As summer on the high plains begins to give way to the cooling temperatures and shorter days of fall, once emerald green waves of prairie grass across the state of Wyoming begin to dry and turn the color of straw. Some of this foliage will be cut down and baled into hay, some will become forage for wildlife, and some will simply blow in the Wyoming wind until it is overtaken by the snows of winter. After surviving the harsh winter weather, the ground will begin to transform with the growth of new roots as the sun finally begins to thaw the Cowboy State in the spring. Within a few short weeks, the rolling hills and high deserts will be covered with lush new vegetation, sustaining the ecosystem around it, and supported firmly by new roots, a foundation developed when the weather was harshest. As Wyoming does with its plains, so must we continue to revitalize our economy and communities.
We are Empowering the Next Generations to Advance and Grow the Economy (ENGAGE), and we’re hosting our annual Summit in Casper on Sept. 6-7, targeting 18-35 year old individuals connected to Wyoming. We started last year to help create the Wyoming future we want to inherit. This isn’t our first rodeo, and it’s not our last, but we don’t want this to be the same old song and dance. This year, we’re looking to help Wyoming put down new roots. And we need your help. The summit will provide participants with resources and “how-to” sessions on topics including grant writing, local food systems, entrepreneurship, civic engagement, higher education, the arts and more.
We’re looking for folks who care about Wyoming, whether they call themselves cowboys or wildcatters, doctors or lawyers, farmers or ranchers, hippies or vets, tough or soft — because as Dr. Seuss had the Lorax say, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” It’s our turn to step up, and if you’ve got some energy to kick in, we’d love to have you with us.
No matter your political affiliation, Wyoming’s rough times affect us all. Up to 60 percent of Wyoming’s young adults leave within 10 years of graduating high school, including some of us authors. As such, Wyoming is aging faster than the rest of the country, and unless our parents move elsewhere, it will be increasingly challenging to provide adequate resources in-state to support them as they retire.
The issue that we feel is most significant is less about outmigration statistics — certainly there isn’t anything wrong with young people wanting to pursue opportunities and the highest levels of education elsewhere in the world. Instead, our hope is that Wyoming continues to be a place where the best and the brightest of both our home-grown talent want to come back to and new residents want to remain. Much may stand in the way of people wanting to come home again, or to make Wyoming home in the first place. Though the barriers are different for everyone, there are common threads — access to healthcare, the arts, and high-quality education for kids as well as an economic environment that is easily navigable and helps provide resources needed to succeed. At the very basic level, we need to encourage continued life-sustaining social and public services. At stake are Wyoming’s education, healthcare, public health, roads, food inspection, water treatment, corrections facilities, firefighting resources and services for our children. Difficult discussions and decisions lie ahead in regard to revenue and how best to provide the services we’ve come to expect. We must lay down new roots and find new ways to provide for the future of our great state. We recognize that not making a decision means we’ve made the worst decision yet — inaction or apathy will not address the pressing needs that continue to arise. Change is necessary to help Wyoming thrive.
It’s a tall order and a lot to stomach, but when haven’t Wyomingites been up for a challenge?
That said, we need your help to inform and help us shape Wyoming’s future in a way we want. We don’t want to suffer the consequences of today’s problems going unaddressed and growing. A small group of go-getters might make some progress, but we need many folks to help — not only to assist with the work, but because it’s important that what we do works for as many of our fellow Wyomingites as possible. That’s how a community works; we look out for each other.
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Folks outside of Wyoming may perceive our sparse population and open spaces as barren, but not us. A state without community is barren, and Wyoming is one large community. It’s up to our statewide community to tackle its pressing challenges. As former President Reagan said, “If not us, who? And if not now, when?”
Spread the word; share the love. We look forward to seeing you in Casper on Sept. 6-7 so we can all ENGAGE and put down new roots for the state of Wyoming.
Jonathan Updike, MD, MPH, is the former president of ENGAGE. He hails from northern Wyoming and is currently in the second year of his psychiatry residency at Stanford Health Care.
Amber Savage, MPA, is the current President of ENGAGE. She is proud to call Lovell her home, though her work in disaster response has led her to live in Utah for the time and is eager for a chance to call Wyoming home once again.
Mikole Bede Soto, JD, MA, is the Chief of Outreach for ENGAGE and an associate attorney in the Sheridan area. She grew up in Sheridan and returned after completing her education in Laramie and Cheyenne. She is grateful to be back in her home community and becoming involved.
Casey Terrell, JD, MA, is the Deputy Chief of Logistics for ENGAGE. He was born and raised outside of Pinedale, and is now an attorney in the Sheridan Area. He is a proud Wyomingite, excited to help shape the future of the cowboy state.
Allison Connell, JD, is the Chief of Planning of ENGAGE. She is a recent graduate of University of Wyoming’s College of Law and is beginning her career in Cheyenne. Raised on the family ranch in the Sheridan area, Wyoming will always be her home.