The fifteen communities are Alberton, Choteau, Cut Bank, Darby, Ennis, Eureka, Geyser, Harlem, Hays, Libby, Malta, Sheridan, Superior, Stanford and Twin Bridges.
"The Horizons program provides an opportunity for the land grant university to work directly assist community members in developing local leadership skills and community capacities," said Doug Steele, Montana Horizons Program director and Montana State University Extension director. Horizons communities have a population less than 5,000 with more than 10 percent of family incomes at or under the federal poverty level.
Though the chosen communities are small, each must have at least 30 people who commit to participate in a study circle process that takes 12 hours over several meetings, which is the first stage of the 18 month grant. Participants develop leadership skills and chose projects that the team identifies as being most beneficial for the community. In the next stage, at least 25 people give 30-40 hours of their time to participate in a leader-training program called "LeadershipPlenty." Each community has a coach, and follows a process that includes visioning, action and showcasing what has taken place over the previous months. Each phase of the program must be successfully completed before the next stage is started.
Part of the process is to develop an action plan of what is needed to create a thriving community. Once the goals are set, MSU Extension provides coaching and connects community leaders with resources and partners who can help. Frequently the coaches are MSU Extension agents but can be other individuals from the community.
Horizons takes specific steps to include people who often are missed in community development, said David Young, MSU Extension community resources specialist. For instance, if child care is needed to let a single parent participate in the planning process, Horizons funds can be used for that. Or if participants cannot afford to drive to a training site, Horizons funds can be used to defray transportation costs.
Stanford had its first study circle meetings Oct. 30 and s Nov. 18. Steering Committee Chairperson, Diana Roen, said the process was "very exciting."
"We had 75 people at our first meeting, and our town has a population of about 400," Roen said. "I think people were coming just to see what was going on, but we had 67 signed up for study circles that night. (At the) second study session, we had close to 75 people there, so they not only signed up, but they came. There seems to be a big focus on people, and that seems good to me."
Montana has had two other sets of Horizons communities. Sixteen Montana communities have already successfully completed the Horizons program. They include Anaconda, Big Timber, Boulder, Brockway, Columbus, Crow Agency, Culbertson, Terry, Forsyth, , Harlowton, Melstone, Roundup, Scobey, Wibaux, White Sulphur Springs and Whitehall.
Terri Marx, a participant in the Whitehall Horizons project, said "The main gist of it as I understand it is to help build more leaders who will continue to want to keep doing things for the community so the community benefits for many years to come, not just this one single time."
For Jim Heikes, a participant from Boulder, leadership training was one of the most important elements of Horizons.
"Leadership training is always valuable," Heikes said. "No matter when. No matter where."
Heikes added that in Horizons project, people are not "just lectured at. We do things together."
To learn more about the Horizons and MSU partnership in Montana, please see the stories:
"Melstone residents are growing their city after years of dwindling population"
"MSU Extension agent works to score on a new court"