Fighting for Rural, the ninth episode of Rural Roots Rising, is available now! The Madras Key Club is more than a community service club at Madras High School; it’s a multiracial, multicultural group focused on making sure every person feels welcomed and included in Jefferson County. In this episode, you’ll hear from Kim Schmith, Kelsey Olivera, and Kelly Huang about how young leaders are changing the way the community acts in Jefferson County. From organizing cultural celebrations for hundreds of neighbors that center their families’ traditions from other countries, to sharing holiday gifts with families who would go without, and responding to the challenges of COVID-19, Key Club is addressing their community’s most pressing issues.
Kim Schmith, the current advisor to the Madras Key Club, actually got her start with Key Club when she was a Madras High School student herself in the early ’80s! Kim knows the power of student leadership because being a part of the club shaped her understanding of what it means to be an engaged community member helping to solve problems, a commitment she carries with her to this day. In 2018, Kim went to the local Kiwanis and asked if she could restart the high school club. At their very first meeting, Kim asked the students where they wanted to begin and to her surprise, Kelsey, Kelly, and their peers sat silent. Before long though, they were offering up brilliant ideas that have had a far-reaching impact in Jefferson County! Kelsey told Kim a few
months later that she and the other club members were silent because they had never been asked what they thought should happen to address the needs of their community. Asking that simple question, and continuing to listen as the responses came from the Key Club students, has led in both powerful and unexpected directions.
The Key Club applied for a grant through the Jefferson County Cultural Coalition and hosted three cultural events focused on Mexican, Peruvian, and El Salvadorian cultures respectively over the summer of 2019 that more than 600 people participated in! When Key Club was invited by the Latino Community Association to participate in the 2nd Annual Latino Festival, later that same summer, they brought crafts and activities they had prepared for the previous events back for an encore. At a time when the Trump administration has emboldened white-centric ideas of what rural America should look like, and in the midst of a global uprising for Black liberation, Key Club offers up one pathway toward the safe, welcoming, and multicultural communities that many of us are working towards.
After these first three events, Kelsey joined the Jefferson County Cultural Coalition board and now helps decide which grant applications to fund, and the Key Club returned to apply for funding to organize a second round of cultural events. In January, when I first interviewed them for Rural Roots Rising, Kelly had just heard that Key Club had been granted even more money than they had applied for!
If COVID-19 hadn’t put a wrench in their plans, Key Club would have brought Chinese New Year activities into second-grade classrooms around their school district and held more cultural events this summer. However, the pandemic changed a lot for Key Club and the community in Madras. I called Kim, Kelly, and Kelsey back for an update on their work in June, which you can hear more about in this month’s episode, Fighting for Rural.
Their community as a whole, like so many across rural Oregon, is struggling with the pandemic and the related economic shutdown. Many are dealing with food, water, and housing insecurity and a lack of internet access that puts our communities in an even more precarious situation than before COVID-19 hit the US. By working inside of and in collaboration with groups like Kiwanis, Rotary, 4-H, and other long-standing
community organizations on projects such as Operation Rudolph, which provides holiday gifts to families can’t afford them, Key Club leverages existing resources to have an even larger impact. In the face of school closures and stay at home orders, Key Club members are deeply rooted and incredibly resourceful organizers who are trying to meet these emergency needs as best they can.
This focus on both meeting immediate needs and creating a larger vision of a community that values and celebrates its cultural diversity makes Key Club a force for change in Jefferson County, and students in Key Club are taking that leadership role beyond club projects as well. One member has become a student liaison to the school board, and another, Kelsey’s older sister Erika, is currently spending her summer working for the Latino Community Association, helping plan this September’s virtual Latino Festival. “I am interested in helping find local artisans for the Latino Festival because I believe there is a lot of hidden talent in our community going unnoticed because of the lack of exposure these artists have,” says Erika. “To be able to help get them that type of exposure would be a big step in helping our local artists gain confidence in their creations.”
To hear these and other stories of Key Club directly from Kim, Kelly, and Kelsey, listen to Episode 9, Fighting for Rural. You can find this episode on a radio station near you, or online through Spotify, Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio, TuneIn/Alexa, or Google Podcasts.
Tell us what you are up to!
- Do you have questions, comments, or reactions to this episode? What opportunities do you see in your town or rural area to build a more welcoming and inclusive community? Is your community finding creative ways to celebrate cultural diversity, or address people’s immediate needs? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear about your work!
- Are you connected to your local Kiwanis, Rotary or Lion’s Club? What other organizations are playing crucial roles in meeting the basic needs of your communities’ most vulnerable people? Who is distributing food, hygiene supplies, personal protective equipment, or other necessary items in this time of incredible hardship?
- Are you part of a school club or student organization wanting to address the challenges your community is facing? Want to connect to others like you or need support in getting started? Reach out to email@example.com to connect with an ROP organizer near you!