Idaho’s Silver Valley
A Snapshot of Who We Serve
Idaho Servant Adventures has a heart for living out the Kingdom of God as the hands, feet and voice of Jesus in north Idaho’s Silver Valley.
The needs of the people and communities across rural Shoshone County run as deep as the once rich veins of silver decreasingly mined there.
In Shoshone County—a chunk of land larger than the state of Delaware — there are just over 12,000 people. Unemployment is high, and the local car dealer provides most of the county’s jobs. Idaho wages are among the worst in the nation. State lawmakers spend the second lowest in the country on students. The county has one of the highest suicide rates in a state and one of the worst in the country. Diseases you hardly hear of anymore—like whooping cough and STDs—are on the rise. “Poor” here means single-wides and wood stoves.
In the 1980’s, Shoshone County, (located in the narrow Idaho Panhandle on the Montana border, 60 miles from Canada,) was one of the state’s richest regions, thanks to the precious metals extracted from the mines—some over a mile and a half deep—dotting the county’s famous “Silver Valley.” (During the 1970s, nearly half of our nation’s silver production came from there.)
Today Shoshone County is one of Idaho’s poorest, a victim of over a century of “boom and bust” economics.
Like most people living in rural areas, Silver Valley residents clearly value their county as a great place to live and raise kids, mentioning the “strong sense of trust and community, low crime, affordable cost of living, proximity to the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene metro area, and easy access to a variety of high quality outdoor recreation activities and areas” (Silver Valley Community Review Report, September, 2011.) Yet behind those values lie stark realities:
- Nearly 20% of Shoshone’s people live beneath the poverty level.
- More than a third of county homeowners cannot afford to live in their home.
- By September of 2015 the county still faced an uphill climb against an 8% unemployment rate, (down from 16% in 2000,) compared to 4.2% in Idaho and 5.1% nationwide.
- The average family income is $34,000, more than $13,000 less than Idaho’s and $18,000 less than the national average family income.
- The seven biggest employers in the county include a car dealer at #1, two seasonal ski areas, the 25-bed hospital, two reviving mines, and Wal-Mart.
- Over half of all the county’s school children receive free or subsidized school lunches.
- 100% of the elementary kids in Kellogg, the county’s largest community, receive free or subsidized lunches.
- 60% of Kellogg’s 1st thru 3rd graders get weekend “mealpaks”—Saturday and Sunday meals and milk.
- Nearly a quarter of the population is disabled (compared to 12.4% statewide.)
- 33% are elderly (up against 14% overall in Idaho.)
- Significantly, 75% of the people in Shoshone County are self-declared “Nones” when it comes to church affiliation, compared to 23% nationally.
- In 2011, 6.5% of county residents moved away.
Despite the valley’s liabilities common to much of rural America, a 2011 report emphasized the widespread belief among residents that the Silver Valley is a good place for families. “Residents are generally friendly and there is a sense of trust between people,” the report states. “When needed, help and support in times of crisis” are provided “to both individuals and community projects.”
Significantly, the report headlined there are abundant opportunities in the Silver Valley to make a difference. “The communities of the Silver Valley are still small enough that a few dedicated people or organizations working together can make a measurable positive difference. Secondly, many residents of the valley have the desire and capacity to roll up their sleeves and get involved” (Silver Valley Community Review, Idaho Rural Partnership, September 2011.)
Idaho Servant Adventures takes advantage of the county’s assets—the people’s friendliness, trust, support in times of need, and desire and capacity to get involved and make a “measurable positive difference”—to expand existing programs and initiate new ones to inspire and empower God’s people to serve the under-served, positively impact the people and communities of Shoshone County, and reflect the Gospel of Jesus Christ in action.
In the past 8 years of Idaho Servant Adventures, close to 4,000 participants from as far away as Texas, Minnesota, Missouri, Arizona and Alaska volunteered more than 61,000 hours serving the under-served of Idaho’s Silver Valley. Teens scrape and paint houses; dig fence posts; plant trees and flowers; clean basements, back yards and garages; split firewood; visit shut-ins and senior adults; run community Day Camps; partner with special needs campers through weeks of summer camp; rebuild front porches, back steps and handicap ramps; re-roof blue-tarped roofs; even put accessible additions on homes. Lives are impacted on both sides of the “porch.”
In 2015 alone over 525 teens and adults from almost 30 congregations around the U.S. volunteered over 8,448 hours at nearly 70 Silver Valley worksites in nine short weeks.
Idaho Servant Adventures “connects the dots” between people, congregations and organizations locally, regionally and nationally, catalyzing them to use their God-given gifts, abilities and resources to demonstrate Jesus’ love to the under-served through service and outreach opportunities.
US Census Fact Finder, Shoshone County, Idaho
Shoshone County Workforce Trends, September, 2015
Kaiser Family Foundation
Silver Valley Community Review Report, September, 2011