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The new director of a group that advocates on behalf of frontier communities said her work will continue the effort for “geographic equity” for communities on the farthest end of the urban-rural spectrum.
“I anticipate continuing to develop models that help to strengthen and stabilize frontier communities while also increasing our work on the national and policy level,” said Stacey Cox, Ph.D., the newly selected executive director of the National Center for Frontier Communities (NCFC).
Frontier designated communities make up nearly 48% of the nation’s landmass while accounting for only 2 percent of the population. These communities are the most remote rural areas of the country, with high concentrations of elderly people, low income households and lack of access to health care. The number of frontier communities is far greater in the High Plains and West than it is in the East.
The National Center for Frontier Communities (NCFC) has been representing the American frontier for the past 20 years. The organization describes its constituency as “our nation’s most geographically isolated and remote regions.”
“Although I lived close for years and even oversaw services in frontier communities, I didn’t deeply understand the challenges of frontier communities until I moved to Silver City,” said Cox in an email interview with the Daily Yonder. Silver City, home of the NCFC, has about 10,000 residents and is located in southwest New Mexico near the Gila National Forest, is the home of NCFC.
Dr. Cox worked in non-profits most of her life and moved three years ago to Silver City..
One part of the organization’s work is to define what “frontier” means, both to the public and for policymakers. “One key priority is geographic equity and the disparity that comes from geography,” Cox said.
One example is that many frontier communities aren’t even eligible to apply for certain types of grants. For example, public grant programs should be more flexible in whether they require frontier communities to match public dollars with other sources such as local contributions.
Frontier communities have been defined by county, ZIP code, census tract or other federal or state-based criteria such as the Medical Service Study Area (MSSA) with population densities. California, for example, defines frontier as areas with 11 or fewer persons per square mile.
Just like rural, suburban and urban, “frontier” is a term intended to categorize a portion of the population continuum. Frontier refers to the most remote end of that continuum (in some states the wilderness designation is considered most remote).
Definitions of “frontier” vary, depending on specific state and federal programs. Factors can include population density, distance from a population center or service hub, paved road access, seasonal changes in access to services, and the impact of weather on access. These conditions can cause significant obstacles to basics like health care and economic opportunity.
In addition to advocating for more resources, NCFC is especially interested in how frontier communities deal with climate change and disaster relief.
Caroline Ford, president of the NCFC Board, said in a press release that the organization is excited to have Dr. Cox joining its staff. She said the organization will focus especially on food scarcity and poverty areas.
“She will bring her unique perspective and advocacy to the forefront of issues impacting frontier and rural communities and provide on-the-ground working models to illustrate what will assist small isolated areas to thrive into the future,” Ford said.
A psychology Ph.D, Cox is interested in trauma and trauma recovery. “ I began to see how trauma also impacts communities,” Dr. Cox said. “My interest in this work really grew based on that idea – that as communities we have to develop resilience as a skill in order to overcome the issues we face. And to develop resilience we know we need safety, community, and connection. Frontier communities actually have strengths … community and connection, but our safety is lacking. So the question for me is how do we shore up and strengthen rural and frontier communities so they can be safer and have the resources they need to thrive,” she added.
Cox is replacing Susan Wilger, who is moving into a role with the Center for Health Innovation, New Mexico’s designated Public Health Institute.
Founded in 1997, the National Center for Frontier Communities is a research and advocacy organization dedicated to improving the health and quality of life in the United States frontier.