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Return Ticket Home [EDITORIAL]

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Back in the early 90’s when I was working as the Henderson Chamber of Commerce Director, I wrote a column titled “Ticket Out of Here” for the York News Times.  It’s a subject worth revisiting and I’d like to share a portion of that editorial that I think is still relevant over ten years later.Shannon portrait

Not too long ago a friend of mine was lamenting the fact that her bright and gifted daughter was not working very hard at school, sloughing off and her grades were slipping as a result.  Her motivating comment to her daughter was, “Don’t you know that your grades are your ticket out of here?”  I wondered if this was the subtle message that we all are giving our children–enjoy this small town, gain whatever you can from our schools, churches, and community and then go anywhere but here to live.  I admit that I had been naive about this issue until my job in the area of economic development and community based education led me to question and address this all too common scenario for rural communities–the out-migration of our youth.  It’s not only in our own families and schools where we send this message but our in-state colleges as well.  One professor was quoted as saying we might as well offer “Migration 101.”  I have to wonder if we need to examine our motivations in educating and silently encouraging our youth to do their best because it is their “ticket out of here.”

Why go home?  Most probably the lure is a job, housing, or family.  Over 20 years ago my husband received one of those opportunities that led him back home to Henderson, a job offer by his grandfather to join the family insurance firm.  Today, I’m not so sure these kinds of chances come up very often and may be one of the reasons small communities find themselves facing the same dilemma–how do we attract our youth back?  The stark demographics for York County tell part of the story where the median age is 50. 

We can come up with a variety of reasons to explain why our population is aging and not being replenished with younger families–smaller family size, less good job opportunities for our degreed children, inadequate housing, and the list goes on.  But I think it goes deeper than all these reasons and touches all of us whether we be parents, educators, or business owners.  The message we are sending our children is that we value more highly the person who leaves our community and succeeds elsewhere.  We don’t provide our youth with the encouragement, vision, role models, and possibilities for success and a life here at home.  The good life always seems to be off in the distance, away from where we live our ordinary lives. 

We must as small communities work hard to market our place and give our youth a reason to return.  Of course not all our young people are predisposed to return to their hometown, but for those who are, we must take active steps to increase the job opportunities that will attract them here.  Let’s also provide ways for them to invest their time and energies into their hometown, not just in entertaining us in their sports, musical, and other activities they pursue.  By giving them opportunities to serve their community as youngsters, active participants alongside adults, I believe they will early on establish a stake in this place we call home and find a way to come back to live, work, and play.

Since I wrote this editorial back in 1998, this topic has certainly come full circle for our family.  Our son, Taylor and wife Jessica, did return to Henderson to pursue their own dreams and start raising their family here.  Fortunately, they are not the only ones who have decided to return home and make a life here again as young adults!  There are numerous others who have taken the plunge, finding a job or creating their own, often with the help of their family to make their life here in Henderson work.  Even so, our student population has slipped considerably the last five years and we need to keep finding ways to encourage our youth to return home.  Let’s not be afraid to make financial investments to help them create their own businesses and provide job opportunities.  But most importantly, we need to continue to model our pride and pleasure in the reasons we choose to live here in our small communities and they will come back.

Written by Shannon Siebert

 

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