Opinion Column

Your kids gotta go

by Vern May
I’m no spring chicken. That’s a reality that seeps in a little deeper every morning. But for as long as I can remember, rural communities have been saying the same thing, “we need to find a way to keeping our young people from moving away”. The mindset behind this sentiment, seems to draw the conclusion that the decline of our communities is because we lose our young people to the adventure and opportunity that lies elsewhere.
I would argue that thousands of hours have been committed to brainstorming around this approach to retaining youth but I’m going to suggest that the mindset needs to change. We don’t want our kids to “keep” our children here, that’s not what we need for our long term success. There is a lot more that we can be doing, however, to ensure that we present an attractive option when they’re ready to come back.
I grew up in rural Manitoba, an ambitious youngster with the firm belief that the future I craved most existed in a larger city. The belief that “nothing cool ever happens here” was one that sat on my mind. Come to think of it, does that sound like something you’ve heard from residents here? I was convinced that the road to success and prosperity started in an urban setting and the next decade saw me upgrade to “a slightly bigger city” every few years. From Brandon, to Winnipeg, to Vancouver…with each move promising more opportunities to learn, explore and experience the world.
The appeal of what’s beyond the city limit sign is stronger than ever. Connected by technology, our young people are now even more aware of the opportunities that exist for them both locally and abroad, and it is important that we foster that sense of exploration in our children to go out and see what the world’s all about. We should support their interest to experience culture not offered here, to sample new cuisine, to learn new customs, and (perhaps most importantly of all) to make mistakes. When they are ready to come back, think of how much more they have to share and contribute.
I can speak to this approach directly, as it is how my path has taken shape. When we find ourselves in a position where it’s time to raise a family, we start to look to our hometown – recognizing the benefits of raising kids in a rural setting where we have a loose idea of what that experience will look like for them. The schools, the recreation, the community, friends and neighbours – that’s all part of the package. But here’s the added benefit to the community now.  Not only are we getting our kids back. Chances are they are bringing a spouse and children, introducing new faces to our community. 
They are also bringing their experiences and insights from having lived in other parts of the country and (in some cases) the world, and are able to share those with us to help enrich our lives and activities with fresh insights. We won’t find ourselves with disenfranchised citizens who feel like they’re trapped here by chance and have lost the curiosity to question what’s possible. We will see less opposition to explore change because they aren’t trapped in the rut of how “it’s always been.”
Their opportunity to spread their wings and grow beyond our municipal borders pays off for the community as a whole. But, there are two important pieces to make this picture come together and economic development has to take ownership of part of it. First, we need to develop and deliver a sense of “ownership” for the youth when they’re young to let them see that we’re open to change and want to hear their thoughts and feelings about what will make their home more exciting and inviting to them. Next, we need to keep driving forward to develop opportunities – professionally, personally, recreationally – that paints an inviting image that they see as a fit for their needs in our community as an adult.
There is a home here for them when they are ready to take that step, and it’s one they will make by choice, not by chance.
Opportunity is knocking in the Portage region so let’s answer the door. You can find me in the office at 800 Saskatchewan Ave. W., reach me by e-mail at vmay@plprecd.ca, call me at 204-856-5000. Be sure to keep up with me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PLPRED.

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