By Jennifer Von Ohlen
DASSEL, MN In hope of bringing new families and businesses to Dassel, some of the city’s residents are partnering with University of Minnesota (U of M) Extension to execute what they call The Dassel Home to Roost Project.
The intent is to promote and highlight Dassel’s postive, attractive qualities while also identifying what new opportunities might benefit current residents and newcomers.
This is one of a few community projects U of M Extension is working on through its program “Making it Home.”
“The purpose of it is to help people in communities get organized around making this place more welcoming to newcomers, and also to market their community better,” stated Neil Linscheid, U of M Extension educator in community economics.
The university started its program after analyzing economic and demographic changes happening across rural Minnesota and the rest of the United States.
What they discovered was that groups of people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s were regularly moving their families to small towns across the nation some for the slower pace of living and sense of safety and security, others for amenities such as a low-cost housing market. Either way, they were moving in.
“We saw that happening and thought, this is really important, and it’s really not the story that’s being told about rural communities,” said Linscheid. “The story that’s being told is about decline and decay, and we said ‘Hey, this looks like there’s a lot of vitality happening here. This is a lot of new people moving in.”
He then explained that the reason there appeared to be decline in rural communities was because the number of new families coming in is not enough to offset the number of 18-to-24 year olds relocating elsewhere.
“So, maybe the overall population of a city would decline from census to census, but within that change, there was [still] lots of growth in younger, [new] people moving to these cities, and we thought that really was an important thing.”
After learning this, Linscheid said many start to wonder how they can attract these new families to their communities, as well as keep their current residents. So, following the process already established by the universities of Nebraska and North and South Dakota, the U of M started working with Litchfield, their first interested community, in 2016.
It was the executive director of Litchfield’s Chamber of Commerce who approached Joyce Aakre, who would become the Dassel Home to Roost coordinator, about the opportunity.
“She called me one day and said, ‘Do you have time for coffee?’ Two hours later, I said, ‘Oh, I think that would be a good program for Dassel,’” Aakre said at the Community Kick-off Event that took place March 20.
Putting the thought into action
Consisting of about seven volunteers Joseph Schlueter, Kelly Babekuhl, Kim Keithahn, Julie Manninen, Colleen Compton, Dennis Compton, and Sundee Kuechle a steering committee worked together to find Dassel residents willing to serve as facilitators for the Dassel Home to Roost Project.
Facilitators are responsible for forming and leading a group of eight to 10 individuals interested in discussing how Dassel can be improved or better marketed.
These groups, known as study circles, are expected to meet four times between March 27 and May 15 to gather information and share ideas. They will then settle on a project to pursue, and determine the details of what is needed to achieve that goal.
Each study circle will announce its project or market plan to the other participants Thursday, May 31. The groups then have between June 1 and the start of September to put their plans into action.
These projects and their status will be shared during Dassel’s Red Rooster Days celebration Monday, Sept. 3.
While the process may seem rather involved, Linscheid shared during the kick-off event, “The harder part is getting people together to all decide what are some meaningful things to do. The easier part is when people say, ‘we need to make flower pots, or welcome bags, or we need to get a billboard whatever; I don’t know what it will be. But when we get that, and we know we have 50 people behind us, things happen.”
‘Everyone is welcome to participate’
Although some of the study circles have already begun to meet, Linscheid said there is still plenty of time to get involved.
“Everybody is welcome to participate in this,” he said, whether it is by joining a study circle or forging a new one.
Within each study circle, between now and May 15, participants will be working their way through a booklet provided by the U of M Extension that asks questions and prompts insight into what makes Dassel the city it is and what is lacking to help boost it into the city it can become.
“This is about sharing your experience living here, moving here, wanting to stay here, and the good and the bad and all that is all part of this,” Linscheid commented.
For more information on how to join or lead a study circle, contact Aakre at 612-799-2220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.