A 28-year-old Peace Corps Fellow from Western Illinois University has moved to Gillespie to begin an 11-month internship to bolster community and economic development efforts undertaken by Grow Gillespie, the local volunteer group focused on Gillespie’s economic growth.
“What I’m going to be doing is help them get on the path to achieve their long-term goals and short-term goals, too,” said Ethan Fogg, a WIU graduate student in Community and Economic Development. “I can offer assistance with the benefit of my experience and, in return, I also learn from people like Dan (Fisher) and Renee (Katich) who have a wealth of knowledge to impart.”
Born and raised in Sumner, Wash., a small community of about 10,000 residents near Seattle, Fogg earned his bachelor’s degree in Latin American and Caribbean studies from the University of Washington in Seattle. He also studied teaching English as a second language for six months in Brazil before returning to Washington to complete his teaching certification.
Upon becoming a Peace Corps volunteer in 2017, he was sent to Mozambique, in part because of his fluency in speaking Portuguese. There he was involved primarily in teaching English to local residents, but he also worked with nutritional programs—primarily encouraging planting and cultivating moringa trees. Moringa trees, Fogg said, “is sort of a super-food,” cultivated for its seed pods, leaves and roots.
He completed two years of volunteer service in Mozambique in September 2019 after which he spent a couple of months backpacking in the surrounding country. Upon returning to the United States, he made the decision to become a Peace Corps Fellow concentrating on community and economic development.
“I had no idea I wanted to do any kind of development work until I got into the Peace Corps,” Fogg said.
That decision brought him to Western Illinois University, Macomb. “They had a really good Peace Corps Fellows program,” he said, which emphasized community and economic development.
Fogg’s 11-month tenure in Gillespie will earn him three hours of academic credit toward his graduate degree in community and economic development, Prior to his assignment to Gillespie, Fogg said he completed a one-year graduate assistantship with the WIU Regional Council and Community Action Agency, a university program that provides development assistance to rural communities. In that role, Fogg said he gained experience in writing applications for Community Assistance block grants, USDA Rural Development grants and grants authorized under the federal CARES program for COVID-19 recovery.
WIU’s Peace Corps Fellows program began in 1994. Managed by the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs and with funding from USDA and Americorps, the program pairs Peace Corps Fellows with Illinois communities on the basis of the student’s area of study and the community’s needs. “I was put here with Grow Gillespie because I’m studying community and economic development,” Fogg said.
The Gillespie City Council voted unanimously in November to participate in the program and to share the $5,000 cost with Grow Gillespie.
Fogg said that because of COVID-19 restrictions, he has not been able to meet many of the Gillespie residents and business owners with whom he will be working. He said he has been able to talk to some business owners to introduce them to using GoogleMaps and other Google applications to grow their businesses. “I’m trying to increase their knowledge of how they can use some of the analytical tools that are supplied by Google for free,” he said.
“I see a lot of potential here,” Fogg said, “and the level of involvement from the community is a very good thing to see.”
Among his first projects for Grow Gillespie and the City of Gillespie is developing an environmental impact study for Grow Gillespie’s proposed Streetscape program. The ambitious program includes aesthetic improvements to the downtown business district, reconfiguring parking spaces, and the addition of trees and green areas. The city recently was approved for a state grant to fund the development.
“I simply love the Streetscape program,” Fogg said. Completing the environmental study is a first step that must be completed before the development begins. That study will include developing soil maps and impact statements regarding such things as endangered species. Fogg said his secondary post-graduate work Geographic Information System Analysis will aid him in completing the study.
While he remains in Gillespie, Fogg’s work will be directed by a five-member advisory council comprised of city council members and Grow Gillespie participants.