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This Little Light of Mine

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Sandpoint-area organizations shine

There has been a convergence of exciting, intelligent and creative dialogue going on recently in Bonner County. Perhaps this kind of momentum has been occurring more consistently than I was aware, as I usually discover things about the people of Sandpoint that leave me both proudly astonished by the depth of their generosity and humbled by the seemingly quiet delivery. It could also be that the recent and epic presentation of Sandpoint’s Centennial Film, “Sandpoint: At the End of the Long Bridge,” helps me see the history in the economic development struggles we are grappling with today. Or, as I most likely suspect, I have simply had the good fortune of standing in a place where I can see so many separate, creative processes going forward, and I’m hopeful that this energy can be converted into community based synergy.

    So what has the community been saying through the voice of so many different groups? On October 23rd one group, the Bonner Education and Technology Alliance (BETA), held an all day expo to help people learn about technology in a friendly, supportive environment. One message was that we need to facilitate creative approaches to improving our ability to do business in Sandpoint, so every time we dig up the streets we should be running fiber optic cable. A model of this is the “Terabyte Triangle” in Spokane, and businessman Tom Powers, who helped champion this idea, spoke on the necessity of the investment. Since the State of Idaho is funding the placement of fiber optic from Boise to Sandpoint, to benefit the public sector and education, including post-secondary education, the community has to start strategizing on how to capitalize on this infrastructure investment. Representative George Eskridge also spoke about the potential for Idaho-based businesses to capitalize on electronic commerce if we want to continue enjoying life in a rural community while still competing with urban-based businesses.

    Next, a coalition called Seeking Equitable Economic Development (SEED) held a workshop in October which focused on the need to have a living wage in Bonner County, and how difficult it is for so many people in our community to survive. Commissioned by then-Mayor Paul Graves, the group was formed from the idea that the best solutions for helping people are locally based. A growing percent of the dollars spent to help those in poverty comes from private donations.     One of the founders, Brenda Hammond, Family Development Specialist with the non-profit organization, Community Action Partnership, stated, “Caring isn’t the same as being an informed and passionate advocate. SEED does not want to be seen as some bleeding-heart organization that serves only as a conduit for donations, but rather as a facilitator for sustainable, community-based solutions to real problems. Both the poor and the middle class have stereotypical ideas that hinder their understanding of one another. We want to help disseminate the message that people are not poor because they choose to be, or because they deserve to be.”

    The growing population of the apologetically poor includes seniors, single heads of households, particularly women, and individuals coping with job loss due to the tight economy.

    Groups that contribute to the brainstorming efforts include the Bonner County Assistance Department, the Bonner County Extension Center, the Bonner County Economic Development Corporation, Idaho Job Service, the Food Bank, and representatives from Habitat for Humanity and the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force. There are others, and all of these people are locally focused on either job creation, helping families cope with daily living or seeking solutions to long term issues.

    At the workshop, a live simulation of living on low-income wages was performed, and awards were given to several local businesses for their efforts in the fight against poverty. Awardees included Tom Harvil of Bank of America; Selkirk General Surgery; the Pacific Northwest Region Counsel of Carpenters; and the late Mike Shussler for his work with Habitat for Humanity.

    Other sources of momentum came from a recently sponsored architectural forum put on the City of Sandpoint Planning Department. Students from The University of Idaho architectural school presented six downtown or waterfront design concepts based on their analysis of our needs. One idea placed a lighthouse out on the jetty where the pump house currently sits, down at City Beach. Another redesigned a county government complex with restaurants and promenades to enhance the presentation. One pair of students showed a way to extend the boat moorage/water walkway ramp along the shoreline. Another idea was for the restoration of the train depot.

    The presentations showed ideas that seemed conceivable, and some that seemed incredible for our little town, but my mind flashed to other places where I had seen these types of designs, and I marveled at the notion that people believed these build outs could be achieved here in Sandpoint.

    City and private partnerships continue to be fostered in the area of downtown revitalization. The local improvement district (LID) has been blessed as has the city resort tax. The last part of the funding equation rests in the experienced hands of city grant writer Stephen Drinkard, who has been instrumental to the city in forging relationships within the community development arena. His job is to complete the application for the community block grant that would provide the bulk of the funds for Phase I of the downtown structural improvements. Hopefully we can take advantage of the timing of the construction to lay fiber optic wiring.

    “This little light of mine,” an upbeat spiritual that optimistically brings a small spring to your step when sung, is somewhat symbolic of how I feel about these efforts and many others that have occurred recently. It seems if everyone turns on their personal source of light through the contribution of intelligent, respectful dialogue, we could create a much wider beam that might show us where to best go and how to best get there. We can make a difference individually, but collectively we could have a much more significant impact. The discussion will not be without disagreement, since we are not discussing the implementation of already laid out plans. We are designing our future as we live it. We are working hard to earn a living while we carve out a better method. We are already community, and have been so for more than 100 years, so we have our established opinions, but maybe we could revisit them, if the passion for improvement fuels us.


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Carol Curtis

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