VOICES FROM THE 31ST ANNUAL EMERGING ISSUES FORUM
Ever since I was sent to Caswell County to serve as a pastor, I noticed a common phrase:
“There are no jobs here anymore.”
At first, I dismissed this phrase, thinking that things cannot be that desperate. However, as I began to hear the stories in the community about their difficulties and challenges, the phrase was becoming unbearably true. There were no jobs here anymore.
I’ve noticed that once I repeat this phrase over and over again, the negativity seeps into my mindset unknowingly. And this negativity influences me to focus about what the county does not have.
For example, the county does not have an interstate, a top-tier university, an international airport, a huge mass-transportation system, or a Fortune 500 company.
Racking my brain to find a silver-bullet to the scarcity of jobs in my community, I realized that I was approaching the issue the wrong way. I have to focus on what kind of gifts and assets this community already has. Even though we may not have the easily recognizable or admirable assets, we do have assets in the county.
And, the biggest assets in Caswell County are the small rural churches and the members of those churches who are concerned about the future of the county.
With the help of IEI, we convened a meeting with the stakeholders in the county, mostly made up of the pastors of the churches in Caswell County and the members of the churches who are looking for ways to bring positive changes. Gratefully, this working group has challenged me to think deeper about the county’s underlying issues, especially on job growth and job availability. We have asked ourselves, “What are the issues that are hindering us to be a vibrant rural community today?” We named a lot of issues and challenges, but the group came together named one specific issue: we do not talk positively about our community and our county.
After identifying the core issue, the working group started to ask ourselves how we, as a group, could bring positivity in the county. From the assets that we brought to the meeting, we identified two areas of need that we can engage to spark positive thoughts: 1) education, and 2) healthy eating habits. By providing quality educational programs, we hope to make a positive impact in our local schools so that we can be proud of our schools. By providing access and informing people about healthy eating habits, we hope to decrease the risk of obesity and diabetes in our young people so that they feel well and healthy. In sum, it is our hope that through serving in these two areas, Caswell County residents will think more positive about themselves and about the county.
However, even though we have identified the two focus areas, the direction of these two areas is dependent on the future.
And, IEI leads us to ask a powerful question, “How would our jobs change in the future, and how can we respond to the upcoming changes due to the rise in technology?”
The answers and questions from this forum will impact the structures of our proposed educational programs and shapes how we inform the county residents about healthy eating habits.
Immersed in these questions and thoughts, I have decided to attend the forum because I need to learn more about where we, as a society, are moving in the future. I am a Methodist pastor to the people of Caswell County, and I realize that as a pastor, I am a stakeholder in this community who is trusted to guide the people responsibly.
And, through learning and discussing more about the future of work, I hope to honor that trust by being able to lead my church and community responsibly with the future in mind.