On Thursday July 12, an event quietly occurred in Del Norte County. It was an event that cemented tribal, business, government and not-for-profit organizations to an idea, a partnership, and a vision that will change our collective lives and the course of this county forever. Our civic leaders united under a common vision created by Del Norte County citizens known as andquot;May shum dunandquot; or andquot;Place of Plentyandquot; (in the Tolowa language).

This initiative aims to be the catalyst to create a better future for the people of Del Norte County by enhancing cooperation among all constructive efforts in our community, fostering an environment for new job growth and a vibrant, healthy economy, and providing the necessary civic infrastructure to become andquot;May shum dun.andquot; This initiative, is being led and coordinated by the Crescent City/Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with Elk Valley Rancheria, Smith River Rancheria, the Yurok Tribe, Del Norte County, Rural Human Services, City of Crescent City, Del Norte County Unified School District, the Humboldt Area Foundation, Del Norte Health Care District, and Crescent City Harbor District. These community partners have pledged over $240,000 in cash and in-kind services for our first year. But this is not just about money. To accomplish this vision will require the community, the businesses and leaders to create a new culture, a new way of thinking, and new ways of operating.

There is no question we need to come together in a constructive manner and start to proactively tackle the significant challenges we face. Del Norte County is ranked last in California counties regarding family well-being with 65 percent of children 0-17 years of age living in low income families. Only 13 percent of high school graduates meet the entrance qualifications to go on to California State universities or colleges. The percent of self-sufficient families is also the State low at 33 percent versus the best county in the California at 82 percent. Even though this is an area of tremendous world class natural assets, where the andquot;Redwoods meet the Sea,andquot; federal and state agencies hold 79 percent of the land, limiting the tax base potential for the county.

Making a way

After two decades of divisive actions and economic disparity, this community has the right components in place to move forward and create a new future for its citizens and especially for its youth. We have learned during this period, to build upon and foster collaborative relations, first in 1994 with the Del Norte 2020 Plan, in 2000 with the Gateway Partnership, and in 2003 and 2006 with the Del Norte Comprehensive Economic Development Plan. These were steps leading to where we are today, demonstrating the need for partnerships and the strength of collaboration relations in the new millennium.

New leadership has been instrumental in taking the right steps to move the community forward and create community partnerships with a call to action. We have studied other successful community economic development efforts, including Tupelo, Mississippi, Plumas County, California and Central Wisconsin's Community Progress Initiative, and we have engaged their assistance in learning from their experiences to make our efforts successful.

In May 2007, nearly 90 individuals representing community partners came together in a Scenario Planning Workshop to chart a vision for our future. Their charge was to study and determine what the implications will be if we do not take the appropriate action to improve our community's vitality, social capital and youth development opportunities. This workshop, and the resulting preferred scenario for the future, identifies the key drivers and actions necessary for improving our community's health and prosperity. Key drivers include working towards a new model for education and concentration on youth development, building social capital and leadership, along with developing entrepreneurship and civic infrastructure.

This initiative was identified through a community planning process. The program initiative is designed to create a self reliant culture in Del Norte County. It aims to stimulate new enterprises, a stronger community spirit and build a common shared vision for people and communities in the county. It is designed as a collaborative partnership between the partnering organizations, support agencies and the communities of the area, to provide technical assistance and entrepreneurial training for private business enterprises including new start-up and existing businesses, to improve civic infrastructure, in addition to building the community's leadership skills and linking social community systems (social capital/community building capacity) for improved effectiveness and positive impact.

The official launch

The launch of our community progress initiative will take place Aug. 17, with a comprehensive plan for community engagement in a variety of integrated programming to follow over an initial three year plan. We are incorporating best practice community and economic development programming, from a variety of sources which are most appropriate to our specific needs, integrated and delivered in an intense implementation plan to cause community engagement, momentum and mobilization.

This initiative responds to an existing community crisis of economic disparity and ultimately aims to 'reinvent' the community culture and diversify the economy. Civic leaders are poised and ready to fully engage in a community-wide effort to unleash our potential and move from poverty and dependency to prosperity and self-reliance.

The time is right and we look forward to implementing andquot;May shum dunandquot;.

Chris Howard is the president of Crescent City/Del Norte Chamber of Commerce.