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Sue's Views -- Try give even just a little to help move Stevens FORWARD!

Have you filled out the Stevens FORWARD! Community Perception Survey yet? The Morris Sun Tribune printed a copy of the survey a couple of weeks ago and asked county residents to fill it out and return it to Stevens FORWARD!, P.O. Box 30, Morris MN, 56267, or send by email to: If you lost your copy, you can visit the Stevens FORWARD! Web site,, and fill the survey out online.

As a refresher, the Stevens FORWARD! initiative is a county-wide effort to try to develop shared goals and bring together the county's five cities and 16 townships to achieve their shared plan.

While that description sounds a little academic, the goal is to find our common strengths and build on them.

A fairly creative group of people has been meeting with a rather intense regularity to set up the framework for all this to come together. They are not looking at what is wrong with our community. Instead, they are looking at what is present in Stevens County, the capacity of the communities, the citizens and the institutional base of the area. They are looking at more than just issues facing the community, they are searching for the potential for things here to be so much better.

But this is not an exercise in cliches. This is an honest attempt to shape the future of Stevens County. And for the time being, the stewards group is taking the time to review statistics about Stevens County, including demographics, employment, infrastructure, education and nearly everything else that can be quantified.

Statistics are important and there are a lot of statistics about us that do paint an interesting picture. But statistics tend to make communities abstract. The heart of any community is its people and there is no way statistics can capture the human element of those facts.

"The Progressive Farmer" magazine recently named the best places to live in rural America. Kent County, Md., tops the 2008 list, followed by Ellis County, Kan., Livingston County, Mo. Obion County, Tenn., Columbia County, Pa., Waxford County, Mich., Fayette County, Tex., Coffee County, Ala., Gilchrist County, Fla., and La Plata County, Colo.

How did the magazine's staff determine this ranking? They started with statistics, including the population density and tract size numbers, home and land prices, crime rates, environment, education, economic factors, access to health care and others. After ranking the locations based on statistics, the staff visited the counties to form an editorial opinion.

I notice that Stevens County is not on the list. I offered my vote in the "Reader's Choice" section, although my one vote is what's known as statistically insignificant. So now I'll offer my editorial opinion why Stevens County is among the 10 best places to live in rural America.

Most of the reasons why I like living here are hard to measure, including the lengths that my neighbors and co-workers will go to help me raise my children. This includes standing next to me in a cold and windy parking lot on a Saturday morning and telling my son, "Your mom is right, you should wear your jacket."

I love that we know each other's families. The day that my father-in-law had a stroke, there were 33 different numbers on the caller ID. The next day at work, there were another half dozen emails, wondering how George was doing and what help could be provided. And I know that when we said all we really need is your prayers, people did pray.

I am absolutely in love with the business people around here. I could go on and on about the times when folks have gone to great lengths to help me find what I need regardless of how inconvenient that is, including a late-night hunt in early January for green bean seeds required for a science fair experiment that I didn't plan well for.

So, back to the Stevens FORWARD! Community Perception Survey. The stewards need you to fill out the survey so they can have the human side of the numbers they already have. Your ideas and opinions are important and if you do nothing more to participate in this initiative, at least do this.