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Welcoming younger people

Oct 5, 2012 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

The key might be cultivating an inner focus

In listening to local political debates, I always wonder at candidates' answers when they relate their plans to attract young people to Wyoming.

Usually, they say economic development will bring the nation's 20- and 30-somethings flocking to the Cowboy State for jobs.

While I'm sure there is truth to that prediction, I can't help but imagine the yawns of boredom coming from any young person listening to the conversation.

Sure, we need jobs, but for most people in my generation, life begins after 5 p.m., when we leave the office and head out for an evening of fun.

For me, that fun usually consists of a walk with the dogs, drinks with friends, or dinner with Cooper. But I have already chosen to live in Wyoming, so I'm not the person we need to worry about attracting.

Others in my age group want, and even need, access to cultural and artistic experiences. When they walk downtown, they want to hear live music being played at a coffee shop, where they can sit down to listen while perusing local artwork on the walls. They want to argue over which famous artist the city commissions to build a sculpture in City Park.

When they look at their city's calendar of events, they want to get excited about the concerts coming to town, or the edgy political speakers or comedians scheduled to appear.

Even if they live in Riverton, Wyo., they want to feel part of the national and global community that is becoming smaller every day.

I can't say I know how to develop Wyoming into a place that is more welcoming to younger people. I've heard, for example, that it's difficult to invite performing artists to Riverton because there is not enough of an audience to make the rural trip worthwhile. It seems like a chicken-and-egg problem -- you can't draw a crowd without a show, but the show isn't feasible without people to fill the seats.

So, I suppose we can begin by turning inward to focus on our local community. I know of several people who have been active in their attempts to enhance artistic and cultural opportunities in Riverton -- residents several years ago planned a project through which community members were invited to decorate part of a fence using discarded clothing and other recyclable materials.

A lot of people thought the idea was "out there," but to me the process and the outcome were inspirational. People arrived at the fence all day to add their piece of personality, and while they worked they chatted with others who had come to participate.

When the day was through, the fenceline represented a unique slice of Riverton that couldn't be replicated anywhere else in the world.

I would like to see more activities of that kind in Riverton. When I heard about the fence project, I wanted to be a part of it, and I think my fellow young people would be eager to be included as well. As we struggle to find our place in society, any outlet for creativity is helpful.

And, exposure to artistic activities will lead to a happier, healthier community for all residents by encouraging them to think beyond the city limits to our place in the cosmos.

I realize that now I sound like some kind of hippie, but I really believe that this is the kind of community young people -- and most people -- are looking for. It may be a little more subtle and complicated than economic development, but I think we can do it.

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