All week, we're sharing stories of Strong Citizens on the Iron Range. They are neighborhood leaders, small business owners and everyday activists doing their part to make the Range a better place. We hope their stories inspire you to get active in your own community.
Desiree Yourczek is a founding member of ReGen, an organization dedicated to attracting and retaining young adults on the Iron Range. I had the chance to talk with Desiree about how the group got started and where it's headed in the future.
Rachel: Tell me about ReGen. What’s its mission?
Desiree: We are a nonprofit. We’ve been active for a couple years. Our mission is to attract and retain young adults on the Iron Range by enhancing cultural and economic opportunities. What that has meant for us so far has been getting people together to connect and share ideas.
We have a unique problem on the Iron Range in that we are kind of a collection of somewhat isolated communities, so in order to grow stronger as a region we need to connect people. We do events to try and get people out meeting each other. It’s not a young professionals’ organization; anyone can be involved.
Rachel: What sorts of programs do you run?
Desiree: We have a couple initiatives: One is a mentorship program through Hibbing Community College where we pair students with business leaders on the Iron Range. That’s been super successful. We’ve also been hosting some educational events, highlighting opportunities, challenges around the Iron Range. We are also looking to connect young people with different opportunities to get involved, boards, councils, things like that. We do monthly happy hours and regular board meetings. We average 20-30 people at monthly gatherings, and as much as 100 at bigger events. Hibbing or Virginia are the most centrally located and most populated. We try to alternate between those for events.
For a two-year college, it’s hard to retain students because they leave to attend a four year college and there aren’t any in the area. The program also shows young people around here that there are opportunities on the Range and there are young people working and enjoying life here. There is a misperception that young people don’t move back, everyone leaves and there’s nothing to do here. That’s just not true.
Rachel: How did ReGen get started?
Desiree: A while back, the IRRRB opened some spots on an advisory board for "next generation" members, and they received tons of applications for these two spots. They were taken aback that so many young people showed up and wanted to be involved. They decided to get everyone together who applied. The IRRRB started some brainstorming sessions asking, What do young people want? And out of that came ReGen.
Rachel: What’s your role there?
Desiree: I’m one of the cofounders. I’ve been working with ReGen from the beginning. My day job is at Art Unlimited, where I work in online marketing.
Rachel: Who comes to the events you host at ReGen?
Desiree: We have a big variety of people who have come to our events. We get people from mining jobs, pastors, stay at home moms, even people who aren’t from here originally. They’re people from all walks of life that want to be engaged in their community.
Rachel: What has ReGen done lately?
Desiree: Our last event was a fun thing: We hooked up with the Minnesota Discovery Center and used their theater to do a game night. We projected games on the theater screen. It was fun and well attended. ReGen was also featured in a recent MPR event. That’s the type of story we want to see being told; that there are opportunities and people trying to make this a better place. Not just talking about the economic downtown.
Rachel: What are your goals for ReGen over the 5 years?
Desiree: One goal is growing our base of people that we connect with. Another is being able to connect more people with opportunities in the area. Our number one thing is changing the perception of the Iron Range, both by encouraging positivity from the people that live here, and the view of outsiders looking toward the Iron Range. We also want to expand our mentorship program.
Rachel: What are your hopes for the Iron Range?
Desiree: I’d like to see more young people taking leadership roles and more acceptance of young people in leadership roles. On the Iron Range especially there’s a large generational shift happening. Over the next 10-15 years there will be more people leaving the workforce than entering. We’re going to have a very interesting problem on our hands. In order to really tackle that, we need to make sure young people are in places of leadership. We also need to work with people who’ve been doing it. As boomers exit the workforce, I don’t want to lose all that experience and knowledge that they have. We want that passed down.
If you're on the Range this week, you can hear Desiree speak on Friday's panel discussion in Virginia entitled, "Building a Strong Economic Development Ecosystem in Your Town."
(All photos from ReGen facebook page)