Sidney Owens has been listening. In her role as Missouri Conference Community Engagement Specialist, she has conducted a series of rural conversations this fall, with meetings at Columbia, Cameron, Advance and Cassville.
The conversations sought input from individuals who have experience working with rural populations via ministry, healthcare, education, etc., or who feel a calling to work in rural Missouri. Those participating including pastors and church leaders, but also people like University Extension staff.
“Each part of the state was unique, both in how they view their issues and how they identify their resources,” Owens said. “One of my goals with the rural conversations is to get communities to think about their assets, the people, places, physical spaces, etc. that they can lean into. It is easy to think about the problems or challenges, but it has been really amazing to see people stop and think about the positive resources they have around them that can be used to make a difference.”
Owens has been impressed with the input she has received from the sessions.
“I value the idea of listening without coming to conclusions. So far I’ve been keeping tabs on what topics come up and how often they come up,” she said. “We still need to keep listening.”
In addition to direct input from the field, Owens has been consulting with other entities that work on social, economic and cultural issues in Missouri, like University Extension, the Missouri Community Betterment Council, the Department of Economic Development, and the Missouri Broadband Summit.
“There are a lot of organizations working on ways
to empower people in rural communities,” Owens