Service program wins leadership award

October 14, 2015

The University of Oregon’s Resource Assistance for Rural Environments (RARE) AmeriCorps Program has won the Oregon Main Street Leadership Award, only the second time the agency has conferred the distinction.

The leadership award recognizes individuals and organizations offering creative approaches to downtown revitalization through strong leadership that results in significant, long-term contributions.

“RARE is receiving the award for multiple reasons,” said Sheri Stuart, coordinator for Oregon Main Street. RARE was recognized “for recruiting bright young talent and nurturing them in their year of service, for developing the leaders of tomorrow, and for having an impact on developing local leadership and volunteerism in communities—a long-lasting impact.”

Above: La Grande Main Street Downtown works closely with its members, downtown businesses, and local organizations to strengthen existing business, to expand opportunities for new businesses, and to plan events and activities that improve the quality of life in downtown La Grande. Photo courtesy Titus Tomlinson.

RARE AmeriCorps matches rural communities with graduate-level participants who live and work in communities for eleven months. RARE participants help communities to develop and implement plans to improve rural economic conditions while gaining community building and leadership skills.

“Receiving this award is truly an honor and the RARE Program’s leadership role is only possible because of the wonderful partners we work with,” said Megan Smith, RARE AmeriCorps Program director. “Partnering with local communities and RARE participants to achieve community goals benefits everyone. Communities see their projects implemented and RARE participants receive real world experience.”

RARE is the only program in the country to match the next generation of leaders from across the United States with the site-specific Main Street needs of rural communities, “creating a true win-win situation for both the participants and community partners of the RARE Program,” Program Coordinator Titus Tomlinson emphasized.  

“This has changed lives,” he said, and “it’s working for all parties involved. The neat thing is the nationwide recruitment—we’re bringing people from all over the country here to rural Oregon for service. They see what RARE and Main Street is about and say ‘I can do this. I’m good at it,’ and out of a short eleven-month placement you’d be amazed how much these people can accomplish. They launch careers.”

Stuart said RARE “does an amazing job in recruiting talented participants, matching their skills with our local downtown programs, and building future leaders. The participants bring a lot of energy and coordinating assistance to help organizations get off the ground with their revitalization efforts.”

Each RARE community provides a $22,000 cash contribution to place, train, and support a RARE participant. In return, the host communities get a full-time RARE member for 1,700 hours, support services from a team of six planning and policy analysts, and regular site visits and evaluation by RARE AmeriCorps staff members.

“It’s competitive for the communities as well as the members,” said Tomlinson. RARE carefully vets communities to ensure what they hope to achieve is attainable through a RARE service year. “The placement process to match applicants with our Main Street communities is very extensive,” he said.

The Dalles
Above: Downtown The Dalles, a recognized Historic Commercial District by the National Register of Historic Places, is also part of Oregon Main Street. Photo courtesy Titus Tomlinson.

RARE service members must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree to apply. Once selected, RARE participants are provided a wealth of training opportunities on topics such as volunteer recruitment and management, grant writing, AmeriCorps policies, and more.

RARE has placed participants in towns throughout Oregon, including Brookings, Astoria, Reedsport, and Seaside on the coast, to La Grande, Canby, Oregon City, Sweet Home, Gold Hill, and elsewhere.

Smith and Tomlinson were on hand to accept the award October 7 in The Dalles during the Excellence in Revitalization Celebration at the Oregon Main Street annual conference.

The award was presented by Stuart and three RARE alumni—Alana Garner, Matthew Klebes, and Saira Siddiqui—all of whom now serve as executive directors for different Main Street communities in Oregon.

“Receiving this award is truly an honor,” Smith said. “Partnering with local communities and RARE participants to achieve community goals benefits everyone. Communities see their projects implemented and RARE participants receive real-world experience.” 

In addition to Main Street placements, RARE AmeriCorps also places participants in communities to address projects such as economic development, food systems, park planning, and natural resources.  RARE operates from the Community Service Center in the Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management  (PPPM) at UO. The department is within the School of Architecture and Allied Arts.

Oregon Main Street is part of Heritage Programs, Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. For more information about Oregon Main Street, visit or contact Sheri Stuart at (503) 986-0679 or

Current RARE participants, alumni and staff
Above: Current RARE participants, RARE alumni, and RARE staff celebrate the program's leadership award at the Oregon Main Street conference in The Dalles, Oregon, last week. Sheri Stuart, Oregon Main Street coordinator (fourth from right, front row), presented the award to Megan Smith, RARE AmeriCorps Program director (center, front row) and RARE Program Coordinator Titus Tomlinson (behind Smith).