Let’s talk for a minute about Charles Dickens.
Though he was writing for a 19th-century audience, the English author introduced images familiar to us almost 200 years later. Think of Oliver Twist holding up his empty bowl and asking, “Please sir, I want some more.” That simple, ruckus-raising statement set Oliver on a journey – a long, harrowing trek that ultimately led to safety and prosperity.
We at DCPSS would never compare our county to a Victorian slum. But we do think our children can and should seek for more and better options as they plan for their adult lives. And a lot of that starts with the way we view opportunity in Douglas County.
Too often, we hear comments that betray pessimism about the state of our county. These laments reflect what economists and others call a scarcity mentality. In other words, we assume resources are limited and will always be. It affects our self-image. It narrows our prospects. It’s a story we tell that casts us in a victim role. And once there, it’s very hard to climb out.
But, like Dickens, we can take charge of the story. No one will deny this county has weathered hard blows. Roseburg Forest Product’s announcement that its headquarters will move to Springfield. A series of children’s deaths from drownings, car wrecks and other accidents. Another plunge in the county’s health ranking in an annual national survey by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. A Harvard study released last spring that concludes our children have a harder time climbing out of poverty here than most other counties in Oregon.
Instead of dwelling on what we lack, though, think about what we have.
Our setting is perfect. We’re flanked by a river system entirely within our borders. Visitors come from near and far to enjoy our multi-faceted recreational system. We’re within driving distance of mountains, the coast, university towns and other cultural centers. Our wine industry is burgeoning. We have advanced medical treatment available at the Community Cancer Center, Shaw Heart Center and extensions of the Mercy Medical Center campus.
Kick Start Douglas County, a project of the Umpqua Health Alliance, planned hundreds of outdoor summer activities, such as free Zumba lessons in Roseburg’s Stewart Park. Promoters continue to explore the feasibility of establishing a medical education college in downtown Roseburg. The state Legislature agreed to set aside $10.5 million for a proposed state veterans home in Roseburg. Free outdoor concerts bring area residents and visitors together every summer in Reedsport, Winston, Roseburg and Myrtle Creek. New exhibits at Winston’s Wildlife Safari have contributed to record attendance at the park, one of the county’s premier attractions.
In addition, our school districts are adding programs to boost connections between families and schools, programs that are also boosting academic programs to new levels. Generous benefactors such as the Family Ford Foundation are making contributions that bring new opportunities to students in every sector of the county.
Through camps, workshops and other gatherings organized through the Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub, we’ve seen high levels of enthusiasm from families and educators about STEAM learning and other paths to successful careers. We were able to distribute more than $50,000 in mini grants to schools and other groups for educational projects. Our STEAM Hub observed STEAM Week in May by spreading the word about related events over more than two weeks, a roundup that included a robotics summit and various summer camps. We also hosted professional development workshops on Next Generation Science Standards for teachers and in September will repeat a successful Search Institute program to train youth mentors on the importance of building Developmental Relationships.
It’s past time to change the dialogue around the Douglas County story from “Well, what do you expect?” to “What can we do next?” Our communities are filled with energetic people who believe in the future and can impart their energy to the next generation. We know that because we see them out doing what all of us can do. Reading to a child. Spending time in a classroom. Asking a parent what will help most. Supporting the local library.
We reject the notion of Douglas County as “Bleak House.” We’re reaching instead for “Great Expectations.” And we invite you to join us in writing the next dynamic chapter. How would you describe the county’s strengths? What are some of your favorite places to take friends? If you grew up here, what contributed to your success today? What would you like to see changed, and how could we best go about making that happen?
This is no time to hide our light under a bushel. Share your suggestions for what we can improve as well as what we already do well. We can surely do better than a second bowl of cold gruel.
Let us know in the comments below, or on our Facebook page, or make your own noise on social media or in local news outlets.