Reflections on the Small Town Summit: A Gathering of Rural Organizers From Across the Country

Posted Jul 26, 2023, by Jodi Borello


Jodi Borello’s reflections: 

I had the opportunity to attend the Small Town Summit in beautiful Missoula, Montana. The town itself is beautiful and the sky is spectacular, just as I was told. I was able to enjoy a few moments of hiking and even visited a ghost town. I learned more than I ever thought possible at the summit, and met some incredible people. The days were packed full of activities and small group gatherings. I attended workshops ranging from agriculture to storytelling, and the itinerary included breaks so that we could meet other like-minded people. 

The summit increased my awareness about various environmental and social issues. I really enjoyed learning more about agriculture, especially because we live in an area that is heavily drilled and mined for natural resources. Supporting local farms and farmers markets is a way to ensure local people have access to healthy fresh food and that farmers can earn an income from their agricultural products rather than selling out to drilling companies. Farmers are key to our local economy and environmental survival. Many farmers are only now learning about riparian buffers and best farming practices to ensure that creeks stay clean of nitrates. Using riparian buffers is always the best practice and should be implemented to ensure clean healthy water for the community. 

Being the Washington County Community Organizer for CCJ, the workshop on storytelling was especially interesting and as I learned at the summit, an important part of organizing. Bringing the community together is necessary to complete a common goal. I learned the importance of telling your own personal story to gain trust with your neighbors. This also helps them to have the courage to stand up and advocate for themselves. Trust and understanding others’ values are integral to successful organizing. 

I am thankful to have been invited and would love to learn more at the next Small Town Summit, wherever it will be held. 

Tonya Yoders’ reflections:

At the beginning of June, I attended the Small Town Summit in Missoula, Montana. It was a great opportunity not only because it has been a dream of my whole family to visit Montana, but also because this gathering was incredibly valuable. The work that we do at CCJ can feel isolating at times, so getting to spend time having deep conversations with other organizers who are also doing similar work in small towns was very powerful and helpful.

The setting of the Summit was beautiful and, like I mentioned above, was held at a place I have always wanted to go. The town is laid out well, is very walkable, and the people seem very welcoming. Mountains surrounded the area where we stayed, and blue skies occupied the big sky the whole time we were there. Getting to walk along the river was peaceful and a good break after the long days of attending caucuses and workshops.

The first thing I attended was the women’s caucus, where I met some incredible ladies who I hope to remain in contact with for a long time. It was empowering to talk about what it is like to live, work, and organize in areas where womens’ voices still aren’t valued as much as mens’. The next day, I attended a large organizing town hall meeting with almost everyone who attended the summit. We were assigned seats, which helped us more easily open up to people we did not know. It broke the ice and was a great way to open up the events of the next few days.

The next day I went to a workshop called Winning with Words: How Storytelling Can Build, Organize, and Win Campaigns. Storytelling is something I have been passionate about since before I started working at CCJ, and it is such an important part of our work, so I figured it would be a valuable one to attend. I got to hear folks’ stories and backgrounds. It was a great workshop to be at, not just for professional reasons, but also for personal ones.

I also attended a workshop called Facebook, Fake News, and Falsehoods: How to Deal With and Combat Disinformation. In the past few years, and for the whole time that I have worked at CCJ, disinformation has been a big concern for everyone. I wanted to take this session to both learn how to combat it but also to hear from others who are dealing with it. It helped me to not feel so alone in this struggle, because I got to hear from folks who have to navigate this issue in other small towns as well.

On Tuesday of that week I participated in a training called Dismantling Racism in Rural Organizing. I was able to take away tools to use here at home and hopefully be able to play a part in fighting racism in our counties. The workshop on “Building Bridges” and talking to your neighbor about controversial and complex issues was one of my favorite sessions; it was very helpful and empowering. I think this was such a good session mostly because of the facilitator, Dani Cook, who seems like an incredible person and public speaker.

On Wednesday, we closed out the Summit with a large Closing Town Hall that left us even more empowered and energized to go home and continue doing the work. The Summit was a success, and I am very glad we were able to go. I hope there are more in the future, because I would definitely go again and again if possible, year after year. It was very valuable, insightful, emotional, and felt like we were growing a community of people all across the country of like-minded folks with big hearts who want to make things better for everyone.


  • Jodi Borello

    Jodi Borello is an advocate and grassroots organizer for CCJ. She and her family have been negatively impacted by the fossil fuel industry through multiple substantiated environmental crimes. Jodi testified in front of the 43rd Statewide Grand Jury investigating industry conduct and the failures of government agencies to provide sufficient oversight of the fracking industry. Her testimony and the grand jury’s work led to recommendations to better protect Pennsylvanians from oil and gas operations. As a result, CNX Resources was charged and pleaded guilty to violating the Air Pollution Control Act and was forced to pay substantial fines and penalties. The nondisclosure agreement related to the grand jury was recently lifted and she is now free to speak about the insidious conduct that has harmed her community. Jodi’s unique personal experience helps her serve impacted residents who are struggling to cope with the realities of fossil fuel development in the region. Because of the considerable number of cancer cases in the region, she helped to create a volunteer group at CCJ called MAD-FACTS (Moms and Dads-Family Awareness of Cancer Threat Spike). This volunteer group is helping to share their knowledge of the Pennsylvania Department of Health Study regarding childhood cancer risks related to living in close proximity to oil and gas facilities. Jodi was born in Washington County, PA. She attended the University of Pittsburgh Main Campus and has a degree in Administration of Justice. After college, she received additional schooling in Rome, Italy. Jodi owned and operated a small local business for over 23 years. She enjoys the outdoors, traveling, gardening, and spending time with her loved ones. Contact Jodi at jodi@centerforcoalfieldjustice.org.

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