The Power of Positivity and Volunteerism


The Power of Positivity and Volunteerism

Q&A with Chelsea Luthy, Central Nebraska Community Development Specialist, and CYN Steering Team Member


Why are you passionate about volunteerism?

Cody is a village of about 150 people, but it’s so much more than that. I have a soft spot for the people from my hometown and surrounding areas, because they collectively taught me throughout my life that I can make a difference even if it is on a small scale.  Overall, my community has given and taught me so much that I feel the need to try to show my gratitude by volunteering as best as I can.

This rural lifestyle is the key reason we moved back after college, and it is how I want to raise my children. Two of my goals are to teach AND show them that we can make a difference.


Why is positivity so important in both volunteerism and volunteer management?

Positivity is a crucial factor in preventing burnout, which is something we want to avoid. It seems like the same volunteers are enlisted over and over again, while others are sometimes missed altogether—which can contribute to burnout. In my opinion, leaders of the volunteer efforts have to keep a positive attitude and be understanding of the volunteers’ limitations, like time and energy, and always keep the end goal in mind. These characteristics will trickle down to other volunteers and raise moral.


Based on your experiences, how can age affect the perspective of volunteers?

Cody is well-known for its student-run straw bale grocery store the Circle C Market. (Check it out if you haven’t already!) I was an enthusiastic high school youth working on the planning process for the grocery store. Then, after moving back home, I was the Executive Director of a non-profit called Cowboy GRIT, working on a new project from scratch. Now, I work in multiple communities across 14 counties with numerous volunteers and collaborations.

I’ve worked with volunteers of all ages, and what I’ve learned is that nothing keeps you excited quite the same as having child-like enthusiasm, staying focused with a big picture always in the front of your mind and always working to stay positive.


How can one stay positive and motivate others?

For me, the best ways to stay positive are by de-stressing, disconnecting and remembering the big picture. I like to work out, knit, play with my kids and go dancing! I keep my mind occupied with family things to de-stress.

Another way I can stay positive is to disconnect from work on weekends as much as I can to relax.

The final way is to always remember the big picture or the end result, instead of getting caught up in the means of getting there. Motivating others is best achieved through excitement, leadership and communication. Fold those three together for a great start.


Why is volunteerism important for rural Nebraska?

Volunteering and working together are the future for rural Nebraska. No one can accomplish anything great by themselves. Instead we have to work together and learn from each other. That’s how we are going to get or keep our communities moving forward. No one outside a community can create change and progress like catalysts inside a community can. Insiders already have the relationships in place to rock ‘n roll! Your input also goes further if you have boots on the ground in a project.


What would you say to youth or adults who want to get involved in their communities but doesn’t know how?

The best piece of advice I know is to ask. Ask community and civic groups, government bodies, schools, parents, co-workers, friends or mentors what they believe should be improved. Everyone has an opinion on something. Gather ideas. Take one that interests you or a topic you are passionate about and expand on it. Perhaps there is someone else who shares your passion, and you can move forward together. This is the best place to start.

Undoubtedly, there will be obstacles and roadblocks, but they don’t have to stall you. I applaud you for having courage and grit. Remember that volunteering with positivity can make a difference for both you and your community, and that the Connecting Young Nebraskans community is always available for support!



Chelsea Luthy

Chelsea Luthy

Community Development Specialist | Central Nebraska Economic Development District
Join Chelsea on LinkedIn

Chelsea Luthy is the Community Development Specialist for Central Nebraska Economic Development District (CNEDD). She grew up in Cody, Neb., and graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She hopes to share her love for community improvement through Connecting Young Nebraskans (CYN) and influence her peers to continue making a difference in our work. She believes that CYN is about motivating our young people, facilitating progress within our local community and how that creates additional impacts, and a way to bounce ideas off other like-minded leaders all for the betterment of our state.



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3 Ps of Successful Community & Economic Development: Purpose, Perseverance & Positivity


3 Ps of Successful Community & Economic Development:
Purpose, Perseverance & Positivity

By Megan McGown, North Platte Area Chamber & Development Corp. VP of Economic Development & Marketing

I have served in the realm of economic and community development in our fine state for most of my adult life. While it has been my paid gig these past 10 years, I have come to realize that it takes everyone in the community to be successful—not just those of us who serve in paid positions. It takes people from all walks of life, every age demographic, varying ethnicities, men, women and children. Sound cliché? Maybe, but imagine everyone in your community being on the same page, promoting the same great things about your town. Young people hearing about those great things and picturing themselves living in and raising their family in their hometown – your town. That’s a cliché I can live with any day of the week.

I spent most of my economic development career working in Sidney for both the Chamber of Commerce as well as a position with the city. Two years ago, my family and I relocated, and I currently serve as the Vice President of Economic Development and Marketing for the North Platte Chamber & Development Corporation.

I grew up in a very rural area – aka: the middle of the Sandhills – and currently reside in the Village of Brady, population 432. In spite of the varying differences amongst the places that I have lived, I have noticed recurring themes among the most successful community and economic development programs: Purposefulness, Perseverance and Positivity.


This one should go without saying, but I’m going to talk about it anyway, because not all development is good development, and not every project will fit in every community. Purpose requires extensive research, knowing your community and keeping up-to-date on trends.

• Look at the strengths of your community in terms of location, demographics, infrastructure, workforce characteristics and training programs.
• Identify cluster and supply chain opportunities.
• Talk with residents and stakeholders about their vision, needs and wants (but be careful with that last one).

Being able to see the big picture is crucial. Do the ideas on the list make sense for your community? Are they feasible? What would it take to make them feasible? Are your local incentive programs aligned with your goals? Being purposeful may not save time, but it has a much higher chance of producing a successful outcome.


There is a lot of trial and error in community and economic development. Not everything is going to work the first time. The fact is that economic developers work just as hard on the projects that never materialize as they do the ones that become successful. We go all-in on each RFP that the state sends us (provided it meets the Purposeful test). You never know when you will hit a home run. The ability to persevere in your efforts and adapt to new circumstances will set successful communities and programs apart.


We all know there is power in positive thinking, but I’m sure you’re thinking: “What does that have to do with economic development?” Positivity and negativity are both contagious—which would you rather catch?

In my college dorm room, my roommate and I made our own wallpaper border that repeated the phrase, “the power of positive thinking,” over and over all around the room. The phrase was a daily reminder to look on the bright side, find the silver lining—you name the cliché. But it helped.

This same mentality carries into the realm of economic and community development. Negativity kills projects before they start. Whether that is the “coffee shop talk,” a negative political climate or some other form of negativity, it can derail various aspects of the process.

Now, I could definitely add more Ps to my list: partnerships, planning, passion, patience, etc. But I have to leave something for my next post!



How do you or can you implement today’s three Ps in the community and economic development of your town?

How have you gotten involved in your community’s development efforts?



Megan McGown

Megan McGown

VP of Economic Development & Marketing | North Platte Area Chamber & Development Corp.
Join Megan on LinkedIn 
and Twitter

Megan has been in the field of economic development for more than 10 years. She holds a Master’s Degree in Organization Management emphasizing economic development and entrepreneurship. She currently serves as the Vice President of Economic Development and Marketing for the North Platte Area Chamber and Development Corporation.

In addition to economic development, Megan has a passion for downtown revitalization and served as the director of a local Main Street Program for 10 years, earning the community national accreditation the majority of those years.  She is a mom of two daughters, wife to a school superintendent and avid runner/wellness nut.



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Millennial Game Changers: A Part of Something Bigger



Millennial Game Changers: A Part of Something Bigger

By Brittnay Dawson, Norfolk Area Chamber Director of Talent Development & Recruitment

We hear it all the time. The talk about specific individuals doing momentous things that are challenging and inspire the way we live and think—and in a really big way.

Millennials often get a bad rap for challenging the status quo on not only how we live, but also in the workplace. This generation, now the largest generation in the workforce, has decided to not just play the game, but change the way the game is played.

Traditionalists may have difficulty adjusting to this shift in mindset, but no matter if you prefer to keep things the way they once were or you are embracing this new mentality, these “game changers” are strong leaders and can bring immense value to your organization.

What defines a game changer? Here are a few commonalities you often will find:


They have the heart of a lion.

Game changers are fearless and exceptionally courageous. They often have a strong personality and are the driving force within their organizations. They are not afraid to take risks or tackle challenges head on, because on the other side of fear is freedom and opportunity. This mentality helps them break down barriers in communities and in the workplace, opening up new possibilities in creating change.


They have their head in the game.

Like the mindset of an athlete, game changers know that working toward their vision and goals will require continuous training. This training is not only with their body, but also with their mind. They create a strategy toward achieving goals within their long-term vision, but also adapt to change when necessary because their focus is strong. Every day they are working on their strong game, gaining new skills and knowledge, and becoming better players.


They are really good at failing.

A true game changer knows there is much to be gained from failure. Failure not only creates new opportunities to grow, but it also allows new levels of creativity and teaches how to overcome adversity. Being really good at failing means seeing the bigger picture and practicing resilience and perseverance. Game changers are open to the journey, because in those critical ¬moments often is where the biggest opportunities exist to think big and reach maximum potential.


They overcome obstacles.

In both life and business, there will always be roadblocks to some degree. A game changer does not give up and just turn back around. They look for new paths to get to their destination, or in some cases, pave their own way. They understand the depth of certain obstacles is based on their own perception, but also to accept those that are outside of their own control. Game changers become excellent problem-solvers in adverse situations and use big thinking for out-of-the-box solutions.


They don’t make excuses.

Game changers are very self-aware and willing to accept responsibility for their actions and situations. They are committed to their decisions, but do not blame others when they do not receive their desired results. Having the ability to admit mistakes and make the necessary changes can help their teams and organizations progress toward their goals.


They are a part of something bigger.

Many people desire to have meaning and purpose in their lives and work. Game changers are the living example of this mentality. They work hard every day to be a part of something big, creating a force far bigger than they could achieve by themselves. They know the power of being engaged in their work, life and community. What they do and say does matter, and it does have impact. They are willing to step up to the plate for the greater good.

Overall, game changers are the people who are natural leaders, avid problem-solvers, and they inspire meaningful change. They are innovators and creators, and often see things that others do not. They are what can take organizations from ordinary to exceptional, and are continually shaping a new reality and way of living in this world.

Millennial game changers take it one step further, as they also grew up with a new wave of technological advancements and diversity acceptance. More than ever, this generation is motivated to build powerful movements, and they have the resources to help them spread their message and ideas.



In what ways are you a game changer? Share with us some actionable steps you are taking to change the game in your life or place of work.



Brittany Dawson

Brittnay Dawson

Director of Talent Development & Recruitment | Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce
Connect with Norfolk Now on Facebook & Instagram.

Brittnay Dawson attended the University of Nebraska–Lincoln where she received her BA in Psychology, focusing on advertising and public relations. Following graduation, she launched her own photography and marketing business in Destin, Florida, working with small businesses on their image branding and digital marketing content. Brittnay has worked for national clients including the New Balance line for Heidi Klum (HKNB) and Rachele Brooke Smith. She is currently a monthly contributor to JMG Lifestyle, a millennials and entrepreneurs resource magazine.

Back in Nebraska, Brittnay is the Director of Talent Development & Recruitment for the Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Program Director for Norfolk Now where she works to attract other young professionals and families to the Norfolk area.




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Hosting RFI Serviceship



Hosting RFI Serviceship

By Tina Biteghe Bi Ndong, West Point Chamber of Commerce

This summer the Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska partnered with 31 organizations to send 10 student interns into rural communities for nine-week “serviceships,” or service internships. Projects the students worked on varied greatly depending on the needs of each host community; however, the ultimate goal of each serviceship was to make a positive, quantifiable impact for rural.

Tina Biteghe Bi Ndong served on the West Point, Neb., host team. For more information about the 2017 West Point Serviceship, check out Amber and Madeleine’s story.


How did the Serviceship students’ work help you achieve your strategic goals for the future of your community?

Two of our main goals were related to our recent influx of young families that have moved to West Point. The work done through the Serviceship project created a foundation for programs that will hopefully engage, retain and recruit additional young professionals and their families.


How did the University of Nebraska contribute to your community’s goals through this program?

They offered support for our community branding goal. We tapped into the Engler Entrepreneurship program for a project outside of the outlined goals. We are also looking to a Nebraska Extension program as a partner for our proposed leadership program.


Shortly after the interns arrived in West Point, we hosted a BRAN Snack Shop.


Why do you think it is important for communities to give students this experience?

Madeleine and Amber had been involved in community and organizational projects through school and other organizations prior to their Serviceship, but every community functions differently. We were able to share how West Point approaches projects and goals, and hopefully they can use those experiences in the future as they pursue personal and professional goals.


How did hosting RFI Serviceship students bring value to the West Point Chamber?

Utilizing the RFI Serviceship program versus hiring a consultant group, first and foremost, reduced the cost of achieving our goals, but secondly gave greater value to the results. The students were engaged in the community, so I feel that they had greater, and more candid, conversations with area residents and business owners.

A byproduct of having the students working with the West Point Chamber was the positive PR that our office received. They were constantly doing something in the community, which gained a lot of local media attention. We are constantly working on community projects, but they brought another level of engagement to the projects.


How did being on the RFI Host Team develop you as a young professional?

Being a part of the host team, I felt it was important not only to focus on the goals that were outlined in our application, but to make sure that the students were able to really connect with our community in a very short amount of time. It was a good reminder that we need to give other “newbies” that same attention and share our passion for West Point with everyone.


Amber had a great time bonding with my kiddos. This is them at the Sights & Sounds festival––an event they hosted in West Point right before they left at the end of their serviceship.




Tina Biteghe Bi Ndong

Executive Director | West Point Chamber of Commerce

I was born in Iowa, moved to Nebraska as an elementary student, and spent many childhood summers in Minnesota. I consider myself a Midwestern girl with Midwestern values. When I am not busy connecting businesses, people and resources—which are interchangeable on any given day—I enjoy traveling and spending time with my husband and our children doing home and craft projects.




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Leadership Skills: Being a Doer to Become a Leader



Leadership Skills: Being a Doer to Become a Leader

By Walker Zulkoski, Executive Director of Gage Area Growth Enterprise (NGage)

I’ve never considered myself a “leader.” My philosophy has always been to do and steer. Meeting gets out of hand; get it back on point. People are complaining about a constant problem; address said problem. I don’t do these things because I think of myself as a leader. I do them because I only have so much time and energy—and to sit in a meeting talking about the same thing over and over again is a waste. My thoughts turn to, “Let’s get things done and move on to the next project.”

If you are in that stage of life where you work hard, you produce, people count on you and you consistently think of the next idea, then you, like so many of us, are in this state of leadership purgatory.

Many of us with this mindset are at the same point. Millennials are reaching the stage in their careers at which they master their trade and naturally begin to find new ways of accomplishing tasks more efficiently and effectively. Rather than buckle down and work harder, we step back, analyze and work smarter. We spend more time planning, listening, navigating and dreaming—knowing that we can’t do it all and that we must allow others to conquer the task with their own skills. It’s important to act on these ideas, take note of the outcomes and understand that these activities are creating future leaders.

When we do take on these initial leadership roles, we don’t completely move on, and that’s fine. As Charlette Beers describes in her article, The Three Stages of Your Career, “No one is a leader all the time,” tackling a leadership role when we need to and then reverting back to being a doer is a natural cycle. The idea doesn’t have to be something earth-shattering that turns your entire business upside down. Simple changes or projects can get you the same experience and give you the confidence to do it again.


“When the new idea comes to you, run with it.
Step out of your comfort zone, take a risk and lead the charge.”


When the new idea comes to you, run with it. Step out of your comfort zone, take a risk and lead the charge. Then go back to being a doer and think of the next idea you want to act on. The more times you do this, the more experience you gain.

Document your experience. Reflect on it to understand what did and did not work. How would you change your approach? Take your experience, and turn it into an elevator pitch. Nobody will remember that you did a good job unless you tell them. The more projects and charges you lead will add to your toolbox of knowledge and make you better the next time. Let these experiences mold you into the leader you aspire to become. It’s a never-ending process, but it needs to start now. Take your idea and run with it then go back to being a doer and think of the next one.



What will you do to define the future?



Walker Zulkoski

Walker Zulkoski

Executive Director | Gage Area Growth Enterprise (NGage)
Connect with Walker on LinkedIn & Facebook.

Walker Zulkoski is the Executive Director of Gage Area Growth Enterprise (NGage) in Beatrice, NE.  Originally from Ord, Nebraska, his mission is to help rural Nebraska prosper.  Walker is a graduate of the State Chamber’s Leadership Nebraska class, the RFI Leadership Development Program, Leadership Beatrice, and is currently a member of the Sherwood Foundation’s Catalyst class.  He holds a bachelor degree from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, a Master Certificate from Villanova University, and an MBA from Nebraska Wesleyan.




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Young Nebraskans Week

Young Nebraskans Week


Young Nebraskans Week

Originally published by Greater Omaha Young Professionals

Allison Hatch, Nebraska Department of Economic Development
Kayla Schnuelle,
Rural Futures Institute 
Tom Beckius, Keith Peterson, Jaime Henning & Kayla Meyer,
Lincoln’s Young Professionals Group
Luke Hoffman,
Greater Omaha Chamber Young Professionals


The face of young American workers, their jobs and where they work is changing.


By 2018, employers will see as many as five generations working side by side. More than 60 million baby boomers will exit the workforce, and by 2025, only 40 million new workers will enter to replace them. Advancements in technology will help elevate some labor shortages but not in all sectors. Estimates suggest millennials could make up as much as 75% of the U.S. workforce by 2025.

Young workers today are more likely to be underemployed, earning less, living at home with their parents, delaying marriage and dependent on technology. They are less likely to be affiliated with a political party and connected to religion.

Here is what we also know. Today’s young workers are highly engaged with their work. Additionally, the jobs of today’s young workers are more mobile than they have been for any other generation. Good jobs can be as easy to locate as a good internet connection, whether you are in Albion or Atlanta, McCook or Miami, Lexington or London. As the mobility of jobs continues to increase, communities must ask how they can become more attractive to young workers. Community vibrancy is an ever-increasing factor in today’s job marketplace as workers can often choose from where they work instead of simply locating to where jobs are located.

The attraction, retention and development of young workers is vitally important for communities hoping to remain relevant in the rapidly expanding and diversified economy of the 21st Century. It is with this focus in mind that community leaders across the state of Nebraska have developed strategies to target this talent pool through attraction and retention efforts, including a specific priority to ask young workers what the community can do to make it more attractive as a place to live and work.


Yet, no one community knows all the best practices in attraction, retention and development of young talent, and leaders and communities are constantly faced with limited resources.


Yet, no one community knows all the best practices in attraction, retention and development of young talent, and leaders and communities are constantly faced with limited resources. As such, a concerted statewide coalition of leaders working together, sharing best practices and resources across the state, to focus the spotlight on young talent and vibrant communities together is the next step in making sure we are at the forefront for young workers.

Young Nebraskans Week will be a carefully curated series of speakers, discussion panels, workshops and networking opportunities hosted by communities across the state that celebrate the talent, insight and energy of young professionals working in Nebraska while also exploring the intersection between cultures and cities. Developed by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and modeled after Lincoln’s Young Professionals Group’s annual YP Week, Young Nebraskans Week aims to concentrate our state’s focus on growing, retaining and developing our youngest members of the workforce. We know that highlighting the best of what Nebraska offers is how we win the fight for young talent and helps to keep Nebraska prosperous.


Collaboration is the new competition.


As we launch Young Nebraskans Week in 2018, we will be working throughout the state with local partners to create a dynamic environment focused on young workers. We will call upon industry, labor, chambers of commerce, economic development partners and many others to help make this initiative as strong as possible. We ask every Nebraskan to join our coalition in the fight to attract and retain young workers to our state. Collaboration is the new competition.



Kayla Schnuelle

Kayla Schnuelle

Leadership Engagement Director & Network Weaver | Rural Futures Institute

Kayla Schnuelle directs the RFI Student Serviceship program, coordinates the state-wide network of young professionals, Connecting Young Nebraskans, and offers her expertise in facilitation and leadership throughout many of RFI’s initiatives.

She has developed a deep understanding of the opportunities and trials that young professionals are finding in rural places. With an immense support network in place, Kayla has coordinated three statewide summits and has assisted in planning two national Rural Futures Institute Conferences.



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The Student Side of “Serviceship”



Hosting RFI Serviceship

By Emily Coffey, 2017 RFI Serviceship Intern & Current Serviceship Ambassador

In August, RFI wrapped up its fifth year of summer RFI Student Serviceship. This year’s interns lived in McCook, North Platte, West Point and York, working on major projects spanning economic development, workforce recruitment and retention, environmental impact and healthcare. Senior political science major Emily Coffey was placed in York, Nebraska. Below she shares some of her perspectives on the Serviceship experience.

My Serviceship partner and I were able to impact the sustainability and vitality of our rural community by gathering a variety of data that was pertinent to the economic development bill we were working to form and promote. We listened to the ideas and concerns of community leaders, applied critical analysis to their comments and the data we collected and spoke with state experts to determine legal, marketing and implementation strategies. We are confident that the service we provided to our community will help to strengthen their economic development, and we are optimistic that the bill will be successful in the upcoming election.

Beyond the scope of the projects we were assigned, we made a conscious effort to immerse ourselves in the culture of our community. We attended York’s Young Professionals events and played on their sand volleyball team. We also visited the weekly farmer’s markets and worked out at the community wellness center. We shopped locally, attended plays at the Yorkshire Playhouse and even lived with a York resident for the entirety of the summer. By becoming members of the community we were able to gain a better understanding of how our projects would affect it.


What connections were you able to make?

Our host team members were not only invested in the projects they gave us, but in our personal and professional development as well. They encouraged us to attend community and professional events and connected us with individuals and businesses within the community that were relevant to our future goals. As someone who aspires to go to law school, I was very appreciative of the opportunity to meet and network with a number of people in legal professions and reach a better understanding of their roles in a rural community. My favorite experience was an afternoon spent shadowing the County Attorney, attending hearings and discussing the rewards and challenges of his position.

Emily Coffey and partner Shelby Riggs checking out the York Community with some Red Beard’s Coffee.

How did your Serviceship impact you?

Through the course of my serviceship, I learned to advocate for myself and my ideas. In other internships, I’ve been assigned duties and projects with minimal autonomy or room for innovation. This experience allowed me to think critically about the projects I was assigned, identify the people I needed to connect with, determine the necessary steps in reaching solutions and take ownership of the project to make it my own. At one point, I faced the challenge of facilitating a discussion with a group of community leaders on a very controversial topic. The advice and support of my RFI mentors and host team empowered me to lead the conversation with confidence. This experience has given me a firm foundation for navigating similar situations in the future.

Furthermore, I really appreciate the “service” component of the serviceship experience. Volunteering in York gave me an additional level of investment in the community and helped me to become more in-tune with their way of life; I became more acutely aware of the importance and impact of active community members who give their time and efforts and are dedicated to the happiness and success of their community. On college campuses there are opportunities to get involved and volunteer everywhere you look; but when you have a full-time job and are new to an area, you have to be much more intentional about service.



Emily Coffey

Serviceship Ambassador | Rural Futures Institute

Emily Coffey is a senior Political Science student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, with minors in Business, Psychology, Communication Studies, and Global Studies. Following graduation, she plans to attend law school and hopes to stay in Nebraska long-term.




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Young Professionals and their Powerful Rural Impact



Young Professionals and their Powerful Rural Impact

By Brittnay Dawson, Norfolk Area Chamber Director of Talent Development & Recruitment


Why do you believe it is important for young professionals to make an impact on their communities?

First of all, I think the term “young professional” gets misused frequently. Many young workers across the state (and country) don’t necessarily see themselves as professionals if they are not sitting in an office or wearing a suit and tie. We like to think of young professionals as a group of like-minded individuals who come together for a common focus and conversation on issues specific to our demographic, regardless of profession.

As for the importance of these young professionals making an impact, I think that is self-explanatory—it creates engagement. Statistics show that the more people are engaged, the happier and more connected they feel with their community. If you were to walk into a party and not have a single conversation with anyone there, would you stay? Most likely not. Think about how you feel when you have multiple conversations, or even just one really good one. Now you have found a reason to stay, or a reason to invest and continue that conversation after the party. The same concept applies to community engagement. The more involved you are, the more you want to see the community grow and prosper. It becomes a part of your identity.


What are some of the most effective ways for young professionals to get involved in their communities?

If your community has an established young professionals group, start there. This will be an incredible resource. If there is no organized group, just start talking to people! This can be your mayor, a teacher, or even a family member. There are endless ways to get involved, and the amazing part is you can focus on what matters to you the most. Volunteering is a great way to get involved, but also consider civic engagement. Many communities and businesses are getting on board with the “millennial” mindset and love to have younger people serving on their boards or councils.


How can young professionals make a positive impact on rural?

There is a lot of talk about urban and rural divide. While there will be obvious amenity differences between two different communities, it is important to remember that most of us still want the same thing, regardless of location and size: a sense of belonging, purpose, maximize our potential and abilities, and plant some roots. Thinking about starting a business? More entrepreneurs are considering startups in smaller communities. Craft breweries are trending, and you would be surprised how well they do in rural areas with the right team behind them. That is just one example, but these types of business endeavors have a positive impact on rural communities, and serve as a great attraction piece for new talent and other young professionals interested in relocating to your community.


In what ways can young professionals uniquely excel living in rural communities?

In a rural area, what you say and do truly has an impact. There is not as much red tape to get through when seeking new endeavors or projects, but you do still need to be passionate and driven. The world is changing, and many communities are growing older. The survival of shrinking communities depends on attracting younger individuals to move back and start families, and are supportive of that “young energy” you bring. If you have an idea that would greatly benefit your community, speak up! There likely are many elders who would love to hear your ideas and support you in making those happen. If you have the drive, you can be a total game changer in any community.


What are some examples of the young professional impact you’ve witnessed in the Norfolk community?

We have many young professionals that have taken leadership or director level positions in Norfolk. There is a sense of pride when you go to a community event or festival, and you recognize many of your friends’ names who took lead on a project—from fundraising to event planning, everyone has a very important role to play. The support here is amazing, and there are endless opportunities for our young professionals to step up to the plate.

A specific example that happened recently involved a young woman named Emily Afrank. She felt the need to have a handicap accessible park in the community, so she did everything from concept planning to fundraising, and oversaw every aspect of implementing the project. She had the vision, made a plan and created something powerful for an entire community to enjoy for years to come. When you hear a child say at the opening event that this was his first time ever on a playground—well, that demonstrates the kind of impact just one young professional can have on a community. Now take that type of energy and passion and team up with other like-minded individuals, and think about all the possibilities.


What advice do you have for young professionals looking for ways to get involved?

My advice is to just get started. Dream big, but start small. Have attainable goals along the way. Don’t be afraid to have conversations with everyone you meet. The best way to learn about a community and involvement opportunities is to put yourself out there. If you are more on the timid side, ask someone you trust to introduce you to one other person who is already involved in something that interests you. Make that first connection, then make another one. Just know that everything you do is valued, if you see the value in your own work, no matter the perceived contribution size. Whether your preference is getting your hands dirty or sharing your ideas, you can, and will, make a real difference.


How do YOU define “young professional?” Let us know!



Brittany Dawson

Brittnay Dawson

Director of Talent Development & Recruitment | Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce
Connect with Norfolk Now on Facebook & Instagram.

Brittnay Dawson attended the University of Nebraska–Lincoln where she received her BA in Psychology, focusing on advertising and public relations. Following graduation, she launched her own photography and marketing business in Destin, Florida, working with small businesses on their image branding and digital marketing content. Brittnay has worked for national clients including the New Balance line for Heidi Klum (HKNB) and Rachele Brooke Smith. She is currently a monthly contributor to JMG Lifestyle, a millennials and entrepreneurs resource magazine.

Back in Nebraska, Brittnay is the Director of Talent Development & Recruitment for the Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Program Director for Norfolk Now where she works to attract other young professionals and families to the Norfolk area.




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NEWS RELEASE: Rural Futures Institute’s Connecting Young Nebraskans Network Announces Steering Team

Andrew Ambriz at 2016 CYN Summit


LINCOLN, Neb. — April 28, 2017 — Connecting Young Nebraskans, a network of the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska, has announced its 2017 steering team. For the next year, the team of 17 will direct the engagement and professional development efforts of the 840-member network of young leaders located throughout Nebraska.

Fourteen Nebraska communities—from Cody to West Point to McCook—are represented by the steering team as are many professions including economic development, tourism and education.

“Connecting Young Nebraskans is designed to be guided by a group of young leaders who have shown future-focused thinking and immense dedication to rural Nebraska,” said Chuck Schroeder, RFI Executive Director. “We are proud to work with these leaders and the entire network to facilitate critical conversations and actions that will benefit individuals and communities across the state.”

According to Connecting Young Nebraskans summit attendees in October, the biggest challenges young leaders face in rural communities include isolation, lack of formal transfer of leadership practices, leader burnout, limited opportunities to engage with peers and lack of professional development opportunities.

Connecting Young Nebraskans addresses each of these issues to connect, empower and retain young people ages 21 to 40 in rural communities. It expands young peoples’ networks, grows their professional and leadership skills and helps them think boldly on behalf of their communities. In total, 118 Nebraska communities, not including Lincoln and Omaha, are represented in the network.

“Connecting Young Nebraskans is all about the future, including motivating our young people and facilitating progress within our local communities that creates impacts,” said steering team member Chelsea Luthy, Community Development Specialist for Central Nebraska Economic Development District. “The Rural Futures Institute having the Connecting Young Nebraskans network is critical in terms of entrepreneurship and collaboration. RFI helps us ideate and makes our ideas available in a way that stimulates our rural areas.”


2017 Connecting Young Nebraskans Steering Committee

  • Ginger Ady | Ady Marketing & Consulting, Founder, North Platte, NE
  • Selena Aguilar | Nebraska State Fair, Entertainment Assistant, Grand Island, NE
  • Andrew Ambriz | McCook Economic Development, Interim Executive Director, McCook, NE
  • Bradley Averill | Nebraska Extension, Extension Educator, Neligh, NE
  • Mary Berlie | Grand Island Area Economic Development Corporation, Executive Vice President, Grand Island, NE
  • Tina Biteghe Bi Ndong | West Point Chamber of Commerce, Executive Director, West Point, NE
  • Tiffany Crouse | Hasting Downtown Center Association, Director, Hastings, NE
  • Abigail Frank | Full-Time M.A. Graduate Student, Neligh, NE
  • Jonathan Jank | Seward County Economic Development Corporation, Executive Director, Seward, NE
  • Chris Kreikemeier | Nielsen Center, Manager, West Point, NE
  • Chelsea Luthy | Central Nebraska Economic Development, Community Development Specialist, Cody, NE
  • Andrea McClintic | University of Nebraska-Lincoln Career Services, Associate Director of External Relations, Lincoln, NE
  • Jacie Milius | Southeast Research & Extension Center, Assistant Extension Educator, Nelson, NE
  • Penny Parker | Nebraska Total Care, Community Relations Coordinator, Kearney, NE
  • Crystal Ramm | Central Community College/Ord Learning Center, Regional Coordinator, Ord, NE
  • Kayla Schnuelle | Rural Futures Institute, Leadership Engagement Director, Diller, NE
  • Rhonda Veleba | York Chamber of Commerce, Towne Centre Coordinator, York, NE

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Why Taking Time to Plan Pays Off



Why Taking Time to Plan Pays Off

By Selena Aguilar, Nebraska State Fair Entertainment Assistant and CYN Steering Team Member

As someone who helps plan one of the largest events in the state I spend my days planning for anything and everything. What shade of blue are the volunteer’s table toppers? Where does one refrigerate butterflies? Where can I find a forklift? How much time is between two entertainment acts? Now, even though some things that I plan may be a little “out there,” there is one thing I plan that everyone can relate to—and that’s life.

When I say life-planning I’m not talking about wanting to be married in five years and have 3 kids within the next 10—or owning a business in 18 months. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just plan everything? I’m talking about day-to-day needs. Planning for daily activities relieves so much in-the-moment stress and allows more time in the day. Believe me, with the kind of hours I pull, you take every second you can.

As somewhat of a professional planner, here are three steps I’ve found to be the most helpful:


Create a Daily Routine.

It may seem repetitive, but when you create a routine for yourself, a decision never has to made. Think about when you first start a job. You’re slow as you start to learn, but once you know the drill you can fly through the work. When you translate this into, say, getting ready in the morning, you open more time for things you love to do—like catching some extra z’s.


Think Ahead.

Using a little bit of your free time to think ahead, makes life so much more efficient. Meal planning is becoming increasingly popular. Honestly, it’s magical. Sacrificing an hour of my Sunday so that I can pop some grilled chicken pita pizza in the microwave for 2 minutes instead of heating up a T.V. dinner or, worse yet, cooking a meal every night, is worth it. But meals aren’t the only thing I prepare ahead of time. I also hang my outfits together for the week so I can grab and go. I even plan which days to mow and clean the house.

The result? A whole lot less stress, and more free time to do what I enjoy.


Turn off Work.

This is a big one. When you are at home, you are at home—that means you’re not work. Obviously this doesn’t always work, believe me. You never know when one of the State Fair Queens is going to win Miss Nebraska…Congrats, Allison, by the way!

But do your due diligence to create some sort of separation.

Don’t feel guilty about leaving once your hours are logged and your work is done. Remembering yourself and your family is important. I promise you work is not as important. (Just don’t tell my boss I said that.) Make sure that when you are at your son’s football game or a pumpkin patch this fall with the family that you are actually present mentally as well. Whether it’s a big presentation or something else that’s been bothering you, turn off work. Live in the moment.

Lastly, despite the regimented life I may have led you to believe I have, I promise no one has it together 100 percent of the time.

But overall, when you open up more time for yourself, you also open up more leeway. Didn’t get to something tonight? Guess what, now you have more time and flexibility to do it tomorrow. If all else fails, remember to wake up every day like it was on purpose! Oh, and have a little fun.

How will you plan to create more time?

Selena Aguilar

Selena Aguilar

Entertainment Assistant | Nebraska State Fair
Join Selena on LinkedIn

Selena Aguilar is originally from Grand Island, Neb., where she returned after graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications in December 2016. Selena works as an entertainment assistant for the Nebraska State Fair, and serves as a member of the CYN Steering Team. She is passionate about fostering diversity and contributing to her community.



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