by Mindy Von Elling
GetREAL is the name of the game and the slogan could not ring more true. Investigators on the GetREAL project (Rural Engagement and Action Leadership) believe their endeavor had a real impact on rural communities around the state of Kansas.
"It's really embodied within the name: Rural Engagement and Action Leadership," Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development said. "It's leadership in action."
The project was funded by the Center for Engagement and Community Development in the fall of 2007 and within the past two years, has generated a large impact on communities due to the dedication and collaboration of its partners.
The goal of the project was to imbed a sense of leadership and leadership practice within rural communities so that citizens could feel a bond and strength within the community. A grant of $500 was given to each community to fund projects.
"The reason we chose the name REAL is because we wanted to have a real impact," Wilson said. "We wanted to get beyond the academic theory and see leadership at work on the ground."
Any obstacles that the investigative group may have encountered were squandered by good communication, according to Donita Whitney Bammerlin, instructor of business management.
"The extension mission is to serve through delivery, knowledge that is generated and created at the university," Bammerlin said. "If we keep that information in an ivory tower, it doesn't make a difference in the daily lives of all our constituents, the taxpayers, the citizens in the communities of Kansas. I feel like the REAL project modeled delivering that across the state of Kansas."
One of the biggest ways that Wilson said he has seen extension at work in this project is through the actions of Western Reno County.
"They formed an organization called Fairfield Area Partners enrolled in the Kansas PRIDE Program and they've done a whole list of things," Wilson said.
That list included road trips with city commissioners, surveys, work groups and even obtaining a feature in Government Journal Magazine. Besides these achievements however, Wilson said there is collaboration with extension through the PRIDE Program, further emphasizing the importance of engagement through extension. "The PRIDE Program is sponsored by K-State Research and Extension, so that's a very nice connection there," Wilson said.
Perhaps one of the biggest achievements this project has made through active collaboration is turning something small into something large enough to impact several Kansas communities.
"We didn't have that big of a grant, but we were able to make a difference in several communities, not just one, so it was the multiplier effect," Bammerlin said. "We used a small grant to touch the lives of many people."
And Wilson would agree.
"The $500 REAL grant was leveraged into about $2,000 worth of investment that was made just with a little bit of encouragement due to this process," Wilson said. "We've seen impact at the community level that excites me."