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Friday, February 15, 2019
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We Are FARMiily: Co-Creating With Community and Engaging Student Voice
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In the spring of 2018, husband and wife team Jesse and Jenn White embarked on a two-month journey that covered more than 3,000 miles of asphalt, gravel, and dirt roads, all traveled in Colorado east of the Continental Divide. The pair was finally taking the leap into their decade-long dream. Their mission was to find the region that would benefit most from out of school programming in the fields of sustainability, outdoor education, and making, paired with high levels of community support for their center’s work. The emphasis on community co-creation is what first drew Jesse and Jenn to The HadaNõu Collective, We Are FARMily's Denver based parent organization. “Strong support from the community is an absolute must for our work,” says Jenn White, Co-Executive Director of We Are FARMily. “We are building our center with the communities we serve, not for them.”

On Tuesday January 15th Jesse and Jenn presented their program to the students at Rye High School. They asked students to answer questions on a survey so that they could get a better idea of what the community of students need. Their mission to support the community and their needs showed through in their presentation. “Jesse and I have attended and worked in schools across different districts, states, and time zones. We’ve encountered student voice engagement that ranges from none at all to shaping every major decision impacting a school. In many schools and communities, youth are often told you’re too young, not responsible enough, or don’t have the capacity to do impactful work yet. They get told to wait which results in the development of a lack of sense of purpose, becoming disenfranchised and coping with high-risk behaviors.”

“We don’t just want to have an impact, our goal is to have deep, lasting, transformative impact.” You can only achieve that when the community is an authentic stakeholder in the work. The process includes meeting with community members from a vast array of backgrounds and experiences; asking questions that help identify community needs, desires, and priorities; and utilizing a feedback loop to ensure that what is developed truly reflects the community’s input. For us, it is essential that the co-creation and accountability remains an ongoing relationship throughout the life of our work. Community needs and interests change over time. Maintaining an authentic partnership with the community allows us to respond to those changes in real-time, which heightens the work’s value and impact. “We’re asking students, families, and communities to entrust us with their youth, and therefore the future of their community. Fostering a means for the community to help us build our center and then remaining accountable to its members is the most meaningful way to earn that trust.” The center will open in the fall to students in Huerfano and Pueblo County.

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The Greenhorn Valley View is a weekly newspaper serving the communities of the Greenhorn Valley in Southern Colorado,
including Colorado City, Rye, San Isabel, Beulah and Hatchet Ranch.

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