“Together WE CAN” – What I learned from Texas Rural Leadership Program training

See how congregation leaders in rural areas are gaining the skills & relationships needed to build stronger communities.

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Last year, two lay leaders from St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church in Hearne attended the Texas Rural Leadership Program’s (TRLP) annual conference. Kathleen Phillips and Ray Fryar returned to Hearne ready to recruit a diverse group of local leaders to work together on communication skills, asset mapping and community organizing.

Robertson-County-TRLP-THUMB.gif With support from EHF, they brought the training program to their community this Spring with the goal of identifying and completing a local project that could bring people together and benefit Hearne and the surrounding area.

“We feel like our relationship with TRLP has exciting long-term potential for growth, and could point to existing health needs for the residents of Hearne and the surrounding rural area,” said Kathleen Phillips.

TRLP is housed in the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and helps rural community members gain leadership skills and build relationships across diverse sectors of their community. The program’s goal is to help identify ways community members can come together to support programs and initiatives that will strengthen their communities. TRLP’s upcoming annual conference is scheduled for June 21-23 in San Antonio.

In Northeast Texas, the Rev. Victoria Griffin, a Presbyterian Minister, is working in partnership with Trinity Episcopal Church in Jacksonville to find ways to make an impact that addresses the deep poverty in the region. They were excited to learn about the potential of the TRLP program and requested support from EHF to host the training in their community.

So what happened next? Read Jacksonville resident Tricia Thompson’s description of the TRLP training and what she learned:

When I first heard about the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension program called the Texas Rural Leadership Program I was very unsure about it.  I met Vicki Griffin, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, when she came into Creative Graphics where I work.  She told me about the two-day workshop and her enthusiasm about the program was obvious.  Vicki encouraged me to come to the workshop, but I still felt a hesitation.

Did I want to spend two days away from work at a workshop?  Would this be worth my time?  What was it all about?  Do I even want to be a “leader” after trying in the past to make improvements and failing?

The day before the workshop, I emailed her and said I would not be able to make it…but I continued to debate attending.  If I don’t try, if NO ONE tries, how will things ever improve?  Thursday morning I decided I would go and find out what it was about–and I’m SO GLAD I did!  

The workshop was led by Ronnie McDonald and Jim Holm.  Ronnie and Jim are wonderful speakers and it was such an entertaining and inspiring way of learning.  Ronnie was a Yell Leader at A&M–that should tell you he absolutely knows how to motivate a crowd!

The program is designed to help us realize the skills and resources we have among us that we can use together to make positive changes.  We were taught how to focus on listening more and talking less; how to ask sincere questions of members of our community to find out what needs to be done to move forward; how to analyze the pros and cons of situations to arrive at the best solution; and how to build and lead a team of community members who are excited and inspired to pursue projects to improve the well-being of our community.

We had a group of about 15 students seated at four or five tables.  One of the first things they asked us was to list the “assets” of the people at our table.  Me?  Assets?  The accountant in me checked my mental balance sheet and found myself lacking–but I was wrong.  We all have assets we can bring to contribute to any given project and together we are RICH in assets. 

There were four people at my table and our list of assets was impressive:  two pastors who lead congregations of local citizens, a hand-on knowledge of how to access health and veteran’s services, a leader in the local Democratic party, connections to JISD, deep roots in the community that opens doors to people who love and care about Jacksonville, a nurse, a therapist, a church van, access to multiple meeting halls.  I realized I DO have assets to contribute as a CPA and a local business owner — of a print shop that can create flyers and banners and t-shirts to promote projects.  The outcome was the same at the other tables.  With so many assets, I know we can accomplish any task.  I left on day one with such excitement for the possibilities of what we can accomplish together!

On day two, we practiced teaching the six basic steps of the leadership program to others.  We took turns teaching different parts of the program to each other and learning more about how we can come together as a community.  The more people at the table, the more assets we have.  Together we have the power to design and implement projects that will benefit the residents of Jacksonville and Cherokee County.

What I came away with was a greater knowledge of how to make positive changes happen.  I now have a wonderful group of new friends and I learned about many great things that are going on right under my nose.  I left my cynicism behind and I am ready to share this program with anyone who will listen.  Together WE CAN!

Learn more about TRLP’s state conference scheduled for June 21-23 in San Antonio. See EHF’s Learning Opportunities page to learn how EHF can provide support to help with registration costs if needed.