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The Pulse of Rural



Articles & Releases

#RFIFellows in Action: Arapahoe

July 3, 2020
By Aline Abayo and Megan Tofflemire Making the move to Arapahoe instilled an unmatched sense of excitement, hope, and ambition into our minds. We were coming into this community hoping to get connected, make a change, and contribute to their community …
Left: Megan; Right: Aline

By Aline Abayo and Megan Tofflemire

Making the move to Arapahoe instilled an unmatched sense of excitement, hope, and ambition into our minds. We were coming into this community hoping to get connected, make a change, and contribute to their community even if we weren’t sure how exactly to do that. 

We started by creating a survey to gain a better understanding of our small-town businesses and organizations in Arapahoe. We decided to throw on our masks and head out into the community to distribute as many surveys as possible. Though face to face interactions were not quite the same through the barrier of a mask, we were able to get our voices out there, meet the people, and initiate relationships that would help us turn the results of this survey into real change. 

“It is important for everyone to contribute toward the same goal now more than ever for our communities to recover from losses caused by the COVID 19. Living in a small-town community taught me that everyone needs to be an agent of change for our communities to grow.”

Aline Abayo

Since we have started, we have worked to create two brochures – one highlighting volunteer opportunities available within the community and the other guiding visitors and community members toward Arapahoe’s greatest assets and attractions. We have planned a local entrepreneurship competition for the youth in the community, hopefully inspiring an entrepreneurial mindset that can come to life within the lives of the next generation in Arapahoe. We were able to reach out to and meet with individuals from the Nebraska Department of Roads in an effort to gain a better understanding of how we can best capitalize on our unique location (being located along the intersection of Highways 34 and 283). Additionally, we have presented to the Arapahoe City Council to discuss the implementation of a mural on the wall of our downtown Senior Center, lining the three-block business district with potted plants, and incorporating some plant life “where the hi-ways meet”.

We have worked closely alongside Samantha Guenther and our two community innovators Angie Moore and Kate Warner who have together, created an exceptional team of mentors for us. 

“Megan and Aline have opened our eyes to see that we are already a well-rounded community with more things to offer than we realized. They  have also brought a youthful energy to the businesses, giving them/us a needed push to make some changes.”

Angie Moore

In addition, we have been graced with the knowledge of our City Office staff who are invested in seeing our community prosper. Together they helped us come up with projects that we were both confident and passionate about. Their presence has really encouraged and empowered us to make an impact in Arapahoe. 

“I have lived in Arapahoe, Nebraska, for four weeks now and already I am genuinely invested in this community. I got caught saying, “in our community” on several occasions while presenting some new ideas to our City Council. I didn’t think twice about it, which is why I think that this experience is so incredible. Because of the Rural Futures Institute fellowship and immersive mindset that we are encouraged to have, I truly am invested in seeing the community of Arapahoe develop as if it were my own home town.”

Megan Tofflemire

These projects have been slow to bloom, but the time that we have spent putting them together and the growth that we foresee resulting is beyond worth it. We have more new projects in the works and can’t wait to see where our innovation and inspiration take us here in Arapahoe! Stay tuned!

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#RFIFellows in Action: Pawnee County

July 3, 2020
By Rachel Williss It is crazy to think this is already our fourth week in Pawnee County!  We are so glad that we are able to complete our internship in-person, since that was in question due to COVID-19. It would …
Left: Kate Osbon; Right: Rachel Williss

By Rachel Williss

It is crazy to think this is already our fourth week in Pawnee County! 

We are so glad that we are able to complete our internship in-person, since that was in question due to COVID-19. It would have been hard to truly get a feel for the community through Zoom and impossible to take pictures of the locations without being able to visit them. Some of our plans, such as event planning, had to be put on hold because of the restrictions, but there is still a lot to do.

Our focus has been on tourism and marketing development in the area. It has been fun to explore the museums, campgrounds, restaurants and other places that are unique to Pawnee County. It feels weird sometimes to get paid to take pictures of cool places when it doesn’t seem like work! We have three main projects we have been working on.

The first project is to create a Pawnee County Driving Tour. The goal is to create a route of places in Pawnee County that tourists would enjoy and develop videos that explain each place. We have been recording interviews with people who know about each place, whether it be the history, relevance, or even geology.

For the second project, we were tasked with developing social media content. The goal is to create a social media presence that will show potential tourists what Pawnee County has to offer. We have been taking photos and collecting information to post about, and just started accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — @seepawNEecounty!

The third project includes designing and administering needs assessment surveys to the Table Rock community. The goal is to create surveys that will be distributed to have people express their needs and goals for the community to community leaders. They will assess the need for a daycare, as well as other potential future developments. We have drafted and revised the surveys, and we are now finalizing them. 

We have been working primarily with Kenny Edwards and Sharla Sitzman, who are both on many boards of leadership in the area. The biggest lesson they have taught us is that in a rural community, it is often the same group of people that hold leadership positions and move the community forward. A lot of people talk and come up with ideas, but it takes commitment and skill to actually follow through with those ideas.

This experience has helped us grow personally by allowing us to see the value in gaining multiple perspectives — no matter what you are doing. While interviewing people for the video tour, it was interesting to hear the different perspectives about the area, whether it be science or history. There are also differences in what people notice based on which community in the area they are from or how long they have lived in the area.

We have both grown professionally, as well. COVID-19 created hectic situations for communication and scheduling, but they were obstacles that will help us better manage stress and uncertainty in our future careers. Now at the half-way point of our time in Pawnee County, our focus is going to shift to strengthening the projects and preparing them to be handed off to be continued by community members after we go back to UNL.

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#RFIFellows in Action: Pierce County

June 29, 2020
By Judith Grey and Marie Meis We are now three weeks into our experience in Pierce County, and we’ve gotten a start on all nine projects for the area. Our projects include:n Working towards more digitally connected communities Creating social media …
Left: Judith Grey, Right: Marie Meis

By Judith Grey and Marie Meis

We are now three weeks into our experience in Pierce County, and we’ve gotten a start on all nine projects for the area. Our projects include:n

  • Working towards more digitally connected communities
  • Creating social media plans
  • Participating in Pierce’s ECAP process
  • Putting on community events
  • Working on virtual community events

While our projects have been the forefront of our work, we’ve also been immersing ourselves in the community. Our RFI Community Innovation Fellows Susan Norris, director of Pierce County Economic Development, has been introducing us to business owners and area leaders. We attend each city council meeting, chamber of commerce meeting, economic development meeting and all other relevant meetings to our projects and county. It is at these meetings that we see area leaders, we hear issues that are important to the communities and we understand what priorities each individual town holds. Getting this perspective helps in each project we do as we try to portray the county the best we can.

“Being in a rural area has opened my eyes to what it takes to make a rural community thrive. There are so many hidden leaders through the community, and it takes each one to make sure the area is always moving forward. I cannot wait to live in a small town myself and be one of those agents of change.”

Marie Meis

One of our projects has been creating a YouTube channel with videos for the county. We set out to capture what we had learned so far. Our office space became each community as we continually gathered video clips. A community leader offered his drone, and we quickly learned drone skills in a day. Through these videos, we are getting a more well-rounded view of each town. 

While at different meetings, we noticed two different organizations missing a logo. The Pierce County Economic Development office and Pierce ECAP. We volunteered our skills and came up with logo options for each. We sent out surveys and gathered feedback to create one final logo for each. During this, we realized that projects aren’t always presented to us directly. If we see a need, we don’t need to be asked to fill it. It’s part of our job to see the gaps and brainstorm how we can fill them.

“This may sound cliche, but truly this experience has shown me how much change I need to be effective as a team member. Also, it provides the opportunity to make an impact on the others ‘ lives and see visual results. Overall, this work hasn’t shifted my perspective, but rather opened it by providing insight and opportunities for the future.”

Judith Grey

With community celebrations canceled or adapted, we saw a need for an event in each town. We have planned socially distant community events for Osmond, Pierce and Plainview for our community service. In Plainview, we will be holding a sidewalk chalk contest for five different age groups to win chamber dollars. In Pierce, we’ll be releasing a scavenger hunt list of items you can find in Pierce and around the house. The first person to email us their pictures and the two most creative will win gift cards to Pierce businesses. And finally, to celebrate Osmond’s new pool’s opening, we will have a pool celebration giveaway. We’ll have a booth set up outside of the pool with a spinning wheel to have participants spin it to see what pool-related prize they win. Each event has been created and tailored to the community and has partnerships with other organization and businesses to celebrate the summer the best we can. 

Through this whole experience, the most important part has been the people. Being a part of their county and seeing what’s important to them has driven our whole experience. Residents choose to live here because they know how much the county has to offer, and we get the chance to learn more about it each day. 

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#RFIFellows in Action: Ravenna

June 26, 2020
By Ethan Weiche, Connor McFayden, Kori Siebert and Andromede “Andy” Uwase After three exciting weeks in Ravenna we all agree that we are thrilled with what we have accomplished thus far, we are excited to see what we will accomplish …

By Ethan Weiche, Connor McFayden, Kori Siebert and Andromede “Andy” Uwase

From left: Gena McPherson, Community Innovation Fellow, Ethan Weich, Andy Uwase, Kori Siebert, Connor McFayden, Amber Ross, Community Innovation Fellow

After three exciting weeks in Ravenna we all agree that we are thrilled with what we have accomplished thus far, we are excited to see what we will accomplish in the coming weeks and we could all use a nap!

Along those lines, we have had no trouble finding an adequate work-life balance; us interns regularly drop in for some pre-work yoga classes together and will oftentimes end the day with a team movie + dinner. Fun team-building activities aside, we have found the work immensely gratifying and fulfilling. We approach each day as a new opportunity to make a difference and broaden our perspective, experiences that we would be happy to elaborate on below.

Kori & Andromede: We have wasted no time getting our foot in the door with the local businesses here in Ravenna. Through conducting interviews with them we are learning more about their operations while simultaneously creating marketing content to bring them more attention and customers outside of Ravenna. We have also been meeting with businesses to help create their online storefront on a one-stop-shop called Shop Where I Live (SWIL). Aside from the work with local businesses, we have also been creating Facebook live videos and events, flyers, brochures and content photos for a new website. We’re just scratching the surface and are excited to see what the future has in store for us.

Coming into this experience I didn’t realize how much Ravenna would affect my future endeavors. I have found my passion for helping small businesses be heard, being able to hear their personal stories while also marketing them has been extremely enriching. I’ve only been in this community for three weeks now and I know without a doubt that through this opportunity I have found the passion I want to pursue for my future.

Kori Siebert

Growing up in a big city, I am enjoying the small welcoming community I have found in Ravenna. I am learning so much about ways of helping and contributing to their economic development by talking to different local businesses, an experience that I am excited to use in my future career. I have also been enjoying the diverse community at work which is opening my mind to the new cultures, ideas and activities.

Andromede “Andy” Uwase

Connor & Ethan: The majority of our work so far has been working with Ravenna’s government and nonprofits on a variety of projects. We facilitated discussions between the mayor, public works and interested community members regarding the future of main street’s medians, and are currently helping them draft a long-term landscaping plan for those areas. We also took on the Ravenna Area Vision Foundation’s fundraising mission for a long-awaited Hike/Bike trail, working on brochures, events, and virtual fundraising materials. Lastly, in what’s become a bit of a passion project for the boys’ team, we have designed and advertised for a city-wide scavenger hunt for the community to enjoy. Overall, both of us have found the work deeply enriching.

I have been exposed to various professional projects in the past three weeks and have found the entire process surrounding grant writing to be surprisingly rewarding; from tracking down the right materials, discussing the relevant points to emphasize, typing a punchy submission, and even proofreading the final draft. It has made me seriously consider a career in grant writing and/or proofreading.

Ethan Weiche

Coming from the Omaha area, I have enjoyed seeing a new side of my home state. I feel like I understand the issues facing rural Nebraska in a much more personal way. Working in a small town has its challenges, but seeing the impact of your work on such a tight-knit community is tremendously satisfying. I can see myself putting down roots in a community like this in the future.

Connor McFayden

In sum, us interns have been extremely well received — so much so that we don’t think we’ll go back to school in the fall! We are tremendously grateful to our fantastic community leaders, lodging providers and everyone who makes Ravenna, Ravenna.

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