With the retirement of a longtime spokesperson from the Bank of Missouri branch in Republic, Trish Ghan suddenly became “it.” With a deep aversion to public speaking, she knew she needed help and quickly.
At the same time, Tysha Shay, a library branch manager who was new to the Republic community, was looking to make her mark. She was hoping to find a way to implement a project she and her staff had brainstormed: to develop nature backpacks for clients to refer to, with information and activities to encourage families to spend time together at home. ‘outside.
In their separate quests, the two stumbled upon the Neighborhood Leadership Academy at the University of Missouri Extension. The St. Louis-based in-person community development program was brought online last year due to COVID-19 restrictions. This created an opportunity to offer the NLA statewide. Participants from across Missouri came together virtually to develop their leadership skills while working in local cohorts on projects that benefit their communities.
One of the positive outcomes of the first statewide NLA was Shay and Ghan’s collaboration on the Adventure Backpack project.
Although Shay and Ghan both attended local chamber meetings, the two never met until they took the NLA online course.
NLA participants complete a CliftonStrengths assessment. Shay said she took a look at the range of strengths identified among her Ozark cohorts and immediately knew Ghan would be the perfect partner to help make the adventure backpack idea a reality.
In addition to strengths that complemented Shay’s, Ghan had a vast community network built up over two decades in the bank and a life spent in Republic. This would help to find support for the project.
In February 2020, Shay had attended several presentations on nature literacy at the Public Library Association conference in Nashville, Tennessee. “We’ve seen other libraries do this and they’ve been successful,” Shay said. “So we knew we were on to something with a great idea with a lot of resources already available.”
A library survey confirmed that nature literacy has real appeal to local families in an area with plenty of trails, parks, and the Wilson’s Creek battlefield.
Ghan worked on securing funds for two sets of 10 backpacks on the theme of birding and nature exploration while Shay and his team compiled the content. The backpacks contained a range of developmentally appropriate fiction and non-fiction books, binoculars, activity sheets and even ‘leave no trace’ pledge cards.
The backpacks were a hit. The 20 were quickly checked with waiting lists, said Kathleen O’Dell, director of community relations for the Springfield-Greene County Library District.
Parents helped spread the word on social media, and the Youth Services Librarian connected with local schools, who were preparing a summer school theme around nature and camping. .
Shay and Ghan thank NLA for contributing to the success of the project and giving them a broader perspective of their own strengths.
Ghan said the academy also helped them appreciate the challenges other communities face. “It was such a rewarding experience, meeting and hearing ideas from people from all over the state, seeing the types of issues that neighborhoods in St. Louis, for example, have faced, some similar to our own. community and others that were outside of anything we knew before, ”she said.
Shay agreed, “It was such an important perspective to see how other communities were dealing with things. It gave me so much insight and so many ideas.
David Burton, MU Extension County’s engagement specialist in community economic development in Greene County, said the NLA provides participants with basic training and a sure opportunity to create or advance projects that will help them. passionate.
Burton, along with Kyle Whittaker of MU Extension in Webster County and Pam Duitsman in Christian County, served as mentors for the NLA Ozark Cohort.
“Especially in rural communities, we’ll say we need volunteers, we need community leaders, and people sometimes back off and say, ‘I don’t really have any leadership experience,’” said Burton. “NLA helps them discover and hone innate skills they never knew they had and make new connections that help them move forward with this project. I like to see the people who come in the back row find an opening to try things for the good of their community. “
Other cohorts from the state-wide NLA First Session included participants in St. Louis, Mid Missouri, and Meramec. Nearly 60 graduates have developed a range of successful projects, said Claire Rippel, director of the NLA, the MU Extension County Engagement Specialist serving the St. Louis metro area. Among them:
Shavanna Spratt of Ferguson has started a podcast, “Da Hood Talks,” featuring important community issues.
Frank Williamson started Black Restaurant Week to support black-owned restaurants in St. Louis.
Janett Lewis founded the Rustic Roots Sanctuary, an urban farm in Spanish Lake.
Rippel said the virtual component was so successful that the program continued the format for the current fall term.