Moving Toward a Stronger Community Future in Columbia, SD
“What would it look like if the community was thriving?” For rural communities who ask such a powerful question, the responses may vary in scope or complexity, but one thing is certain: asking the question in the first place can be what sets some communities apart from the rest.
In January 2022, the City of Columbia, located on the James River in Brown County, South Dakota, and home to 160 residents, asked such a question, and this desire for a thriving community led them to engage with Dakota Resources. Led by Community Coach Paula Jensen, residents and stakeholders collaborated over a 12-month period to discover a thriving Columbia.
“The results we’ve discovered together over the last several months have provided us with the information necessary to create pivot strategies, new solutions, and inspire 30+ local resident leaders to collaboratively move the community toward a stronger future,” Jensen said. “A community will thrive as more people become engaged in creating solutions to meet their local needs.”
The core leadership team in Columbia, who called themselves Columbia Community Cares, got right to work. From hosting a community clean-up day and assisting with a community yard sale to setting up a system to support residents needing assistance with yard chores, rides to appointments, and more, Columbia Community Cares played a foundational role in generating early success and momentum, said Julie Lillis, Columbia’s Core Team Lead.
“We have moved toward a thriving Columbia collaboratively in meaningful ways,” Jensen said. “After activating a core leadership team of eight volunteers to kickstart the action, we conducted a community perception poll to discover baseline data to help us then engage the greater community in visioning for their future. Then, we formed teams of 30+ volunteers focused on six local priorities, ranging from investments in business recruitment and community appearance to housing and fundraising efforts. Our time together has included accomplishing projects and building a network of resources, as well as celebrating Columbia’s local success on a regular basis.”
As additional teams of residents in Columbia took shape, volunteers jumpstarted a variety of new initiatives, including Columbia Fest, a community-wide gathering that was held this year and will continue on an annual basis, as well as the development of a community website. In addition, funds have been raised to support further development, including the installation of a digital sign that will share upcoming community events and a traffic study in an effort to bring a gas station back to Columbia. The six teams working on Columbia’s current priorities are looking to the future as well by creating a 2023 work plan. Throughout the coming year, they will continue to participate in the Community Coaching program, engage more local residents in the process, and celebrate their successes together, along the way. To help ensure that the community of Columbia will still meet residents’ needs, Lillis also shared that the Business and Housing Development Committee discussed and developed transition plans with a daycare owner and a restaurant/bar owner in town, both of whom plan to retire in the near future.
“With the help of Paula’s ongoing coaching, our teams have achieved several goals and are on the way to achieving more,” Lillis said. “The Community Coaching process has brought about a greater sense of community pride and hope for the future. Our goal in Columbia is to recreate some of the community’s glory days while working toward a healthy future.”
Such glory days are fervent memories for long-time residents and business owners, Ray and Cyndy Larson. Until recently, when Ray and Cyndy, his wife of 50 years, retired and moved to Aberdeen, SD, Ray had only known home to be in Columbia. Ray’s father started a farming and cattle business in 1946 – which many family members continue to operate today – and when it came time for Ray and Cyndy to raise their own family, Columbia was the natural choice.
“Our main reason for investing our time and talents in the Columbia community’s growth and development is because of family,” Ray said. “Columbia was a wonderful place to grow up and raise our family, and we want our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews to have those same opportunities.”
According to Ray, communities like Columbia have a variety of perspectives and visions to manage when discovering opportunities for growth. And while the work certainly isn’t done, as Columbia stakeholders continue to formulate plans to shape the future of the city, Ray points to the value of the Community Coaching process in guiding all of the voices in Columbia to define and refine a shared mission for moving forward.
“In working with a small community, there are many perspectives from young to old, and it can be hard for some to let go of the past, while others may not always recognize the work that was done to build the community,” Ray said. “This is where Paula and the Dakota Resources’ Community Coaching process was so valuable. Because of Paula’s knowledge and experiences, she was able to guide us through the process and keep us focused on the positives. It’s been thrilling to see such a revival of the Columbia spirit.”
TAKE ACTION: If your economic development organization is looking to boost community engagement, the Dakota Resources Community Coaching program can help you. If you’re interested in getting your community or organization involved in our Community Coaching program, email [email protected].