The 2018-2019 Rural Organizing Fellows meet to strategize with labor organizers at Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, a Latino union. photo provided
The 2018-2019 Rural Organizing Fellows meet to strategize with labor organizers at Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, a Latino union. photo provided
The twenty-somethings and teenagers of Sisters are eligible to apply for the 2020-2021 Rural Organizing Fellowship. The fellowship supports Oregonians between the ages of 16 and 30 working toward positive change and justice in their small-town, rural, and frontier communities.

Youth may apply for the fellowship, or others may nominate them. Applications are due January 31.

The Rural Organizing Project (ROP) states that some of the most powerful work being done in rural and small-town areas is often based on volunteering — and may not be called “organizing” by local groups. In other words, you may already be an organizer and not even know it.

Organizing is “collaborating with others to take action and make positive changes for your community,” Fellowship Coordinator Hannah Harrod told The Nugget. For example, an organizer might coordinate a community garden, walk out of school for a cause, put on a show, or participate in a school club.

This year’s fellowship will bring together 15 emerging leaders from around Oregon for skill-building, studying social justice history, and exploring organizing opportunities throughout the state and at home. Fellows will gather at four weekend-long retreats and monthly video calls where they can share strategies, do in-depth trainings, and learn about strategic rural organizing over the long term.

To support fellows’ full participation, ROP will cover their travel, childcare, and interpretation expenses. A wage-replacement stipend of $150 is offered for each retreat.

Ideal candidates enjoy meeting new people and building new relationships. They are well-organized “self-starters” who can work independently. Young people who currently live in a city but are ready to move back home to rural Oregon this spring are also welcome. Harrod noted, “We encourage folks of all identities to apply!”

Fellowship recipients will network with ROP’s human dignity groups and attend the 2020 Rural Caucus and Strategy Session, meeting with “leaders working for progressive change across the state of Oregon.” A cohort of emerging organizers is expected to emerge.

Retreats will be hosted at accessible community spaces and campgrounds. ROP will provide camping gear and bedding as needed.

At the eastern edge of Sisters Country in the town of Culver, high school student Maria Mejia-Botero won a fellowship last year. A part-time lifeguard, she was active with the Let’s Talk Diversity Coalition and co-founded a group at Culver High School called the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA). During her junior year, she organized a walkout for school safety.

“I’ve been living in Culver in Jefferson County for almost 12 years,” Mejia-Botero wrote. “I love how we frequently get stunning sunsets over the Cascade mountains and how the sky is large with millions of stars. Culver is unique for having a large Latinx community despite its small population.”

Coming from a family of immigrants, Mejia-Botero has personally seen that “although this country is full of opportunities, not everybody has an equal access to opportunities. Socioeconomic status, access to resources, education, cultural background, ability, citizenship, race, gender, sexual orientation, and more all affect what kinds of opportunities for success and quality of life are available to a person.”

Mejia-Botero is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient, sometimes called a Dreamer. She aims to use her “privileges and resources to open up more opportunities for others.” In collaboration with Madras fellow Rossy Valdovino-Torres, she helped build a club for Dreamers, immigrant students, and allies at Central Oregon Community College during her fellowship year.

Jaylyn Suppah was another winner. A member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, she lives on the Warm Springs reservation, where she is a community planner and an elected member of the Education Committee of the Tribe.

Suppah spearheaded Awareness Through Art workshops “to help people who are struggling to recover from addictions or a sentence for some type of criminal conviction to reflect on family and tribal history and culture.” Artistic reflections allow them to grow, learn, and “move differently in the world going forward,” with the support of the local judge, probation workers, and community volunteers.

ROP is a statewide organization with a rural-centered, grassroots base working on a variety of issues. “We work to build and support a shared standard of human dignity,” the organization states. It defines this as belief in the equal worth of all people, the need for equal access to justice, and the right to self-determination.

The organization’s mission is to “strengthen the skills, resources, and vision of primary leadership in local autonomous human dignity groups with a goal of keeping such groups a vibrant source for a just democracy.”

Central Oregon PFLAG, Central Oregon Jobs with Justice, KPOV 88.9 FM/High Desert Community Radio, the Peace and Justice Team at First Presbyterian Church, and Jefferson Positive Action Group are among its regional network partners.

Fellowship applications are available at https://rop.org/our-work/rural-organizing-fellowship. Additional questions may be directed to Hannah Harrod at fellowship@rop.org or 541-802-6020.