So last week, we kicked off what we’re calling our Rural Listening Tour in an effort to strengthen existing connections and make some new ones. Thanks to funding from the Inasmuch Foundation in collaboration with the Oklahoma Media Center, we will be visiting a number small and mid-sized communities around Oklahoma. Our aim is to improve how we understand and cover a variety of civic scenarios.
On July 21, our first stop was Duncan, which happens to be this reporter’s hometown.
The NonDoc staff traveled 80 miles to the southwest Oklahoma town of about 23,000 to speak at the Duncan Rotary Club, visit with the Duncan Area Economic Development Foundation, stop by the local papers and simply talk to folks along the way.
During our visit, we checked out several local businesses and organizations, and we saw firsthand what I believe is my hometown’s greatest asset: community connections.
Seeing community in action
One stop that particularly illustrated how these connections work in Duncan was to the Think Ability Inc. community garden.
The garden was started after a community health assessment conducted by Pathways to a Healthier You, in coordination with the Duncan Regional Hospital, revealed that Duncan residents were interested in having both a garden and farmers’ market in town.
Think Ability Inc., a nonprofit that promotes independent living skills by providing community supports to individuals with developmental disabilities, was happy to take on the project.
“Community members can come in, rent a space, plant whatever vegetables they want and then we take care of it —water it, weed it, pet it, talk to it — whatever it needs,” community garden and farmers market manager Sheila DeCarlo said. “Our job is to provide jobs to people with intellectual disabilities. We have great support from our community, our chamber (of commerce) and we’re on the Pathway’s committee at our hospital.”
A couple of us also attended a meeting of the local Rotary Club, at which Rep. Marcus McEntire (R-Duncan) began the program by mentioning an issue the community is currently facing and working together to resolve: the closure of the feeding site at Douglas Eastside Senior Center.
Next, McEntire invited NonDoc editor in chief Tres Savage to speak for a few minutes about our online journalism publication and the work we do.
“As a sitting legislator, you don’t really trust the media that well to get it right,” McEntire said. “With Tres, I’ve never had that thought. I tell everybody I run into in Duncan, ‘If you really want to know what’s going on at the Capitol, you just need to go to NonDoc.com and read it.'”
Community connections, local and global
Some of the NonDoc team also had the opportunity to meet with Duncan Area Economic Development Foundation president Lyle Roggow and visit some businesses at the Duncan Area Industrial Park, including Dream Team Prosthetics.
Dream Team Prosthetics specializes in designing prosthetics for people with bilateral above-the-knee amputation. Patients visit Dream Team not only from across Oklahoma but from around the globe. In the video above, co-founder Randy Richardson and employee Seth Alexander explain how a prosthetic’s socket is made.
A variety of other businesses are located in the DAEDF’s industrial park, including Kochendorfer Brewery, which features a great beer selection and a tap room with bathroom urinals made out of beer kegs.
While my bosses were on the north side of town checking out the keg-urinals, I was across town speaking with Tom Deighan, superintendent of Duncan Public Schools, who emphasized the importance of the strong connection between Duncan’s business community the school district. The DAEDF was instrumental in getting the district’s Pathways to Future Careers internship program started in 2017.
“Communities make the public schools and public schools are a reflection of that community,” Deighan said. “Our local businesses— our hospital, our manufacturing, Lyle Roggow with economic development — I think they have realized their best group of future employees are right here in our schools. The earlier they get a relationship with them, the earlier they can help them connect to a career path. I think Duncan is a model for other communities in doing that. They’ve done phenomenal things.”
Deighan said he has been meeting with local businesses — including the Duncan Chamber of Commerce, Duncan Regional Hospital and the DAEDF — to determine how to ensure the district’s math program is where it needs to be.
“They’re advising us as we refocus on our math essentials for the upcoming year. Our business industry, everyone from retail to agriculture, really have a good, solid agreement on what the essential math skills are that they need from our graduates,” Deighan said. “The more we have these discussions with people, the better we’re going to be able to serve the community and make sure our graduates can move on and do what they need to do.”
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Fast facts about Duncan
Electric: Duncan Power and Light, Public Service Company of Oklahoma, Cotton Electric Cooperative
Gas: CenterPoint Energy
Water/Sewer: City of Duncan
School district enrollment: 3,142
Public School sites: Duncan High School, Duncan Middle School, Emerson Elementary, Horace Mann Elementary, Mark Twain Elementary, Plato Elementary, Woodrow Wilson Elementary, Will Rogers pre-K Center