“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” Margaret Mead once famously said. Too often, we find ourselves looking around our communities, thinking “someone ought to do something about that,” whether it’s a car-eating pothole, a blighted corner of the neighborhood, or a neglected flower bed. It can be easy to take the responsibility off of ourselves, because indeed there are organizations in place to take care of such things. The beauty of a small town, however, is how easily we can reach out and create real change, ourselves.
Earlier this month, Clutch MOV had an opportunity to participate in two inspiring conferences that are changing the way we think about community development. The first was New Story: Changing the Narrative in West Virginia, held in Morgantown, WV. The brain-child of Jake Lynch, the enthusiastic Director of Network Communications for the West Virginia Community Development Hub, New Story was a series of workshops centered on the role of media and communication during this critical and historic time in Appalachia’s economic and social transition. Entrepreneurs, members of the media and community movers & shakers across the state came together to share and learn about successful initiatives that are changing the public perception of what’s really happening in West Virginia.
The Clutch MOV team kicked off the morning by sharing our story, our mission, and some practical advice for aspiring grass-roots community publications. Throughout the day we heard from the fine folks from Wheeling, WV about the Weelunk model and Reinvent Wheeling’s game-changing event called “Show of Hands,” as well as Elaine McMillion Sheldon on her incredible documentary project, Hollow. Representatives, volunteers and employees from WV Public Broadcasting, the Appalachian Regional Commission, The State Journal, Generation WV, the Tamarack Foundation, New South Media, the Charleston Gazette-Mail and more asked critical questions about the role of community-powered media, the evolution of traditional media, and the stories West Virginia tells itself and others.
On the other side of the river, we were invited to speak at Heritage Ohio’s quarterly training conference in Chardon, Ohio last week on fostering small town pride, the importance of positivity, and using Instagram to build community confidence. With an audience of engaged Main Street directors and volunteers from across the state, the discussion was lively and encouraging. There are exciting things happening in our small Mid-western cities, and it’s our responsibility to stoke the fire.
“Every town deserves the love of those who live in it,” said Cristie Thomas, Executive Director of Marietta Main Street. “The conference in Chardon drove home the point that we as Main Street Directors have the opportunity to facilitate the love people feel for their cities – hopefully that love turns into economic investment.” The conference wasn’t only inspiring to Main Street staff, however; all of us were encouraged to return home with a renewed energy.
Sometimes the biggest hurdles we encounter in community development are the stories our communities are telling themselves. That they aren’t good enough, that they are too small, that there is nothing happening. But thinking small doesn’t serve the world – and the big things we dream about can happen in our small towns, too. So the next time you hear someone say there is nothing to do in the Mid-Ohio Valley, send them a link to our website, or take them downtown on a Friday night to see a performance at the Coffee Bar or the Marietta Brewing Company. If you take a picture of a pretty street corner, share it on social media and tell the world why your city is beautiful. If you have a story to tell, share it – we’ll help you.