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Area towns move ahead in program

FORESTBURG -- Residents of three Sanborn County towns are one step closer to obtaining a $10,000 grant through a unique program that's designed to improve their collective communities.

FORESTBURG -- Residents of three Sanborn County towns are one step closer to obtaining a $10,000 grant through a unique program that's designed to improve their collective communities.

Residents of Forestburg, Artesian and Letcher gathered Wednesday at the 4-H building in Forestburg to celebrate the completion of the third segment of the Horizons program, a philanthropic endeavor designed to reduce poverty in rural and reservation communities with a population of fewer than 5,000 and a poverty level of at least 10 percent.

The program uses a five-segment approach to teach participating residents about the negative impact of poverty in their communities and how to use organization, teamwork and financial planning to treat such ills.

Letcher resident Marci Farmer has been participating in the program. After completing the Leadership Plenty training, she and two other residents from the area -- known as Sanborn Central, the name of the region's school district -- have been encouraging residents to support their efforts.

"They could have had anybody come in to give these trainings but they want the community to do it themselves," she said. "They're trying to teach the members of these communities how to get their own money by going through these different processes and having good meetings."

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The first segment, during which qualifying communities were invited to send representatives to learn more about the Horizons program, was followed by a segment requiring at least 30 people to spend 12 hours over a two-month period to study local effects of poverty and possible ways to treat it.

Leadership Plenty training was the third segment. The fourth segment is "community visioning," during which 15 percent of the total community must place a heavier concentration on mobilizing and adopting a shared vision to reduce poverty. In the fifth and final segment, communities combine their understanding of poverty and leadership skills to implement and sustain changes that contribute to poverty reduction.

The program was created by the Northwest Area Foundation as a means to assist communities in Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon in finding long-term solutions to poverty.

"They describe poverty as not just economic but social," Farmer said. "They've got huge visions to help the communities (that) will get involved and make a commitment to improve their own town."

Louis W. Hill, grandson of Great Northern Railway founder James J. Hill, established the NAF in 1934. According to Farmer, the NAF was established as a means of combating the idea that railroads were detrimental to smaller communities.

Other area communities that are participating in the program include Tyndall, Montrose, Presho and Murdo.

If all requirements are met by 2008, Sanborn Central will receive the $10,000 grant, which can be used for anything in the name of improvement.

"Many other communities did things like clean up the town or use it as seed money to get a loan or grant," Farmer said. "It's really your own limits of creativity as to what you can do with $10,000 as long as it markedly reduces poverty."

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By completing the program, Sanborn Central will be known as a "Horizons Community," which Farmer said will increase the chances of obtaining other grant money.

"If you're a Horizons community, your grant application goes to the top of the pile," she said.

Farmer is encouraged by the progress made in the program so far, but said finding people to attend has at times been a struggle. Since most segments have a required number of participants, she hopes more interested people will become involved with the program.

Farmer blames the challenge in recruitment on past experiences with inefficient or incapable organizations.

"People have just been burned from going to too many meetings where nothing got done," she said. "They know that time is valuable. If we're going to a meeting, we're going to be productive."

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