Montana Community Foundation Leadership Pilot program begins to take shape in Sidney

Representatives from the Montana Community Foundation toured Sidney Tuesday to start the new leadership program sponsored by the Northwest Area Foundation.

Last month, Sidney was one of 12 communities selected by the Northwest Area Foundation to be a pilot community with the goal to bolster and expand leadership in rural communities.

By Bill Vander Weele

Sidney Herald

The foundation expects to invest up to $4.4 million piloting this initiative in a total of 40 communities over two years. The organization’s premise is to strengthen leadership skills and broaden civic engagement to help small rural communities reduce poverty for the long term.

Linda Reed, executive director of the Montana Community Foundation, explains the first goal is to establish a planning group.

"That group will work over six months to identify the assets and resources of the community," Reed said.

The planning group will feature about 12 individuals who are committed to the community.

"They need to recognize that this is a community that has value," said Alyce Kuehn, Montana Community Foundation member.

"They need to recognize that this is a community that has value," said Alyce Kuehn, Montana Community Foundation member.

"Leadership is skills development prepared for the entire community," said Diane Sands, program director.

She adds that community-based resources and staff mean more people within each community will have the opportunity to build skills, connections and the information base needed to stem decline.

‘The design of the program is its inclusion of everybody," Kuehn said. "It’s a community growth project."

"We want to make some of these communities grow instead of decline," Sands said.

Sidney is part of a three-community cluster with Glendive and Circle. Sands will work out of an office in Glendive.

"In some ways, the towns are similar," Sands said. "In some ways, they are different."

Sands will serve as the "coach" for the area’s program. She will work with each community’s planning team to identify resources needed to create effective community plans, increase leadership skills, and reach out to community members to increase civic engagement.

After the planning group completes its work, officials are hopeful the entire community takes part in the program. Planning committee members will reach out to a broader representation of the community to engage them in developing a plan to begin to address the issue of poverty.

The plan development phase will last nine months and be followed by a three-month implementation phase. As communities develop individual plans, a cluster group representing all three of these communities will develop a plan that will affect the cluster as a whole.

"I think Montana is really ahead of some of the other rural places in the program," Reed said. "There’s really strong interest by people dedicated to the community."

There will be steering committees trying to increase civic skills.

Anticipated outcomes include: a custom-designed leadership program that can be used over and over in the future; connections to new resources; broader community participation; community members will have stronger skills with which to address community needs; and the ability to speak with a louder voice to exert influence and help others understand what the communities need to be successful.

"It will take effort, and that’s why it’s more valuable," Kuehn said. "We appreciate what we have to work for."

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