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 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Take Charge Program Piloted in Carroll County

Farm Business Management Update, February 2001

By Dave Lamie

Rural communities typically lag behind more urban areas in their ability to successfully position themselves for success in the new global economy. Community development experts largely agree that the most successful rural communities engage in activities that increase the use of skills, knowledge, and ability of local people; that strengthen relationships and communication both within and external to the community; that have a climate that fosters a broad level of participation, initiative, and responsibility from within the community; that have sustainable, healthy ecosystems with multiple community benefits; and that have appropriately diverse and healthy economies.

However, many rural communities find it difficult to align the agendas of rural institutions, organizations, and people to bring about sustainable rural development. Oftentimes, rural communities can benefit from the intervention of an unbiased third party to facilitate educational processes to bring about the necessary changes to help them be successful. Virginia Cooperative Extension has a rich history of playing this role for rural communities.

Dr. David Lamie, Rural Community Economic Development Extension Specialist, Pam Gibson, Research Associate, and Gary Larrowe, Carroll County Educational Resource Extension Specialist, facilitated a community economic development educational process that engaged nearly all sectors of Carroll County and involved over 200 citizen leaders. This program, "Take Charge Carroll County," was modeled on the highly successful "Take Charge" program developed under the auspices of the North Central Center for Rural Development. Dr. Lamie had substantial experience with this and similar programs in Indiana.

The Carroll County School Board, Carroll County Board of Supervisors, Carroll County Industrial Development Authority, the Town of Hillsville, the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, the Galax-Carroll-Grayson Chamber of Commerce, the Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, and Virginia Cooperative Extension jointly sponsored "Take Charge Carroll County." "Take Charge Carroll County" has increased the level of understanding of the socio-economic forces affecting Carroll County. Strengths and shortcomings of the county were assessed. A vision for the future of Carroll County was developed. The program resulted in the formation of five citizen-led study groups whose role is to study issues that are fundamental to the future success of Carroll County. These interest groups have already met several times, and the entire "Take Charge" assembly plans to meet on a quarterly basis.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that "Take Charge" has enhanced trust and communication between county residents, enhanced cooperation among organizations and individuals, allowed for innovative uses of existing resources and more thoughtful decisions on a number of levels. This program has created a fertile climate and a favorable relationship between Carroll County and Virginia Tech whereby additional applied research that addresses local issues can be undertaken to help Carroll County develop a prosperous and sustainable future. As part of the follow-up to this program, Dr. Lamie, Gary Larrowe, and Brian Calhoun initiated contact with Dr. Andrew Cohill of the Blacksburg Electronic Village that has resulted in the development of an electronic village modeled on the highly-acclaimed Blacksburg Electronic Village. Complementing this electronic village is a web-based threaded discussion tool developed by Brian Ward of the Va Tech's Agriculture, Human, and Natural Resources Information Technology (AHNRIT) group using Web Board software. The URL for this web site is The purpose of this tool is to facilitate dialogue between committees.

"Take Charge Carroll County" serves as a pilot for the "Take Charge" program in Virginia. It is anticipated that this program will be extended to other rural counties in the future. A team of interested specialists and agents is taking shape with the intention of developing in-service training opportunities for interested Extension agents in the future. For more information please contact Dave Lamie at (540) 231-5447 or, Brian Calhoun, Pam Gibson at (540) 231-9405 or, or Gary Larrowe.

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