Building homegrown leaders and entrepreneurs in the heartland

Central Illinois Connection is convinced ‘small towns really are the best places to live’

The final year of high school is an exciting time for students heading out into the world to pave their own path.

While those teens ponder their post-secondary, gap year and everything-in-between options, the Central Illinois Connection has another way to prepare students for life after graduation.

The program, in conjunction with Boys & Girls Club of Livingston County, is called Building Future Leaders and Entrepreneurs. In four short weeks, youths gain the tools needed to work, live and succeed in their hometowns. The mutually beneficial program matches students with businesses in need of extra hands and, after a matched paid internship, sets them up for success to secure regular employment.

And best of all—Building Future Leaders addresses the growing concern of youth departing for big-city life by encouraging them to set down roots in their hometown.

“Rural communities have a tough time staying alive,” says Lillian Rathbun, marketing director for Central Illinois Connection. “We are passionate in our belief that small towns really are the best places to live, and this program helps students build essential work skills while encouraging them to consider business and entrepreneurship in our rural areas.”

Last year’s pilot program saw nine students aged 13 to 18 participate in the Building Future Leaders program, of whom all but one of the “of-age” students were able to secure part-time employment afterward.

This year, the organization is setting its sights higher.

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“We are hoping for 20 student participants, and we’ll do our best to match them with an employer that satisfies their goals and interests,” says Rathbun.

As part of our commitment to improving the quality of life in the communities where we operate, Enbridge gave $5,000 this year to Central Illinois Connection. This funding continues our support from 2019 to help the Building Future Leaders and Entrepreneurs maintain employment opportunities, as well as train students and help to identify career interests.

Though the Building Future Leaders program is just reaching its second year, the Central Illinois Connection is an established organization housed by a gathering space for families and visitors alike in Chatsworth, IL.

This gathering space, called the Central Illinois Connection Center, is rich in culture and history—the building itself is a restored printing press. Here, visitors can enjoy interactive displays, weekly activities and traveling art that celebrates the neighboring small towns. The center is sizable too, fitting around 150 between both floors.

“The center plays a major role in publicizing our small towns and helping to raise funds,” says Rathbun. “Even just walking into the center, every Central Illinois community is named on the wallpaper in our building – people will see themselves represented when they walk through the door.”

With the Building Future Leaders program ramping up in June, Central Illinois Connection hopes that young people will take heed of the opportunity and tranquility offered in their scenic hometowns.

“Without the program, we would miss getting in front of a group of young people with an extreme amount of potential.”