Reflection on AppFellows 2018 Learning Tour
By Brandon Jent
Quite a few things come to mind when reflecting on our AppFellows 2018 Learning Tour, a trip that took us across twelve communities in five states in six days. There’s a lot I could cover, as I had a lot to reflect on, but for purposes of this blog I’ll talk about what I kept coming back to both during and after the trip:
-People should be our #1 priority, always;
-A community member we met in Sunset Gap, TN said her approach to the work she does is to “flow like water;”
-We say the word “community” an awful lot, and it can mean vastly different things from person to person;
-The best example of “creative placemaking” (a buzzword I’d often heard in nonprofit/community and economic development circles before this fellowship) that I can think of is a church revival in my hometown that took place in May… in a tent in the Wal-Mart parking lot.
I promise that last point is related, even though it wasn’t part of the learning tour or even this fellowship. In fact, all of them boil down to the fact that there are lots of people, interacting in lots of different ways, gathering in lots of different groupings (communities), within any given area that we tend to define as one blanket “community.”
We should identify these smaller communities, where they’re gathering (and why or how) and overall be working towards serving as many people as we can, in as many ways as we can – not just a general area, or county, or even a town. We’re not going to be able to find every single one, and we’re not going to be able to serve every single person in our work (although that should still be what we strive for!)… but we can do our best to work holistically in order to serve as representative a group of people as we can in the areas we work.
A way we can do this is exactly as the community member I mentioned described above – by flowing like water. Not just flowing in the sense of “going with the flow,” but also by moving around obstacles, not making more. What I mean by this is that I feel like I see a lot of “if you build it, they will come” mentality in community and economic development efforts in Eastern Kentucky, and while this has certainly had success in the past, maybe we should try the opposite, too: find where they’re going, and start building there.
This is where the revival comes in. Wal-Mart is an area where lots of people from all over Letcher County come and the church in question knew that as locals. They had a packed tent for a long period of time, with people coming and going as they came and went from the parking lot. I’m not saying we should start staking claim to Wal-Mart parking lots, but just that this is a great example of where our priorities should lie: we should be meeting people where they’re at, literally and figuratively, and building FOR them, WITH them, always keeping them the main priority. How can we have a fair, accessible, thriving economy if no one can participate in it? How can we have a fair, accessible, thriving economy if no one WANTS to participate in it?