A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of representing the Fergus Falls Public School District and Fergus Falls community while participating in the Blandin Community Leadership Program. Having grown up in Deer River, a small town 15 miles west of Grand Rapids, I was well aware of the Blandin Paper Company, but less familiar with the history of the Blandin Foundation.
The Blandin Foundation was established in 1941 by Charles Blandin. Mr. Blandin had a deep love for the Grand Rapids community and for rural communities in general. His gift was intended to strengthen rural communities by developing local leadership with an eye on adaptability and the betterment of mankind. The legacy of Mr. Blandin continues to live on through the contributions of over 7,000 people who have gone through the Blandin Foundation’s Community Leadership training.
Our local cohort consisted of 25 people with diverse interests, backgrounds, skills and personalities. The one thread that bound us all together was a common interest in building upon the many great qualities of our community and making it even better in the future.
Over the course of the training, we learned about each other and about ourselves. We were encouraged to examine our individual strengths and how they might best be utilized in a community leadership role. We also explored weaknesses or blind spots we may have that could jeopardize our effectiveness as community leaders.
We practiced our communication skills which included active listening and developing an awareness that there is often a deeper meaning behind our words. To be an effective communicator, it is sometimes necessary to dig below surface conversations to more fully understand the hopes, dreams, concerns or fears of another. We practiced making our own voices heard while also recognizing the importance of knowing when to quell our desire to speak so that other views and perspectives could be shared.
Perhaps most importantly of all, it was stressed that community leadership isn’t bestowed through a job title or a predefined role in a community. Community leadership manifests itself daily in countless ways. It is picking up a piece of trash on the sidewalk, welcoming a new resident to the neighborhood, volunteering your time to a service organization or cause, shopping locally, and simply lending a helping hand to someone who is struggling. We all have the capacity, and I would suggest the responsibility, to do what we can to make our community better. The journey reminds me of my two favorite quotes. The first, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” - Gandhi.
The second quote is a reminder of the power we have when we work together for a common cause. “Never forget that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world indeed; it’s the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead.
Our community is filled with talented people who love Fergus Falls and have a sincere desire to make it even better. I am excited about what we will accomplish working together.
Jeff Drake is the superintendent of the Fergus Falls School District.