Stillwater, OK (December 2020)—It’s been a tough year, but America’s small- and mid-size communities are rising to the occasion. Stillwater, Oklahoma, is one of them. During the November 18 and 19, 2020 EntreCon business and leadership conference—hosted by Studer Community Institute (SCI), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization devoted to improving the quality of life in communities—the city received a Community Resiliency Award.

Leading up to the yearly conference, SCI founder Quint Studer—who is also author of Building a Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change Is Reshaping America (Be the Bulb Publishing, 2018, ISBN: 978-0-9981311-1-5, $24.95) and founder of Vibrant Community Partners—asked cities and towns of all sizes to share some of the small, incremental steps they’re taking to get stronger and more vibrant. During EntreCon, which featured its first ever “community track” this year, Stillwater received the award for establishing the Stillwater Day of Gratitude.

 They created the Stillwater Day of Gratitude to get people focused on what’s great about their city. They asked people to become world-class “noticers,” looking for (and publicly and privately thanking) folks who quietly go about the work of making Stillwater better. By harnessing the power of gratitude, they hope to make bright spots shine, and create a happier, healthier, more positive Stillwater. 

“I believe that vibrancy always starts with a what’s right mindset,” says Studer. “It’s easy to talk about what’s wrong in a town and overlook bright spots. But we live up to (or down to) our own expectations. By focusing on the positives, we can shift the culture and create a stronger, happier, more connected community. 

Jonathan Udoka says he was delighted to receive the award.

“It’s so easy for communities to see what’s wrong and only focus on that,” he says. “But by focusing on what’s right, it’s changing the way we see ourselves. Once a few of us started focusing on the bright spots, we were amazed by how many there were! We wanted to make this a movement in our community, so this day of gratitude was a great way to do it.” 

The criteria for the award centered on ideas and best practices that create a lot of “bang for the buck” and are easy to replicate. Besides Stillwater, other winning cities were Columbia, Mississippi, Elkins, West Virginia, Hot Springs, Arkansas, Martin County, Florida, Palatka, Florida, Chillicothe, Ohio, and Springfield, Ohio.

Studer says he hopes to compile a library of good ideas and best practices that other communities can learn from, replicate, refine, and share—and that he is grateful to Stillwater for being a part of it.

 “While it’s the big glamorous projects that usually get the most attention, I’m more impressed by the small but still impactful things communities do to move toward vibrancy,” adds Studer. “These are the kinds of things that are doable and sustainable.”

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