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Overcoming rural distances and creating a strong sense of home among youth 

One of the challenges of living in the Applegate Valley is that there are few “third spaces”‑those mingle-friendly areas like parks, coffeeshops, and Main Streets. These lively crossroads are where people  get the latest scoop on job opportunities, entertainment, local concerns. While residents are grateful for the hubs what we do have—our country stores, wineries and river parks—they are too spread out have a real unifying effect on the Valley as a whole.

The Community Website Partnership (CWP) has addressed this physical barrier by creating a cyber-version of these common spaces. Their rural website program hosts  ‘cyber town squares” in eight rural areas throughout Oregon. The Applegate is one of them. Now country  residents can access community calendars, job listings and the latest news online.

This was a success, but rural website coordinator, Brooke Nuckles had a realization: It’s one thing to put the website up; it’s another thing to get people using it. To support her efforts to inspired youth involvement with our Valley’s website Applegate Connect,  she received an Innovation Grant from A Greater Applegate to start the Rural Youth Partnership. This project fulfills multiple goals that Applegate Valley residents expressed in the Applegate Valley Vision: to Inclusive and Engaged, Resilient and Connected, and Vibrant and Livable.

The grant will support listening sessions for local middle schoolers and high schoolers to document their needs and adjust the website template to make it more appealing.

CWP successfully piloted a Rural Youth Engagement Project in the Illinois Valley, bringing together a group of 13-18 year-olds dedicated to community change and raising awareness about their local community website, Thanks to the free volunteer match feature on the website, high schoolers were more able to do the service work required to graduate. It also gave them something to put on their resumes. Now, more teens are volunteering for nonprofits in Cave Junction–whether it’s serving meals at the senior center, or helping with river and park clean-ups.

Another outcome: It bonded young people to their community. “In a lot of rural communities, the youth move out.” Brooke explains. “It’s important to make sure they really have a sense of the amazing community work that’s happening in the Applegate Valley. It’s important that their sense-of-home is strong and increases the chances that they’ll stick around and get involved.”

Currently, the Applegate Valley Connect website was designed by middle-aged people, so that’s the audience it is speaking to. But with the Innovation Grant, Brooke wants to invite youth to  explore ways to enlarge this audience. She asks, “How can we speak to the up-and-coming generation so that they are aware of it?”