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Horizons creates 'Vision Statement'

Horizons leaders, from left, Sarah Makela, Joanie Anderson and Jody Bjornson, recognize 30 other leadership trainees who completed the "Leadership Plenty" hours taught by University of Minnesota Exte­nsion. (Photos by Riham Feshir / Enterprise)1 / 2
Menahga High School students, from left, Jessica Olson, Shawnee VonSchneider and Delilah McNeely, participated in the visioning session and said the community needs to focus on the youth when planning long-term action goals.2 / 2

Flocks of geese typically fly in a v-shaped pattern following the airflow. But when the leader gets tired, other members of the group must step in to take the lead and continue the group's journey.

That's the metaphor Horizons program director Monica Herrera related to the Menahga community Thursday night at a rally that gathered almost 200 people.

"It's important to know where you're going and where you're heading," she said. "It's important to take turns because that's how you get momentum."

The Menahga Horizons group hosted the rally to include a "visioning" session after presenting an overview of what the group has accomplished so far.

Horizons is a University of Minnesota Extension program established in 2003 to give people of small towns the resources and guidance needed to pursue projects that would build positive relationships within the community as well as reduce poverty.

According to Herrera, the poverty rate in Menahga is about 17 percent.

But poverty isn't always financial. It can be the unused skills and resources that the community has available but can't utilize without some leadership help.

Horizons provided leadership training to more than 30 residents and recognized them at the rally Thursday.

Three committees working to strengthen the community were also recognized at the rally. Those teams are known by the name "Short-term Action Teams."

The Menahga Senior Citizens/Community Center team announced a number of fundraising opportunities they've taken advantage of to help make the center more appealing to various age groups.

The "Welcoming Kit" committee said the project will be done and published this June. The kit will include resourceful information - a business directory and coupons for local businesses - for new and current residents to use.

The Financial Management team announced they plan to invite a financial management expert to teach the community how to manage personal and community-wide finances.

"Because Horizons is a program to reduce poverty, an education program is an absolute necessity to assist the entire program," Naemi Huhta of the financial management committee said.

Now that the short-term action teams are on a roll, it's time to start planning long-term goals.

At the rally, everyone participated in the "visioning" process, which was to set "ideas" and "hopes" on how to improve the community of Menahga.

A group of high school girls suggested opening a community center that would include a pool, workout room, library and a coffee house for the youth to hang out and stay in town.

"I'm happy to see that the youth is involved in something that I've always wanted to see happen," said Horizons leader Joanie Anderson.

Another idea was to focus on the beautification of the city by expanding the Menahga Garden Club.

At the end of the first part of the visioning session, all attendees got to vote on which idea they liked best. The community center idea received the most votes.

The second part was to come up with themes that would help implement those long-term ideas.

Themes included, "focusing on the youth," "saving and preserving Spirit Lake" and "enhancing tourism."

Once again, the focusing on the youth "theme" received the most votes.

Based on those ideas and themes, University of Minnesota Extension and the local Horizons program director Susanne Hinrichs created a "Vision Statement" for Menahga.

"Menahga is a historic and proud town that celebrates its ethnic diversity... We also want to pay attention to the quality of life of all people by providing arts, cultural and physical activities. We want to provide a center for all people to gather for fellowship and rejuvenation," the vision statement read.

At the end of the night, those interested in making that vision come to life signed up to help with the planning of those long-term goals. By September, all plans must be completed for the Horizons group to get the first part of a Northwest Foundation grant of $10,000 and help implement those ideas, Herrera said.

Horizons is a two-year program, which means by spring of 2010, the group will have received all grant money available. Herrera said the group can also get help applying for other grants as needed to make those plans happen.

For more information on Horizons, Hinrichs is available Mondays from noon to 2 p.m. at the Cottage House Café in Menahga to answer questions about the program.