Escalante, Utah – No Change is Change!

In the 11 years I worked for a member of Congress a majority of my tasks was to assist constituents with problems related to public agencies – city, county, state, federal and special districts.  I traveled the district meeting with folks and listening to their problems with these agencies and we tried to forge some type of resolution.  Mostly, it was educating folks on what agencies did, how they worked and what could they expect from them.  Since we don’t teach civics anymore most people have no idea how it works and the rest would just as soon not know.
But sticking your head in the sand doesn’t make a problem go away nor does it educate the populace on how things are done in one or another community (and yes, they are all different).  Take where I live today, Escalante, Utah.  About 65% of the city is LDS and descendants of the pioneer families that first moved here in the 1880’s.  They have a sense of pride in their town that dates back to those humble beginnings and highly resent new move-ins trying to change things.
On the other side of that debate are the newer move-ins that don’t have a sense of ownership (other than their land deed) and have very different life experiences and attitudes.  Neither of these two groups are right or wrong, but they do have different outlooks and expectations.  What’s missing, usually, are two things that need development in every small town on an ongoing basis.
First, is Respect for those that are heritage families and respect for those moving here to be part of that heritage over time.  The town has a fabulous heritage and the preservation of that in the view of historic buildings is one of the reasons Escalante was just named a National Historic District.  A high percentage of the homes have been preserved in their original state or only minor modifications have been made.  Truly, brick and mortar are one of its many attributes and is one of the aspects of the towns new move-ins adore.  All you have to do is look at the two most recent business move-ins to see the adoration for brick in their buildings.
Second, a little over half the town are active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints (LDS) and are busy with their families, church and various callings.  They communicate with each other on all issues on a regular basis and if there’s a water crisis they know about it.  If they have a project they want they’ve talked about it and come up with what they want to do.  Unfortunately, the rest of us are not there and not in on those conversations.  Thus we hear about it at City Council meetings,  Planning and zoning meetings, or from the newspaper if it’s included in the local column.  And now you see postings from folks on Facebook about these issues.  The bottom line is the lack of communication only increases the frustration between groups and makes for hard feelings.
How to fix this?  One town uses their local newspaper to get answers through an anonymous “I Want To Know?” column.  They answer one question a week and provide “just the facts” so that folks can form their own opinions.  Another town has a Mayor that holds “office hours” once a week where citizens can walk in and chat about issues – limit 15 minutes per constituent (strictly enforced).  Another town has formed a citizens advisory committee and constituents are encouraged to meet with them monthly to bring forward their issues.  Education is a key component of every approach and has to be done on an ongoing basis as every town tends to get new folks about every two years.  So you repeat yourself constantly – but it keeps things from escalating to name calling and hurt feelings.
And the key – heritage families stop taking offense at every question from newer move-ins and new move-ins ask better questions.  It’s a partnership that grows cities, friends, and families.

People Watching

The traffic in our Gallery has been huge this week.  I’m grateful for the traffic and the sales.  But it’s always a wonderful time to people watch, probably one of my favorite things to do.  Lots of foreign citizens traveling through and a large number this week were French.  They tend to have limited English language skills so communicating with them is difficult.  There were also several Englanders, and they are full of life and curiosity.  Always ask lots of good questions and are planning to hike.

The families that are here for Turn About Ranch students are always interesting to watch.  It’s usually mid-term when we see them and most revisit upon graduation.  Parents anxious they made the right decision about spending this huge sum of money to save their teenager from some very bad choices and learning to cope with society as it is.  Almost all come from big cities where there are limited choices and big expenses that require two parents to work in order to provide what is “expected” – at least from the advertisers viewpoint.

Turn About Ranch provides these almost adult children with the skills to evaluate what is really important and how to change the pathway they have been on.  Parents get extended counseling as well.  No one is to blame and both take responsiblity for a different outcome.  Dr. Phil does a segment on our ranch every year and everyone in Escalante, UT is very proud of the work done there.

The families come in, the students are usually quiet, respectful and glad to have a few hours away from the ranch.  Almost all wear a red ball cap.  Those of us watching from the sidelines never know their names or hometowns, but know them from their red ballcap.  We try and reinforce the great work being done and let them know how proud the parents should be for asking for help and the student should be for getting a second chance early on and not having to wait until they are 50+ to “figure it out”.

For midterm we usually just see the parents of the students, but Graduation can bring out entire families that fly into Las Vegas, drive the 5 hours to Escalante and stay in town several days.  Parents, siblings, married siblings and spouses, cousins, aunts and uncles – you name it – they find their way here to celebrate the rebirth of this student and their family.  It’s wonderful to see all the love and caring that comes from it.  They usually buy some little treasure to remember their time in our funny little Mormon Village of 650 people.  And they are fascinated by our red rock environment and the fact that you can hear yourself think.  No background noise, dark nights with stars, and everyone knows everyone – something the city folks mostly never know.