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RASL Case Study:  Brookfield, Missouri

RASL Case Study: Brookfield, Missouri
(Steve Henness and Steve Jeanetta, University of Missouri Extension)

Rural community economic development organization accesses Drury University architectural students and MU grad student researchers for projects supporting “come back, give back” approach to community revitalization

Brookfield (pop. 4,769) is the largest community in Linn County, a regional trade center located in the rural north central Green Hills region of Missouri. Railway transportation played a major role in the history of the region, as did production agriculture and manufacturing.

As far back as 1900, the area had success in attracting small, light manufacturers bringing good-paying jobs to the local workforce. But when railroads began to eliminate stops and abandon tracks, communities such as Brookfield began to suffer the loss of jobs and population. A steady trend of population loss (40% decrease between 1900-1990) continued as manufacturers began to go off-shore for production. In 2004, the sudden closure of Dura Automotive resulted in the loss of over 240 jobs, and sounded the alarm of crisis for Brookfield’s economy.

With declining economic opportunities and failed traditional economic development attempts, Becky Cleveland, local director of economic development, led Brookfield in pursuing a new type of economic development that emphasized grassroots entrepreneurship. Community leaders did not all buy-in to the new paradigm at once. But it also became the decision that has led to putting Brookfield back on the map. Since 2005, Brookfield has been working toward their new vision as an entrepreneurial community:

“Our community seeks to become an entrepreneurial community where civic and business entrepreneurship combines to create a higher quality of life, stronger business environment and greater economic opportunity for all our residents.”

To achieve the vision of an entrepreneur-driven economy, Brookfield adopted the ‘Home Town Competitiveness’ (HTC) framework championed by the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship in Lincoln, Nebr. As an HTC community, Brookfield received training and technical assistance to implement the approach and develop four community task forces around Entrepreneurship, Leadership Development, Youth Engagement, and Philanthropy/Charitable Assets.

The Brookfield Area Growth Partnership (BAGP), of which Cleveland became the executive director, was established as a public-private partnership to spearhead the community’s new strategy. BAGP merges the efforts and resources of the community’s major community and economic development partners into a “big picture” organization that involves leaders in thinking, strategizing, and working together.

In 2006, the community applied and was selected as one of five initial regional communities to partner with the University of Missouri Extension Community Economic & Entrepreneurial Development (ExCEED) program. The ExCEED program provided grant funding, training, community decision support, and other Land-Grant University linkages to communities for planning and implementing place-based entrepreneurship support systems over a three-year period.

Until 2006, BAGP had remained a one-staff organization. Cleveland applied for an AmeriCorps*VISTA position for BAGP through the MU Extension Youth Enterprisers Program, a statewide VISTA program working with ExCEED and other entrepreneurial communities. Cleveland selected Marcia Cunningham, a recently retired Spanish teacher from Brookfield High School, who was seeking to remain active in the community. Cunningham served for one year as a VISTA and afterward was employed by BAGP to work as program coordinator under Cleveland. Together, the two formed a dynamic duo that fueled the work of the organization and its task forces.

Researchers following the decline of economic development in rural areas and patterns of out-migration of rural youth have picked up on the successes that Brookfield has had with the “come back, give back” approach of HomeTown Competitiveness:

Brookfield’s involvement in the HTC and ExCEED initiatives were pivotal in securing service-learning assistance from two universities in Missouri: Drury University and the University of Missouri. The service-learning project with Drury University engaged an Architecture course in the development of a vision for Main Street Brookfield. The University of Missouri service-learning project engaged a graduate course in rural sociology in developing and implementing a community survey focused on social network analysis of local leaders. According to Brookfield leaders, these partnerships and the resultant service-learning projects both contributed to numerous accomplishments and recognition the community has had along the way (also see Appendix G):

• Federal Home Loan Bank Capital Community for Missouri (2008)
• Missouri Community Betterment: First Place, Population Category (2008); Second Place, Youth Group Award (2008); Governor’s Youth Leadership Awards (2007, 2008); Governor’s Adult Leadership Award (2007)
• Governor’s DREAM Initiative (2010)

Drury University Service-Learning Project

Drury University was founded in 1873 as a private, independent collegiate university in Springfield, Mo. Drury prides itself on its liberal arts curriculum. According to campus literature, “a liberal arts education, at its best, creates a bridge between the theoretical and the practical and helps students understand the way theory and experience relate to and enrich each other. Faculty and students are encouraged to engage in service learning, internships and other kinds of experiences that will complement the classroom.”

Drury is home to 63 undergraduate majors and special programs and 5 graduate programs. Enrollment includes 1,600 undergraduate full-time students (approx. 34% from outside Missouri, including other states and around the globe). With evening and graduate school students included, total enrollment approaches 5,000 students.

Drury has been at or near the top of the "Great Schools at Great Prices" list for the Midwest since 1999, including five years in the #1 slot. US News and World Report ranks Drury as one of the Best Regional Universities in the Midwest. Time Magazine granted the University an Honorable Mention for Best Liberal Arts School in the Nation. Drury is also on Yahoo’s list of 50 “most wired” small college campuses.

How did it start?
The rural service-learning project in Fall 2008 was a Brookfield Main Street renewal planning project led by six students of architecture from Drury University. The downtown area of Brookfield has suffered from vacant storefronts and deteriorating conditions since the declines in jobs and population over time. BAGP leaders were motivated to have the community craft a new vision for its Main Street.

Since 1984, Drury University has used the Center for
Community Studies (CCS) to have its students assist communities with development plans. CCS has worked with nearly 80 Missouri communities, governments, and not-for-profits with design and planning issues.

Drury’s CCS is a required course for fourth-year architecture students in the five-year Bachelor of Architecture program. There is a long-term segment where students plan for cities and towns (like Brookfield) as well as a more immediate service branch that consists of design and construction for short-term projects, such as Habitat for Humanity.

“We work with real projects for real clients with real budgets that are funded by the community,” says Drury Professor Jay Garrott, AIA, and director of CCS. “Cities and towns contact me and I meet with them and we talk about what they want and need and I leave and think about our capabilities and resources and if we think we can do it, we send a draft of a contract.”

Garrott says, “The biggest hindrance for small town development is visioning. The final recommendations that come from our students are long-term visions and they are a tool by which the communities can generate their visions.” CCS typically charges $5,000 for this service, which covers supplies, mailings, travel and other administrative costs.

In return, communities receive a minimum of 200 hours pro bono work from each of six students which would be billable at $50/hr. The value of the planning assistance to communities is worth $60,000, more than a 10 to 1 return on investment.

Garrott says the Drury program is unique in that it gives far more control to students in running and administering the projects than other experiential programs for architectural students.

CCS formalized an agreement with MU Extension in 2007 to combine assistance to communities. Since then, CCS has partnered with MU Extension to provide planning assistance for nine communities, both before and after student involvement on projects. Jeffrey Barber, an alumnus of Drury, is Housing & Environmental Design Specialist with University of Missouri Extension in Springfield, Mo. Barber leads MU Extension’s work with CCS partnering communities. He works with communities to prepare before Drury students arrive, and after students have completed projects, works with communities in carrying out an action plan.

Becky Cleveland learned about the Drury CCS program and MU Extension connection at a 2007 economic development conference in Lamar, Mo. (another CCS planning project community). Cleveland and Marcia Cunningham, a VISTA volunteer working with BAGP, went to Springfield (more than 4 hours away) to make their case to the class that Brookfield would be a good candidate for the student service-learning project. The Drury students decided on the community and the project was born. Brookfield financed the project with grant funding from ExCEED.

How did it go?
During the Fall 2008 semester, Drury students traveled to Brookfield to listen to the community’s goals, and began to devise plans to reach those goals. The plans included written recommendations, schematic drawings, photographs, presentation boards, and Powerpoint presentations, which resulted in a professional full-color wire-bound report.

The Brookfield Main Street renewal project engaged an advisory board of Brookfield citizens and extensive feedback from the community. With arrangements made by BAGP, Drury students came and stayed for four weekends in Brookfield. Students were supplied with cots, bikes, showers, and wireless Internet at the fire department, and taken out to dinner at the local Elks Club. Each time the community planned a full agenda of activities so the students could get a sense of what life was like in the community and understand the values and norms of the people they were working with.

• First visit – students attended a football game and made a bus tour with the leadership group
• Second visit – this occurred during high school homecoming
• Third visit – occurred during Octoberfest activities. Students participated in a pie and chili eating contests, shared display boards with preliminary ideas and attended a hospital opening
• Fourth visit – set up displays at church fellowship halls and collected information about how people felt about certain suggestions.

The Drury student team ultimately drafted and presented a 244-page Main Street renewal plan entitled “Reconnecting Brookfield.” Because so many community members had interacted with the Drury students, 75-80 residents came out in a December ice storm to hear the final presentation.

The Drury University students’ assistance was secured through Brookfield’s involvement in state and national economic development initiatives, and key leaders like Cleveland tapping networks of expertise though the Land-Grant University and higher education system.

Challenges that occurred
Very few challenges were noted for either project. Informants emphasized the success of both projects in achieving goals for the classroom and the community. The Brookfield project involved Drury students driving 250 miles one way – the farthest away of any community Drury has worked with. The contract fee paid to Drury by the community covered the transportation expenses involved.

Outcomes for students
“The community is a learning laboratory,” says Garrott. “Doing work in the community is as close as students can come to the challenge of office work without the rigor of making a profit.”

“The community projects develop citizen-scholars,” says Barber. “The Drury students are seeing that what they’re learning in the classroom has an application with a greater meaning than just academic.”

One of the early observations of a Drury student from Chicago was that the Brookfield people and their surroundings don’t match. The people were warm, inviting, progressive but the town looked old, broken, and in disrepair.

Outcomes for community
Drury’s CCS students developed and administered a Main Street renewal plan for Brookfield, Mo. in 2008. The community had previously applied for assistance from the Missouri Dept. of Economic Development’s DREAM Initiative (Downtown Revitalization and Economic Assistance for Missouri), a program designed to give priority to selected communities on state programs, and to provide technical and financial assistance for engaging in downtown revitalization. Brookfield initially failed to receive the DREAM designation, with reviews stating that they lacked a vision or plan. After the Drury project, the community reapplied with a plan in 2009 and saw its “dream” come one step closer to reality. The Drury student visioning project was considered a major factor in Brookfield getting the designation.

“When we were not selected, it was noted that we simply did not have an adequate plan. That notation was taken very seriously and, with the help of the Drury School of Architecture and Jeff Barber-University of Missouri Extension ExCEED, a Main Street Visioning team was created,” said current Mayor of Brookfield, Jack Forbes. This fall, Brookfield was selected to receive the DREAM designation.

Drury students contributed pro bono work to the Brookfield Main Street renewal project valued at over $60,000. Projecting the greater economic impact for DREAM communities is speculative, but based on data released in August 2008 for twenty (20) preceding DREAM communities, an average of $2.3 million in new investment was realized in the form of technical and financial assistance from the state. The result was a leveraging of private investment in the same communities that averaged $10 million per community, including the state’s portion.

University of Missouri Service-Learning Project

Founded in 1839, the University of Missouri was the first public university west of the Mississippi River and in the Louisiana Purchase territory. MU is located in Columbia, Mo. which, with a population of approx. 100,000, lies between St. Louis and Kansas City, a two-hour drive from each.

Student enrollment totals 31,314, including 7,445 graduate and professional students (6,838 out-of-state and 1,458 international students). MU students come from all 50 states and more than 100 countries around the world. As a Research I University, MU is home to 19 schools and colleges offering over 280 degree programs. MU faculty total 1,991, including 315 international scholars. As the state’s 1864 Land-Grant University, MU also houses University of Missouri Extension, Missouri’s Cooperative Extension program.

Campus-based programs offer students extended learning opportunities in undergraduate and graduate research, studies abroad, and service-learning. MU is a member of Missouri Campus Compact and is committed to service-learning as an institution.

The MU Office of Service-Learning (OSL) says that “service-learning at MU strives to create an expectation of service to others as an integral part of students' academic experience. This service should provide students with an opportunity to enrich and apply classroom knowledge, explore careers or majors, improve citizenship, understand and appreciate cultural traditions and values, develop civic, corporate, and social responsibility while enhancing the students' personal growth and self-image and enriching the lives of persons within the community.”

The goals of OSL are:
• To provide opportunities and academic credit for experience-based learning to promote lifelong commitment to social responsibility and public service.
• To develop faculty incentives for involvement in service as a learning resource for students.
• To establish collaborative, reciprocal partnerships between MU and the community which meet social needs.
• To integrate service-learning into the culture of the University.
• To engender independent thinking and problem solving through community service.
• To ensure safe, accessible and structured learning projects.
• To educate and monitor community agencies as to their rights and commitment to service-learning at MU.
OSL engages more than 3,000 MU students in over 120,000 hours of service to Columbia community agencies while earning academic credit. Service-learning students are involved in projects such as: mentoring and tutoring young people, visiting and assisting the elderly, working at animal shelters, designing websites for community agencies, and many other activities.

How did it start?
The rural service-learning project in Spring 2009 involved a graduate survey research methods class from the University of Missouri in conducting a social network analysis of Brookfield leaders.

David O’Brien, Professor of Rural Sociology, Division of Applied Social Sciences at the University of Missouri, teaches a graduate survey research methods class each year. Every other year, the students gain field experience by conducting a community survey in partnership with a small rural community.

Becky Cleveland learned about O’Brien’s class through Sharon Gulick, director of the ExCEED program, which is housed in the same building as the MU Department of Rural Sociology. Cleveland inquired into having the professor and graduate students work with the community. In Spring 2009, Dr. O’Brien and his class met with the City of Brookfield to work out a plan and timeline for the project. The survey examined the social ties of a sample of leaders across various sectors of the community. The purpose was to find out how local leaders were networked and the extent of those networks both within the community and externally.

Dr. O’Brien gave students the opportunity to choose between two aspects of the project to work on. Six students chose the sampling, survey construction and interviewing. Four students worked on the network analysis, statistical analysis and compiling the report presented back to BAGP.

Initially, the class traveled to Brookfield and met with the BAGP board and staff to construct the desired goals and outcomes of the project.

The survey looked at a number of variables of leadership by sector, including levels of trust and involvement in various sectors, level of centrality of leaders to the overall community leadership network, entrepreneurial aspirations and perceived barriers. Survey questions were selected to provide the community with meaningful results that could be applied to the HTC approach and its task forces.

The BAGP group identified positional leaders from nine sectors of the community. The class then mailed an introductory letter and survey to 67 individuals and followed up with a phone call one week later; 44 surveys were returned.

The class then commenced to construct the data set, analysis, preliminary results, and the compiling of a final report. Results were then presented back to BAGP board and staff in May 2009, where students received additional feedback and input regarding the results of the survey.

One key finding from the research was that the Brookfield Area Growth Partnership, a volunteer board, was at the center of the key network. The leaders that comprise the board are people who are connected to resources throughout the community. In addition, the study provided a picture of the networks in the community – their strengths and weaknesses. This helped community leaders consider ways that they can more effectively work together to leverage resources.

Part of the success of both the Drury and the MU rural service-learning projects was due to the coordination and support time provided by BAGP staff, board members, and the broader community. BAGP was able to successfully rally the community behind supporting both service-learning projects, due to the organization’s broad leadership from various community sectors, and the involvement of citizens on existing HTC task forces. BAGP helped residents make connections between the work of the college students and the community’s progress towards its vision.

Challenges that occurred
The Brookfield Leadership Survey was characterized as “very easy, smooth.” Dr. O’Brien and students found the community “motivated to work with us.” The class did not receive compensation for the survey project. Funding from University student fees for the course were used to cover the costs of mailing and transportation to Brookfield.

Outcomes for students
Students in Dr. O’Brien’s survey course successfully applied survey skills and learned to work with clients from rural communities. Dr. O’Brien referred to it as students like clinicians learning to develop a “bedside manner.” They learn how to work with communities, how to engage with people who need information but do not have an academic or research background. The project was viewed as a cooperative effort between the students and the community, and the students took the lead in meeting with community stakeholders, listening to their needs, and determining how best to meet them.

In the process, students discover realities about rural social life they do not expect. For instance, some may enter with the impression that everyone is connected and the survey process will be simple. The reality is that not everyone knows each other and it is actually quite complex. From his extensive research experience, Dr. O’Brien notes how little rural Missourians actually interact with each other. Students have found very kin-centered, truncated networks compared to more extensive social networks in urban areas.

Outcomes for community
The Brookfield Leadership Survey findings showed that Brookfield leaders have higher than rural national and national averages on combined social capital measures. Results underscored business connections between leaders as of primary importance over other forms of connections, such as on community projects. Results also demonstrated that leaders in education and government sectors tend to be more centrally located within the overall leadership network, more than other leaders such as religious and community organization leaders.

Becky Cleveland, Director of Brookfield Area Growth Partnership, reported that the survey was very valuable and provided interesting insights into the social networks present in the community that will inform their work going forward.

In particular, the survey showed that the BAGP board is better connected than other groups in the community. The results heightened awareness of leader networks, patterns of linkage and interaction (and disconnection) between sectors that Brookfield is using to strengthen ongoing programs and activities (i.e. HTC task forces, annual Leadership Development program, etc.)

Architectural planning and community leadership surveys are two forms of community-development-oriented service-learning (Henness) which supply communities with knowledge tools (human capital) and relationship-building processes (social capital) to support community and economic development.


• Rural communities involved in state/national economic development initiatives are better positioned to access service-learning opportunities than their uninvolved counterparts. One thread of discussion focused on the ongoing relationship with MU that made the S-L projects possible. Through the connections to HTC and the ExCEED project, they were able to see the range of resources they could access through the University.
• Risk-taking, opportunism, and tenacity are community leadership characteristics that play a role in the success of rural-service learning.
• Students were successfully involved in rural service-learning by faculty members who have extensive experience in working with rural communities.
• The quality of the rural service-learning activities was enhanced by the fact that the service-learning courses at Drury and MU are well-established and ongoing
• The impact of the expertise that students can bring to rural communities through service-learning should not be underestimated (i.e. town securing DREAM community status as a result of student planning contributions).
• The community mentioned several times that the process can be more important than the outcome. Success was time to relationships, networks, and connections.
• This case suggests that rural service-learning can contribute to positive outcomes for community economic development when the community knows what it wants from the service-learning project sand is willing to create a supportive community environment that facilitates access to community leaders and helps the students see the community from the perspective of those who live there. Cleveland and Cunningham did an impressive job of planning the community visits so that the students really felt like they were able to understand what life was like in that community and provided the support the students needed to produce work that would be helpful to Brookfield in their development efforts.
• The ability of community economic development organizations to build and mobilize various forms of social capital (bonding, bridging, and linking) factor into successful partnerships with higher education.
• Remoteness and large travel distances to rural service-learning sites was mitigated in this case by structuring in fee-for-service costs to projects, which allowed for extended exposure and interaction between students and community members (“hosting” students over weekends.) The time in the community was carefully managed and structured so the students were able to learn what life was like, meet and engage with community members, and get their work done. The projects were true collaborations between the community and the service-learning projects.


RASL Activities

RASL just finished organizing an anthology on rural service learning, currently under review. 

In the past, RASL has organized gatherings of rural service learning practitioners and is hoping to do so again.

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Yorkshire Dales Landscape background photo by Petr Kratochvil.