COTTONWOOD -- Ruth Ellen Elinski is passionate about rural life.
Originally from Brown County, Indiana, Elinski said she understands the challenges that come with living in a rural community.
“I think businesses and people who live in work in a rural community have a different set of challenges and it makes us more creative,” she said. “It makes us think more strategically together. It does make us think more about collaborative partnerships and how to make more with less.”
Elinski, who is the Northern Arizona Director for Local Frist Arizona, came to the Verde Valley almost 14 years ago. She started a leather accessory manufacturing and retail sales business in Jerome in 2005. During her time in the small mountainside community, Elinski became one of the founding members of the Jerome ArtWalk.
Elinski got a certificate in accounting because she was frustrated that she didn’t know how to do her own taxes.
For Elinski, when it comes to working in small, rural communities, patience is a virtue.
“It’s hard to be patient,” she said. “You have to invest your time individually and personally … it’s about small incremental changes that you hope over time are going to make a big impact on the community.”
Elinski said she understands the why young people are more drawn to urban areas which is why she is grateful and excited when young people do move to the Verde Valley.
“You can choose to be anywhere and people are choosing to come here and try it out and I think it’s great.”
How did you get involved with Local First?
When the position with Local First opened it seemed like a perfect fit for me because I had run local businesses and I kind of have an understanding of the challenges that small businesses face. The strategies to be more competitive and how to market yourself and kind of gain that competitive edge that small businesses need. The work is about creating more jobs by supporting the businesses in our own communities.
Is there a specific event that motivated you to think local?
Honestly, as a business owner, it kind of came along with that territory. I also grew up on a farm and we had neighbors growing food and we were bartering and trading. I feel like it’s how I grew up – the ‘buy local’ thing – it’s just part of the culture for me.
Who/What inspires you and why?
For sure my children. Again, I am passionate about rural life. I’m happy they are able to live here and to be raised here and they inspire me every day to give back to the community.
I’m inspired by other leaders in the community. We’re in difficult political times and it’s a very polarizing environment. I’m always inspired by those who can find middle ground and work across those kinds of differences.
How do you handle issues that are unique to women in leadership roles?
I feel fortunate in that I have incredibly inspiring people in my life. Both men and women. My parents were incredibly supportive and encouraging in my life.
My husband is incredibly supportive. As much as I do understand the challenges women do face in leadership, I feel like I do my best to put myself out there and not be intimidated by what can be an extremely challenging culture. I feel it is important to be authentic.
I think one of the biggest challenges for families is access to childcare. Especially in rural, high-poverty areas. The support is not there for families, especially young families.
Did you personally find that challenging when you had your children?
Absolutely. I was working full-time which most families are doing right now. Both parents are working to survive. I also have a lot to contribute and it was important for me to find care for my kids.
We found an amazing childcare provider and she is amazing. But it’s rare. If those opportunities were more prevalent we would have more people in the pool.
What are some projects you’re working on now that you’re most excited about?
I’m trying to ride my bike more. I actually ride my kids up to their childcare provider a few times a week. My husband has been riding with me and we’ve just been trying to ride more.
Honestly, I just want people to recognize we really are a bike-friendly community. It’s been this personal goal to just educate people through demonstrating these kinds of small things. Live every day demonstrating what we really want here.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I think in general I’m just a high-anxiety person. I worry too much about what other people think. I think I dwell too much on things that I said and it’s silly to dwell on day-to-day stuff.
Favorite book and why:
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I think one of my biggest strengths coming from a rural community is I can talk to anybody. I’m really good at connecting with people at their level in a way that makes them feel comfortable. That book really highlighted some of that for me.