Updated: Jan 20
When you think about a community, who do you think of? A community is defined as a unified body of individuals. We here in North Dakota are a community. We are identified by our shared characteristics, whether sought after or born into, a rural way of living. At times, this lifestyle can be isolating. However, it is because of this familiarity with isolation do we develop kindred relationships with those around us. A rural lifestyle can be difficult for organizations whose goals are to provide assistance to these communities. That’s where our Community Builder Program comes in.
SBPC partnered with Strengthen ND, an organization that works across North Dakota to elevate nonprofits and rural communities to support a high quality of life and resources for vulnerable populations through community development. Strengthen ND was fortunate to find not one but two members excited about building capacity across ND. Even better, these members have a combined experience of doing this kind of work for nearly forty years. You may be asking yourself, how is that possible? While the answer might surprise you, we hope it also inspires you. Strengthen ND’s Community Builder members are both retirees. The aim of the Community Builder Program is to find individuals that serve to the benefit of the North Dakota public and nonprofit organizations and the families, individuals, and communities they serve. In some cases, these members might be looking to further their career aspirations by serving at these organizations, known as host sites, and developing real world experience for the future. In other cases, such as with retirees, that real world experience might already be fulfilled, and instead they are looking to Community Builder for something more. Barb Carley, one of Strengthen ND’s members, is serving as Rural Network Coordinator remotely.
Originally from a small town in Minnesota, Barb has lived in Fargo for much of her life. She worked for Super Valu in various supervisor roles and retired after 27 years. However, retirement didn’t mean sitting around all day relaxing for Barb. She and her husband, Jim, worked for FEMA traveling to many counties in North Dakota to assess damages to public buildings, roads, and bridges. And like many of us, our working styles had to adapt to the global pandemic. FEMA asked Barb to work from home, something she really relished, “I love working remotely. I’m a behind the scenes kind of person. You’re able to concentrate. I’ve worked in an office setting for years and there is constant interruption so working at home is really nice.” It was during this time that
Barb had a conversation with Cher Hersrud, the other Community Builder member for Strengthen ND and acquaintance of 30 years, about working in similar capacity for Strengthen ND. Barb talks about what really sold the whole idea about serving, “Cher and I were talking about the organization and so I checked it out, had an informal interview with Megan Langley (Executive Director of Strengthen ND) and I was just really impressed by what she was trying to accomplish.” It is important to us that members in the program are getting more out of serving than just monetary value.
The Community Builder Program offers retirees like Barb an opportunity to bring in their experience that they have gained from over the years and use it solely for a positive impact. Barb explains why serving has been such an enjoyable part of her post workforce life,
“There is something so satisfying about feeling like you’re contributing to something good. In the past you had to find a job to make a living, and now that’s not what’s driving my life, it’s about doing something good for the place that I live.”
Serving for Strengthen ND has given Barb the opportunity to contribute to what matters most to someone who comes from a rural community herself, “I’m a farmer’s daughter, so I understand a lot of that what these smaller communities are going through. The thing about small communities; when there is a problem, people band together and they are there for each other.”
Cher Hersrud, Special Project Officer for Strengthen ND shares a similar admiration for the work she is doing as a Community Builder member, “I grew up in Bowman, ND. I haven’t lived there in 50 years but it’s my hometown and always will be. And its where I learned to admire, respect and appreciate small towns and rural communities.” Cher has worked with rural communities and nonprofit organizations for more than 30 years. Funded by the Otto Bremer Trust, she traveled across North Dakota for 10 years to provide capacity building services. The self-proclaimed “Queen of Project Planning” knows more than most when it comes to rural North Dakota and the opportunity to continue working with, as she calls them, “my people” was exactly why she choose to serve in the program. “I’m a sucker for passion, that’s why I’ve always worked in nonprofits. You find that in rural communities, they work so hard to keep it going, which we know is getting harder and harder.” Her work as VISTA for Strengthen ND has culminated in securing a Bush Foundation Grant Program partnership. As partners, Strengthen ND will develop, test, and spread ideas that make the region better for everyone.
“The Community Builder Program is an opportunity to try something new, but it’s also an opportunity to build on the skills you already had. I wish more newly retired people would do it”
said Cher, “It allowed me to come back doing work that I did years ago that I loved.”
Serving together at Strengthen ND has been positive for both members said Barb, “Cher is very outgoing, and I am introverted, I think we work very well together.” Cher echoed the approval but also added that Barb has been reinvigorated by serving, “Barb says she likes to be in the background but she’s not as quiet as she thinks she is.” Both Barb and Cher sought to continue making a difference after retirement because it offered them the chance to work for the betterment of their communities. When we feel isolated, we turn to our communities. Retirement can mean the end of working to help yourself. In Barb and Cher’s case, retirement can mean serving to help others.
SBPC is an AmeriCorps North Dakota partner, matching dedicated service members with North Dakota non-profit organizations to tackle some of our state's toughest challenges with local, sustainable solutions. Applications to be a member are available on our website.