The problem in Crewport was the water system. The water tower was leaking. Pipes frequently froze or broke and water pressure to the communitys 50 homes was weak at best.
Two years ago, the community improvement association asked Dan Groves, a program associate with the Partnership for Rural Improvement at Yakima Valley Community College, for help.
PRI is a 25-year-old consortium of educational institutions, government agencies and citizens based at Washington State University that acts as a catalyst for community development in Washington. Through the Partnership, five community colleges and Cooperative Extension jointly employ program associates in Yakima, Walla Walla, Spokane, Grays Harbor and Skagit counties.
I found some engineering firms willing to donate some time to assess the water tower, Groves said. They determined that it should be condemned. When the county stepped in to offer some grants to rehabilitate the water system, I worked with Crewport to facilitate communication with the county.
He also trained community volunteers to conduct surveys required in the grant application.
Since then, Groves has arranged for engineering students at YVCC to design a new irrigation system for the community. Everyone paid an annual assessment to the irrigation district, but few received any water.
During his work with Crewport, Groves learned that former residents had some interesting stories to tell about its past as a farm labor camp. He linked them with a Chicano studies instructor at Yakima Valley Community College who with Groves created a sociology field experiences class that engaged eight students to research and publish the history.
They conducted more than 20 interviews with past residents, sifted through public records and old newspapers. They identified 150 families who used to live in the community. They shared the results of their work at the Crewport picnic reunion in June 2000.
Publicity of Crewports renewal spurred a Unitarian organization to call Groves to inquire about doing a community service project there. He made the necessary connection and for two weeks this past July, a group of young people from all around the nation gathered in Crewport to build a playground with youth from the community.
Forging links to solve problems in rural communities is the essence of what PRI associates do and have been doing since the beginning.
There were many agencies and organizations trying to do something, but as they did them, they often didnt know what each other was doing, recalled Don Dillman, who was chair of the rural sociology department when the idea for the consortium was born. We needed to collaborate so that we were complementing one another instead of competing and trying to do the same thing.
The W. K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, MI, provided PRI start-up funding in the form of two grants. Funding has since become institutionalized at the partner institutions.
Through the years, the number of partners has fluctuated as missions and budgets at partner institutions have changed. In addition to Yakima Valley College in Yakima, the current partnerships with community colleges includes Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen, the community colleges of Spokane, Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon, and Walla Walla Community College.
The day-to-day operations are coordinated by Nancy Sanders, PRI program administrator, in Pullman. A coordinating committee made up of officials from WSU, the five community colleges and the state Department of Trade and Economic Development, provide overall direction.
The Small Business Administration, through WSUs Small Business Development Center network, funds part of the salaries for some associates whose responsibilities include business consulting.
Over the years, PRI members have tackled broad issues facing rural communities across the state, including railroad abandonment, jobs and the telecommunications chasm called the digital divide. They have addressed a multitude of local issues as well. Theyve helped residents of Pend Oreille County form a rural library district, facilitated a day-long retreat for members of the Elma City Council to explore techniques for effectively working together, and sponsored workshops on leadership training in Bridgeport, to name a few.
The relationship of WSU with the community colleges has expanded the resources of both, he said. Those relationships are crucially important to the mission and goal of Washington State University as the land-grant university. They paved the way for WSUs learning centers.