New program to bring McLeod County together starts Nov. 29

November 26, 2007

By Ivan Raconteur
Staff Writer

A group of citizen leaders has come together in a program designed to bring people and communities across McLeod County together to develop a greater awareness of community, collaboration, and shared vision for the county.

The program is called McLeod For Tomorrow and its mission is to empower McLeod County communities to build a better tomorrow through communication, education and networking.

Winsted City Administrator Brent Mareck said the program will allow participants with similar needs to find connections and build networks in a non-stressful setting.

Mareck said other goals include getting the youth involved, and inspiring commerce.

Learning about the needs and concerns of other communities will also be a part of the program.

“We need to find out what is going on in Glencoe, and Plato, and Stewart, because there are things that are happening there that might affect us here in Winsted,” Mareck commented.

He added that the committee that has been selected represents a good cross-section of people from across the county.

“We want to look for ways that we can do things better,” Mareck said.

The program is based on a successful model

Regional Extension Educator Katie Rasmussen said the idea is to get more people involved in their community so planning does not fall only on the shoulders of elected officials.

“We are all in this together, and we need to be involved in developing a shared vision for our community,” Rasmussen said.

McLeod For Tomorrow was developed through a partnership of the county and University of Minnesota Extension.

Rasmussen said the program was modeled on a similar program, “Bridging Brown County,” which began in 1999.

“I have seen unbelievable things happen,” Rasmussen said of the Brown County program.

A steering committee has been formed, and its members represent private and public entities from communities throughout the county, including the county board, school districts, city and township officials, local legislators, and community leaders.

Members include: Beth Hepola, Brent Mareck, Chris Sonju, Dewey Klaustermeier, Kermit Terlinden, Kerry Venier, Mary Jo Schimelpfenig, Nan Crary, Cindy Lenderman, Steve Cook, Marne Long, Bill Corby and Claire Baxter.

McLeod For Tomorrow’s first event will be a forum for elected and appointed officials Thursday, Nov. 29, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the McLeod County Courthouse. Representatives from city councils, school boards, townships, chambers, economic development groups, county board, and local legislators are invited to attend.

“The forum will include a discussion about what big issues are coming down the road, and we will be exploring possibilities for what needs to happen to address those issues,” Rasmussen said.

In addition to forums, McLeod For Tomorrow plans to sponsor workshops and develop a cohort leadership program for McLeod County residents. The goals of the program are to build leadership capacity within the county to improve effectiveness in local governance, and to assist in creating team environments within and among communities to expand networks in solving problems and building the future.

Rasmussen said this type of program has been very effective in other counties. She added that the goal will be to include 24 to 30 people from throughout the county.

Participants in the cohort leadership program will be involved in leadership training, conflict management training, and will identify ways to build stronger communities.

Rasmussen said the cohort leadership program will be open to any McLeod County resident, and she expects the program to be launched in 2008.

Rasmussen said one of the biggest benefits of a program like McLeod for Tomorrow is building networks so people know who to call when they have questions.

“It comes down to the very basic level of getting to know your neighbors, and who people are. The simple things can have big impacts,” Rasmussen said.

Building networks is important, because it gives people in one community who are trying to resolve an issue access to people in other communities who have dealt with similar issues, Rasmussen said.

She added that there is a possibility that workshops may be offered through the McLeod for Tomorrow program on topics such as regional economic development. These workshops will be open to the public.

The “Bridging Brown County” group meets quarterly, but it has not yet been determined how often the McLeod for Tomorrow group will meet.

Those interested in learning more about McLeod for Tomorrow may contact any of the steering committee members, or Mary Jo Wieseler, program coordinator, at maryjo.wieseler@co.mcleod.mn.us or (320) 864-1320, or Katie Rasmussen, Regional Extension Educator, at rasmu035@umn.edu or (320) 234-0437.