AmeriCorps RARE (Resource Assistance for Rural Environments) Program member Tatiana Eckhart recently wrote about her experience with MCEDD during the COVID-19 Pandemic and the inspiration she has drawn from seeing her rural community come together. The mission of the program is to increase the capacity of rural communities to improve their economic, social, and environmental conditions, through the assistance of trained graduate-level members who live and work in communities. We are pleased to share her perspective here, and encourage you to learn more about RARE and read more stories here.
For many of us, COVID-19 has effectively turned life as we knew it upside down, shattering any sense of normalcy we previously had and utterly and completely changing the ways in which we operate in the world and interact with each other on a daily basis. For many of us, the story of COVID-19 has been one of hardship, loss, sacrifice, and quite frankly devastation, both in a financial and social sense, as millions of people lose their jobs and are unable to rely on traditional forms of comfort that were previously taken for granted, like the simple act of being able to get a hug. There is no doubt that the current situation is dire. But I think the story of COVID-19 is also one of resilience, of communities coming together to develop solutions to support its citizens and get businesses back up and running. From my own standpoint, I have been lucky enough to be part of the response effort in the Mid-Columbia region of Oregon, and I have honestly been blown away by the level of coordination and collaboration that has taken place across industry sectors in the region to develop a holistic approach to combating the virus and getting our communities back on their feet.
I am currently serving my second term with Mid-Columbia Economic Development District (MCEDD), an economic developmentally-focused organization that has played an instrumental role in the Columbia Gorge’s regional response. I feel extremely grateful to have been able to see firsthand how well things can go when people work together to find common solutions for the benefit of all members of the community. In March, MCEDD developed the Economic Resiliency Team, a group of more than 50 local stakeholders from Oregon and Washington convened by MCEDD and Oregon’s Regional Solutions program to help the Gorge respond and recover economically from the impacts of COVID-19. This group, which meets weekly, includes leaders and representatives from a variety of different sectors including public health, child care, economic development, Ports, business centers, Tribal representatives, and more. Each week this group gets together (virtually, of course) to discuss updates around state guidelines for reopening Oregon and highlight the immediate and longer term needs for industries in the region such as agriculture, tourism, healthcare, child care, etc. In this way we are able to directly learn about economic impacts and priority needs in the region from those on the ground facing these issues every day and provide immediate feedback to the state for support.
The collective effort by the group to develop a coordinated response in reopening has, in my opinion, been one of the primary reasons I feel confident that our region will be able to balance the need to reopen communities while protecting public health and not overwhelming our rural healthcare systems. In fact I think we’re in a much better position to begin reopening our communities than other areas in the state, and I attribute that belief to the specific approach the Mid-Columbia region has taken in joining forces across sectors to ensure that reopening our communities does not come at the cost of the safety and well-being for people living in the region. Although I am a tiny fish here in the Columbia, I am immensely proud to be a part of these efforts and be able to actively learn from experts about what organizations are doing to support their communities. Although we can’t forget that this is a time of peril for many, many people, in terms of my RARE experience I feel like I’ve learned as much in the past two months about organizational coordination and rural resilience as I did during my entire first year serving in RARE. I mean, talk about real-world experience! The level of resilience and determination to reopen things the right way that I have witnessed during these meetings has given me a renewed sense of confidence that the path of community development is the path for me. At the end of the day, the thoughtfully coordinated and open approach in creating partnerships across industry sectors has instilled in me new feelings of hope, inspiration, and the unwavering belief that if we put our differences aside and come to the table to work together, we absolutely have the power to affect change in our communities for the betterment of the collective whole.