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University of Minnesota, Morris student helps small cities thrive

MORRIS -- Many small towns are struggling to maintain identities, businesses and populations. It is a daunting task to plan for the future while just trying to maintain what you have. But planning isn't an option. It's a necessity.

Helping small towns plan for the future is a job that is "completely worth it," according to University of Minnesota, Morris student Thomas Roloff '11, Pine Springs. Through the Center for Small Towns at Morris, Roloff is working with the Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission (UMVRDC) to reach their smallest towns regarding community planning.

The project's goal is to help the smallest of communities, populations under 500, to identify priorities and provide tools, ideas, and resources to reach community goals. In this economy, many communities, big and small, are looking for ways to save money but often need ideas on how to go about doing that.

"When I look at a community, I don't look at what's missing," says Roloff. "I look at what's already there that can be worked with."

A forward-looking view like Roloff's brings optimism to small communities. He points out that it's easier to instigate change when you're merely amplifying what already works in the community. Coming to Morris from the Twin Cities area, Roloff realized how little back and forth there is between the urban areas and small towns. Small towns are often overlooked and falsely stereotyped, but the only way, in Roloff's opinion, that both small towns and big cities can survive is through interaction with each other.

Although this project is only for fall semester, Roloff hopes it may turn into an internship after he graduates in December 2011. He says it would be "highly rewarding to get into nonprofit work right out of undergraduate school."

Having worked on a somewhat similar project this summer for the town of Winsted, it's clear that Roloff likes finding opportunities for people and communities. He's been able to bring the skills he's learned in college to these positions, from strategic planning to grant writing. He enjoys projects such as this, where he feels he can actually make a difference and help. "Any idea you offer will be considered; you don't go unheard."