As our class moves into Spring term we have gotten a unique opportunity to involve ourselves in the community. Klamath County has received funds to do research to better understand what the largest health disparities in the county are. There are several stakeholders in this effort to better our community and it has been put on our class to go out to many of the smaller surrounding towns around Klamath Falls and collect data. This is pretty challenging, since we have to first survey the area for what we can see and then begin to approach people in the community in an effort to form focus groups. We will lead these focus groups to get people talking about what they see is lacking or where there are higher rates of disease in their community. What’s tricky about this is that preconceived notions of what we believe to be a deficit might not be viewed that way for the locals. Knowing how to choose our words to ensure trust from these individuals that might not be welcoming to outsiders is another challenge.
My group was assigned to a small town near the California border that has no government of its own, no police station, no fire station, and on and on. It was a boom town in the turn of the 20th century since the railroad ran through it and it became the second largest shipping point in Oregon for livestock. It also has a colorful history of bootlegging whiskey and speakeasies. Over the years the population has risen and fallen and now sits just over 200 residents. So how do we begin to get to know people in a town that has one convenience store/Uhaul, a post office, and an auto body shop?
Luckily, there is a small community center that has a once a month breakfast on Sundays to help raise funds to keep it open. I went to the breakfast with another group member and it was hard not to stand out. We have to dress in professional dress and wear nametags when working out in the community, so that was strike one. Talking to the main two folks that ran the breakfast, we were able to make our first unknown contacts. My group member has extended family that live in the town, so they are our first “in” into the community. From here we will begin to see when they are willing to meet with us so we can begin to learn more about their town from their perspectives. Stay tuned to see the progression of our attempts to help our community, or if we strike out!