With the political season in full bloom, it’s a good time to talk about leadership.
There is trouble “Right here in River City,” as the lyrics say. And the challenges we have promise to get even more difficult, requiring ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
Douglas County was recently described as an “Economic Dead Zone,” where younger people are fleeing in search of better paying jobs in Portland, Seattle and beyond, leaving an older citizenry to fend for itself. Companies won’t relocate here because the labor force is dwindling and what’s left isn’t sufficient to fill the jobs.
The “urbanization” of America is in full swing and nowhere is it more apparent than “Right here in River City.”
The good news — and nobody wants to be depressed on a Sunday morning — is that we have people willing to lead, knowing full well that they will face challenges requiring a decision-making process that will have to set aside what’s most popular, or decisions that are “most likely to get me re-elected,” as we’ve seen from too many career politicians today.
There are no more easy decisions to be had. So, no matter how the election shakes out, I want to thank all the men and women who decided to stick their necks out and run for public office. That wasn’t an easy decision to make. Because they did, it gives the rest of us at least some choices to make of our own come Election Day.
And leadership isn’t limited to politics, thank goodness. We have leaders throughout our county — some visible, some not so visible — working toward a better tomorrow for Douglas County. I met some of them a couple of weeks ago over at the county museum, where I was asked to speak to the latest Project Leadership class, a program offered through the Roseburg Area Chamber of Commerce.
In its 25th year, Project Leadership is essentially a “crash course” in how Roseburg and Douglas County really work. Class members meet for a full day each month, starting in September and ending with a June “graduation.” The curriculum includes an overview of our natural resources, economic trends, government, law enforcement, our schools, health care resources, communications and volunteerism.
And it’s the volunteerism that we should be most proud of.
The only way we are able to provide some semblance of social order today is because we have so many people willing to dedicate their time, or to serve a higher cause.
I can’t imagine how many volunteer hours are donated each day in Douglas County, but I suspect it’s huge.
Each Project Leadership class must choose a project that will benefit Douglas County and this year’s class has chosen Casa de Belen, a wonderful program that provides homeless families with adolescents and homeless teens a safe place to live, where they begin to see a brighter future.
Kathy Linn, a rancher and former businesswoman, said she signed up for Project Leadership to learn even more about the place she’s called home for the past 23 years. “I’ve learned more in the past eight months than I did in my previous 23 years,” she said.
Linn said this year’s class had four projects to choose from and thought the Casa de Belen project would best utilize the group’s resources.
The project focuses on the basement of Casa de Belen’s Roseburg home.
“We wanted to create a space where the teens could gather, relax and have their own space,” Linn explained. “They had a basement center, but it was being used for storage and trash. There was really no place for them to get away.”
Half of Casa de Belen’s 60 or so residents are teens, according to Linn. In fact, Casa de Belen is the only facility that accepts homeless male teens.
The project includes new carpet, fresh paint and new furniture. “We’ve gotten everything we need construction-wise,” said Linn. “What we need now is some money to buy new furniture. We really want to put the ‘teen’ in the Teen Center.”
Victoria Simpson, a relative newcomer to Douglas County, heads the chamber’s leadership program.
“Right now we are around $2,000 short of what we need to really finish the project,” she said. “Our hope is to finish it by the end of May, in time for our June 9 graduation.”
Tax-deductible donations may be made through the Roseburg Chamber of Commerce Foundation, at P.O. Box 1026, Roseburg, OR 97470.
This is how we do it. This is how we pull ourselves up by the bootstraps despite whatever economic calamity comes our way.
So long as we have people willing to lead, others will follow. Leaders inspire us to greatness and the evidence in that greatness can be found all around us. Even in a basement of a home for young people simply looking for hope.
I hope you can help.
Jeff Ackerman is publisher of The News-Review. He can be reached at 541-957-4263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.