circles had met at least five times, each community held an "action forum" where residents selected several priorities to act on as the process moves forward.

Fruechte said from that process, 20 communities found sharing information about resources and improving accessibility to be a key immediate priority. Meanwhile, at least 16 communities planned to take action on cleanup or beautification projects, and 11 communities focused on business development.

A total of seven communities named youth activities as a key action item for their future, while the same number came up with plans to fix or build a community center.

Smaller numbers of communities came up with other action items ranging from buy local campaigns and community gardens to rural tourism.

The Horizons II communities still have a year to go in the project, Fruechte said. The next step is a leadership development class called "Leadership Plenty" that is already under way in Horizons II communities. After that, communities will carry out a "visioning" process for their futures.

Trautman noted that data from a newly released survey commissioned by the Northwest Area Foundation on public attitudes toward poverty underscores the need the Horizons II project is trying to address. The survey finds that 66 percent of South Dakotans know someone in their community who works two or more jobs and struggles to make ends meet, compared to 50 percent of Americans nationally. Slightly more than half of South Dakotans view many in their communities as struggling.

"The fact that 53 percent of South Dakotans perceive that a lot of people are struggling to make ends meet helps us put a face to the fact that poverty is more prevalent than we think it is," Trautman said. "Citizens might not have looked around their community before and realized that, Yes, poverty is present here, and we can do something about it."

Trautman said SDSU Extension is in the process of expanding its work with South Dakota communities by re-focusing some existing extension educator positions towards community innovation and leadership.