“One of our largest exports in Wyoming is our youth,” said Elissa Ruckle, founder of Impact Wyoming, a VELA Meet the Moment grantee that aims to create opportunity for young people in Wyoming. “A challenge, perhaps for many of our communities, is engagement. There seems to be very little keeping young people here; from limited workforce opportunities to not having a voice in their community, they leave and either have no ability or desire to come back.”
Wyoming’s population grew by just 2.3% from 2010 to 2020, the slowest of any neighboring state over the last decade, according to 2020 US census data.
Inspiring Leadership and Engagement
Ruckle founded Impact Wyoming in March of 2020 to better engage Wyoming youth and hopefully slow the growing trend of young people moving out of Wyoming.
“We started having conversations about two years ago about ways we could engage Wyoming’s youth more effectively,” said Ruckle. “How do we create the space and opportunities for them to have a voice in the economic development of Wyoming and shaping of our communities? One way we’re doing that is by providing teens with an opportunity to explore entrepreneurship; develop the skills, traits, connections, and access to resources that make entrepreneurship successful.”
Impact Wyoming, a registered 501(c)3, serves to build stronger, better Wyoming communities through youth engagement. “Our goal is for students to find success and community in Wyoming early on, creating a life-long connection and desire to stay and build their lives here,” Ruckle said. Impact Wyoming is currently working on the statewide expansion of two programs designed for high school students.
Creating Pathways to Investment and Possibility
Impact Wyoming developed the Be Entrepreneurial program to build a network of actively engaged young entrepreneurs who contribute to the economic and business development of their communities. The Be Entrepreneurial program helps students: develop the characteristics and practices of successful entrepreneurs; evaluate an entrepreneurial idea based on product, customer, and competitive-advantage criteria; demonstrate business-planning skills for a venture start-up; and develop marketing, finance, management, and ethical decision-making skills. At the conclusion of each program, students pitch their business plans to local entrepreneurs; the top two plans receive seed money, access to mentors, start-up resources, and marketing packages to help launch.
Building the Next Generation of Civic Leaders
To have active, on-going youth participation in various local city governments and community/state related issues, Impact envisions the creation of various local youth councils and the establishment of the Wyoming Youth Council. Ruckle believes that “establishing a network of youth councils will provide opportunities for our young residents to have a voice in and contribute to the shaping of our communities and the future of our state.”
Working with Casper’s City Manager, Mayor, and City Council, Ruckle helped to establish the Casper Youth Council, a committee of and for the City of Casper’s City Council, in September of 2020. Members of Casper’s Youth Council, become more engaged civically by first learning more about the operational and functional aspects of city and county governments. “Our CYC students attend City Council meetings to better understand the issues/challenges facing our community. They take those issues to their constituents and work to understand how those issues affect/impact our youth.” Casper Youth Council members serve a two-year term learning and contributing to policymaking by working with local policymakers.
Youth Councils currently serve the communities of Casper, Cheyenne, and Laramie in Wyoming. “Over the next two years, our goal is to establish an annual Wyoming Youth Council Conference and expand the number of youth councils in Wyoming to six or seven,” said Ruckle. “Actively engaging the voice of young people strengthens our communities and builds our next generations of leaders.”
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