Bill Manny

On Idaho Gives day, ask yourself: What does Idaho give you?

May 3 is Idaho Gives, the day when we’re asked to contribute to any of hundreds of Idaho non-profits. It’s got me thinking about what Idaho gives me.

We’ve all got our own narrative, our own way of making sense of this place where we live. I heard Mayor Bieter talk recently about how, for him, Boise’s artists and its creative economy give the city its authenticity. For me, it’s biking to work along a glorious riverside path, past new townhomes in Garden City and graceful parks old and new, and to my choice of coffeeshops. I’m reminded daily I live in a special place. So, on Idaho Gives day, I start with being grateful that Idaho gives me a great commute.

Idaho also gives me a community that is just the right size.

We live in a place that is still small enough to be able to get to know the people in charge, who remain (mostly) accessible and (mostly) down to earth. Yet this place is large enough to think big and be ambitious. We’re big-time enough to have one of our athletes go in the first round of the NFL draft, yet small-town enough to celebrate that as a community success.

As divided as we can be — rural vs. urban, red vs. blue, old-timer vs. newcomer – there’s still a greater sense that we’re in this together. We’re linked by a sense of common purpose as much as by our river and our Greenbelt and our public lands.

Idaho gives me chances to meet smart people.

I’m grateful for a university in the heart of town that is open and welcome to those of us who got our degrees years ago. In the past few months, for instance, I’ve gotten to talk to scholars like Amanda Sloat of the Brookings Institute and Lee Rainie of the Pew Research Center and Michelle Ciulla Lipkin of the National Association For Media Literacy Education because friends on campus knew, essentially, that these were people I should meet.

Through Boise City Club, I got to interview Sacramento Bee cartoonist Jack Ohman and New York Times national security reporter Adam Goldman (with support from the Idaho Humanities Council and the University of Idaho, respectively) and INL Director Mark Peters.

Idaho gives me a chance to be part of thoughtful conversations.

The School of Public Service at Boise State University and the leaders of Idaho Public Television involved me in a spring conference on campus and a documentary video project that examined and celebrated civil dialogue in Idaho. That in turn introduced me to Living Room Conversations founder Joan Blades and Oregon Humanities Council Executive Director Adam Davis, who talked about his state’s Conversation Project. I’m energized by the free-ranging community conversation at the Boise City Club, Leadership Boise, Boise Young Professionals, the Idaho Humanities Council, the Boise State Honors College and many other places.

One new, encouraging addition to this conversational critical mass: Boise State Radio News’ daily talk show hosted by GemmaGaudette, produced by Samantha Wright and guided by General Manager Tom Michael. Check out Idaho Matters, noon-1 p.m. on 91.5 FM.

Idaho gives us librarians, who absolutely rock.

The librarians I’ve met in recent months showed me how committed they are to hosting their own conversations and events that connect people in new and different ways. At Boise State, Ada Community, Bown Crossing and Meridian libraries, and I’m sure others, they are imagining projects big and small. These are public servants who have no agenda other than helping people, regardless of economic status or political stripe, get access to information to be better citizens, parents and students.

Idaho gives us citizen role models.

I’ve gotten to know Luke Mayfield and Tracy Olson and Sam Sandmire and Laurie Durocher and others with Medicaid for Idaho, whose story I chronicled last month. This tale of political newbies who defied the odds now turns, inevitably, into a more traditional political story as sides battle to win the November election over whether to expand Medicaid coverage. Their grassroots success is heartwarming, however the story ends.

I’m also inspired by Hannah Gayle, the young single mom from Boise who set out to rewrite Idaho’s sex education law, her professor Sara Fry and Rep. Julie Van Orden, the Republican who sponsored Hannah’s bill and continues to work with her.

What do these people have in common? They’re workaday people, no more or less powerful or connected than you or me, who simply decided to get involved. You don’t have to support Medicaid expansion or rewriting Idaho sex ed law to be inspired by people who demonstrate gumption and leadership.

BuzzFeed writer Anne Helen Petersen is writing perceptively about Idaho these days. This resonated for me: “… it’s become increasingly clear that Idaho, more than ever before, is filled with stories that crystallize, reflect, challenge, or expand the larger anxieties guiding America as a whole….” She ticked off a long list of subjects, finishing with “… the slow but steady demographic retexturing of a place, and the fight to be more than a flyover state, dismissed by those who’ve never been there or thought more than a moment about the people who’ve lived there. …”

Yep. That reflects my sense of Idaho as scrappy and hungry. An independent, bootstrap kind of place, with dirt under our fingernails and a chip on our shoulder. Rather than become resentful or bitter, though, we accept the challenge to do for ourselves, to solve our problems the Idaho way. We’re bemused by people who keep “discovering” us and, yes, a little worried that we may end up being “discovered” to death.

Idaho gives me hope.

You don’t have to start a statewide initiative campaign, or ask a legislator to rewrite a law. On Idaho Gives day, I say: Do what you can. I’m supporting the CATCH homeless program and the Humanities Council and the Boise City Club, among others. But where, or whether, you give isn’t my point. I’m recommending that you think about what Idaho gives you. Think about the fabric of this place, and how you can make it stronger. Then decide how your hours, abilities or dollars can give others the same things that Idaho gives you.

Bill Manny is the Statesman’s Community Engagement Editor:; 208-377-6406; Twitter/Instagram@whmanny.