Survey highlights rural community doers, grassroots efforts

Trisha Purdon, director of the Kansas Department of Commerce’s Office of Rural Prosperity, and Marci Penner, executive director of the Kansas Sampler Foundation, reported the results of the foundation’s Kansas Power Up and Go project survey in a Facebook Live video Aug. 2.

Penner surveyed 460 rural residents, age 21 to 39, from all 105 Kansas counties in 2020 and 2021. She then followed up with 175 survey participants to interview them about the opportunities and challenges of living in rural Kansas. The project’s mission was to “gain a greater understanding of current challenges and opportunities in rural Kansas for young people—helping figure out why they choose to live in rural communities and why it could be difficult to make that choice.”

Penner said, “One thing I love about the content here is that we’re really focusing on community doers and the grit and the gumption of these small towns … These grassroots efforts are really important and—like the report says—when rural Kansas thrives, it bodes well for the entire state.”

The survey found that younger rural Kansans have concerns about broadband and housing, but since initiatives at the state level address those issues, they were not included in the report’s recommendations for action. One of the next steps is to help younger rural Kansans form connections to the government to access programs.

Purdon said the report “really does set the pace for a grassroots momentum to take over and help rural Kansas.”

She plans to add a grassroots support division in the Office of Rural Prosperity to help communities build grassroots networks and connections. The division will also target local champions and provide training, funding and other resources to help them address their communities’ challenges.

The lack of quality childcare is a critical problem for this age group as well, and the state will continue to coordinate programs, providers and advocacy efforts.

Creating a community of rural “influencers” who will champion rural communities and developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem are other plans for improvement taken from the survey project.

“We’ve heard from so many of the interviewees that they were choosing rural because they felt like they could make a difference and not just be a number,” Penner said. “You know, that’s something they really want to do in that age group—they want to help things be better.”

To read the full report, visit

Shauna Rumbaugh can be reached at 620-227-1805 or [email protected].