#RFIFellows In Action: Wahoo Final Summary

Celebrating the end of the “Visit531Nebraska” tour as they returned to their hometown, Wahoo!

It’s hard to believe our summer in Wahoo is coming to an end, but we are more than grateful for the wonderful experiences and learning opportunities we had this summer. Although our projects are wrapping up, we will carry many things from this summer with us far into the future.

“This summer showed us how important it is to see the possibilities. We all know how quickly our “normal” can change. Emerging on the other side of those changes will be easier if we better understand ourselves and where we want to be. Oscaline, Amanda, and Savannah moved many projects forward, but also helped us see our community differently and this will help us long after they are gone.”

Theresa Klein, Community Innovation Fellow

Savannah: This summer we came in with the idea that we’d spend our time helping revive businesses and getting projects started, but what we quickly learned was that there was already plenty happening in Wahoo. Almost every day, we have had the opportunity to meet with someone new to learn another perspective or another story about what makes Wahoo a thriving rural community that is focused on embracing their roots and has their eyes set on the future.

Our ideas and our perspectives were positively embraced from day one, and we felt as if every meeting we had, we learned something new and walked away with another valuable connection. It will be difficult to move away from a town like Wahoo, but the connections I’ve made here will undoubtedly carry with me through the remainder of my college experience. 

Oscaline: As the summer wraps up, I reflect on the first days when I moved to the community – the warm welcome I received, the sweetness of people whom I met, the excitement I had to get started, and the lessons I learned along the way. Now after a wonderful opportunity to work on different projects including a community guide, designing brochures and the H.O.P.E. campaign, I have learned many lessons that I will take with me on my next journey. 

Working with people who are different from me in various aspects made me realize that diversity goes deeper than what is seen on the outside. As a woman of color who is living in a time of social injustice, it made me realize how Wahoo is an inclusive community. Looking back I would say that this was such a stretching, yet rewarding experience in many ways. I am grateful for all this growth.

“With all the conversations happening in our country today about diversity and inclusion of everyone, we have had a lot of honest and open conversations with our fellows. Through this, I have learned so much about how to think beyond my little world here in Wahoo.”

Melissa Harrell, Community Innovation Fellow

Amanda: Through this experience, my eyes were opened as to what it takes to operate a rural community and truly help businesses and residents thrive. The amount of drive and dedication in the Wahoo community to make this happen is inspiring. 

We were welcomed with open arms and given the creative freedom this summer to work on projects that were challenging, yet aligned with our strengths and interests. We did our best to spark innovation, creativity, and a multitude of new ideas. 

Now it’s time for Wahoo to continue to develop a unified approach as to the direction they want to go and how they will get there. The relationships I built and the learning I experienced will outlast the summer weeks that flew by so quickly. I will always cherish my summer with RFI and the Wahoo community who supported us and did whatever it took to help us have the best summer possible.


#RFIFellows In Action: Ravenna Final Summary

By Ethan WeicheConnor McFaydenKori Siebert and Andromede “Andy” Uwase

As our time in Ravenna comes to a close, we’ve had a chance to reflect on what this experience has meant to each of us and what we are going to carry forward. It’s hard to believe that just a couple months ago, Ravenna was little more than a name on a map to us and now it has become a second home. We learned a lot from this small town, from the projects we dedicated our working hours to and the people that filled the spaces inbetween, and we are thankful that we were able to give something back to the community that welcomed us so warmly. With that, we’d like to take this last opportunity to tell you about the projects that meant the most to us. 

Kori & Andy: We have been working hard to finalize all of our projects, while also starting some new ones! Our main focus this summer has been with local businesses and marketing content. Through our interactions with business owners, we have both grown so much in the aspect of not only hearing the needs of others, but understanding where they’re coming from. We are glad that we helped bring more awareness to these businesses and to the growth of their operation in the future.

“This experience has been eye opening and transformational. I’ve learned new skills and gained experiences that can’t be taught in a classroom. If there is one thing that I will take away from this fellowship, it is that people are the most important thing. The relationships and friendships that I’ve built are so fulfilling and help grow towards progress, not only in myself but in the heart of this community.”

Kori Siebert

“I have worked this summer by contributing to Ravenna’s development and learning new marketing skills and strategies, which helped me better understand the importance of marketing for businesses. Through this experience, I have seen how young people are crucial to the development of rural communities.”

Andromede Uwase

Connor & Ethan: With most of our projects coming to a close, we’ve realized how much we’ve done for Ravenna, and in turn how much Ravenna has done for us. For example, our largest and most consistent project, landscaping the medians on Main St., will end with us submitting a final application to the Nebraska Department of Transportation, handing off our final calendar to our newly appointed garden club president, and then, waiting. Waiting because plants cannot be planted until next spring. This has taught us the value in planning for the future and thinking ahead; asking ourselves what the community members will need in the future has been a critical exercise in many of our projects.

“This experience has challenged me to think about what my actions will accomplish a year from now, 5 years from now, a decade from now. It’s difficult work to anticipate what will come in the future, especially in light of our current turbulent times, but it is crucial to achieving change in a big way.”

Connor McFayden

“This experience has been transformational in several ways, chief among which is how I have come to view ‘sustainable’ work. I am leaving Ravenna with further clarity that sustainability has as much to do with the people and those involved, as with the type of project; inspired and committed community members must be involved if a project is to have any meaningful lifespan and impact.”

Ethan Weiche


#RFIFellows In Action: Pierce County Final Summary

Marie and Judith with local ice cream shop owner, Wanda Backus

By Judith Grey and Marie Meis

As our time in Pierce County is coming to a close, we cannot help but be sad to leave Pierce County. We have been welcomed by the residents of this area, and we have loved every minute we have shared with them. Susan Norris has helped us form deep connections that will last long past our eight weeks here. 

“Pierce County offered so much I didn’t expect. Such as being able to form connections with so many great people and how often these rural communities have an event planned. Each town offers something unique and we hope our projects were able to capture that. Pierce County will always have a place in my heart.”

Marie Meis

Pierce County is a thriving area, and we got to see firsthand how much it has to offer. We feel very lucky that we could help with their marketing and promotion. Our community videos had a huge response from residents, and it is because there are people in rural Nebraska that are passionate about where they are from.

One way that we have grown is from working to put our ideas and plans to action. Marie typically struggles with idea creation and seeing where needs are. Judith is an idealistic person but can’t always see how to put my ideas into action. Together, we spent hours brainstorming how we could tackle the priorities for Pierce County and put our skills together. Ultimately, this led to us being able to produce seven videos, two logos, three community events, six flyers and much more in our short time here. It was only able to happen because of a great program, fantastic boss and supporting communities. 

“My experience in Pierce County impacted me as much as we impacted them–if not more. It’s inspiring to see the potential for change and the action needed to start rolling toward the goals.”

judith grey

As we leave Pierce County, we will be taking a lot with us. We are grateful for the connections we formed, the leadership skills we gained, and the knowledge of how to put our ideas into action. 


#RFIFellows In Action: Pawnee County Final Summary

Rachel interviewing Dr. Robert Diffendal who is a retired UNL geology professor.

By Rachel Williss

This summer was chaos, I must say. Even now that I can look back on my summer experience in full, I have trouble organizing it into words. But if there is one thing I’ve learned from the thousands of photos I’ve taken this summer, it is that the picture you see depends greatly on the lens you use, the angle you look from and the details you choose to focus on.

Probably the most important lesson I’ve learned is that I am more independent and adaptable than I thought I was. The changes and uncertainty that came with COVID-19 were the start of it, but our community team and schedule went through a lot of changes as well. In the future I will have more confidence to embrace change, although right now it seems to be the only way forward. 

I have also been able to refine my technical skills like photography, video editing, and graphic design. Although I have taken related courses at UNL, dedicating my entire summer to those skills has made me more comfortable with them and given me a portfolio that I can be proud of. 

Lastly, I have gained a new appreciation for learning the history and story behind everything. The museums and old buildings of Pawnee County are filled with good stories, and I wish I would have time to hear them all. I am motivated to learn more about the history of my own town as well when I return this weekend.

As I wrap up my experience here in Pawnee County, I am leaving behind a starting place for them to build their brand as a tourism destination. Going forward, the Pawnee County Promotional Network (PCPN) will be able to:

  • Continue to build the Twitter, Facebook and Instagram profiles (@seepawNEecounty) that I created and set a structure for. Having an online presence will help them reach a wider audience, show what the county has to offer to people farther away and have an accessible method of communication with potential tourists. 
  • Pull content for social media and other marketing materials from the photo library of roughly 1500 of the photos I took throughout the county, combed through and sorted. This will make it faster and easier for them to develop marketing content in the future, as well as providing a more cohesive look.
  • Use the videos I constructed from interviews, video and photos of interesting places throughout the county to create a self-guided, county-wide driving tour. They will also be able to use the raw footage I took for the videos in other promotional media as they see fit. The driving tour is something that has worked well as a promotional tool in other places, which is why the PCPN wanted someone with the skills and the time to develop one for Pawnee County. It will encourage people who would normally just drive through the area to actually stop and explore each town. 

I can’t wait to see how the projects will develop in the future. I will definitely go back to Pawnee County to visit, and I am sure I will see new angles to take pictures from. It really is the perfect day trip destination (and I am not just saying that because I get paid to). 


#RFIFellows In Action: Chadron Final Summary

For one of our weekly team Zoom calls we met in Kerri’s office to conduct our meeting. Left to Right: Sawyer Smith, Tyra Reardon, Terri Haynes (on the computer), and Kerri Rempp. 

By Tyra Reardon and Sawyer Smith

This summer has absolutely flown by quickly. It is hard to believe that our time in Chadron is coming to a close this week. We have been able to create a lasting impact not only on the Chadron community, but also the entire Nebraska panhandle. 

Tyra: This summer I focused my time on creating resources for Educational Service Unit 13 (ESU 13) and Discover Northwest Nebraska. I created two comprehensive mental health needs assessments for ESU 13 to implement. These assessments will be used to gauge the needs of the entire panhandle when it comes to mental health in schools.

After creating the needs assessments, I worked on the ESU 13 caseload data dashboard. This data dashboard will showcase the demographics of the students currently receiving mental health services, highlight trends, and identify weaknesses. For Discover Northwest Nebraska, I created merchandising mockups and uploaded tourist attractions coordinates on Google Maps. 

“I look forward to being able to further better myself and those around me by using the skills I have learned from being an RFI fellow. This has truly been an unforgettable experience!”

Tyra reardon

Sawyer: This summer, I spent the majority of my time focusing on the website redesign for Discover Northwest Nebraska. This redesign helped modernize the website, and helped make the site easier to navigate. The new website, when launched, will showcase all of what Northwest Nebraska has to offer its visitors.

Additionally, I worked alongside Tyra on the comprehensive mental health needs assessments for ESU 13. Beyond that, I had the opportunity to translate into Spanish the needs assessment that will be given to parents, in order to help make it accessible to more families. 

We were also able to volunteer within the community. We have created a PowerPoint presentation for the Dawes County Joint Planning Committee to use to advocate for their organization, a mental health community providers brochure for Chadron Public Schools, and working at the concession stands at the Chadron Nationals baseball games.

“Being an RFI fellow this summer has definitely taught me a lot about being an inclusive leader. I have learned skills that I will likely use for the rest of my life, and I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to learn and grow through this experience.

Sawyer Smith

We would like to thank the Dawes County community for their hospitality. We will forever remember our experiences as RFI Fellows thanks to our time here in Chadron!


#RFIFellows In Action: Auburn Final Summary

Brittney and Emma helping local business owner, Sonia Kistner, with her store’s Facebook page.

By Emma Hoffschneider and Brittney Emerson

This summer we had the opportunity to grow not only as individuals, but also as a collective group. The valuable tools and lessons learned will stay with us for the remainder of both our personal and professional lives. 

“I applied for Rural Futures because I love my rural hometown. RFI is making a big impact on small town Nebraska and I am forever grateful for this experience.”

Brittney Emerson

Through this experience,we learned that there is no “cookie cutter” definition of inclusive leadership because it is a multitude of things. It’s welcoming diverse groups to the table and seeing how our differences can become unique assets. We now recognize the importance of each person’s unique strengths and weaknesses. We have grown our cultural mindsets. We have learned how our diverse cultures not only makes us unique, but also strengthens our team. We can confidently say that we grew as effective team members and inclusive leaders. 

“Inclusive leadership is not only listening to everyone’s voice, but also recognizing everyone’s unique background and mindset.”

Emma Hoffschnieder

Additionally, we are blessed to have had the opportunity to learn from such a passionate group of ladies in Auburn. Julia, Kim and Leslie showed us their passions, frustrations, and future dreams while emulating the dignity and grace of inclusive leaders. 

We have loved the journey that RFI has taken us on. It was not only a time of great joy, but also an experience of enormous growth. Auburn, Nebraska, thank you for welcoming us into your community and giving us a new place to keep in our hearts! 


#RFIFellows In Action: Arapahoe Final Summary!

By Aline Abayo and Megan Tofflemire

Throughout the past eight weeks there have been several occasions on which we were asked what we wanted to take away from this experience. Our answers to the question were somewhat expected: real world work experience, greater sense of self-confidence, more inclusive leadership skills, and connections that will help us kickstart a future career. What was unexpected was the immense amount of growth and knowledge that we were able to see in such a short period of time. In just eight weeks, we have gained all that we had hoped for and far more than we could have imagined.

“The summer of 2020 will not be easily forgotten. For many, the Coronavirus pandemic has made sure of that. But for me, there is also a more positive reason. 2020 is the year that I started an 8-week journey into the unknown and reclaimed a sense of confidence as a leader. The summer of 2020 gifted me with a growth mindset and passion for rural community development that will follow me into my future.”

Megan Tofflemire

We had no idea that we would be on a first name basis with the fantastic owner of the Arapahoe Floral shop, visiting her nearly every day and often giving in to the fun sales she had to offer. We could not have imagined the support that we would feel from the City Council, who were incredibly welcoming and accepting of our ideas and presence. We never would have anticipated the kind-hearted people who took time to invite us into their businesses, homes and hearts.

As a couple of outsiders, Arapahoe embraced us and showed us the true meaning of community. Community is the reason people choose to live in rural Nebraska. Community is the greatest commodity that our state has to offer. This experience has shown us the need to invest in rural communities and ensure that this sense of community is able to reach as many people as possible. 

“Being in this community built a passion in me to be an agent of change and inclusivity. I have grown to appreciate our differences and learn that those differences can bring us closer instead of tearing us apart. This change was not an easy adjustment to make, but it is worth it in the long run.”

Aline Abayo

For some of our projects such as the entrepreneurship competition, update to online presence, volunteer and tourism guides, and community promotional video, we were able to see the results first hand. For these projects that are expected to come to a close after our departure such as the beautification projects (the mural and downtown flower pots), marketing for the City’s new Economic Development Plan (LB840 funding), connecting alumni and colleges with community workforce openings/opportunities, and the youth career investment project, we are creating implementation plans to ensure that the community continues to reap the anticipated rewards no matter who oversees them. 

As we prepare to return to our own communities in one short week, we can’t help but to pack the lessons that this amazing experience has graced us with. In combination with our newly inspired passion for rural community development, we hope to put our greater senses of self-awareness, communication skills, and knowledge to use. Our hope is to be ambassadors and advocates for rural Nebraska wherever we are and whatever we are doing!


#RFIFellows in Action: Arapahoe

The RFI team visited Arapahoe! From left: Kim Peterson, Kate Warner, Aline Abayo, Megan Tofflemire, Angie Moore, Samantha Guenther, Helen Fagan

By Aline Abayo and Megan Tofflemire

The last couple of weeks have been quiet and busy at the same time. Some of the projects we shared with you in the recent update are now coming to an end. We have two brochures ready to be printed and sent to the community, and the entrepreneurship competition is scheduled on this Friday, July 24. We are happy to see some finished products from our work so far, and we look forward to seeing our other projects come to fruition!

Since we last wrote, we have been working on two beautification projects which are now in their implementation stage. One of these projects was organizing a community mural that could make people stop and appreciate what Arapahoe has to offer. We have been working closely with artists from IMPACT Art to create a design that is modern, meaningful to the community, and gorgeous. The support from the community, along with the City Council, has been extremely helpful and encouraging. 

The second beautification project was planning to get 16 planters filled with beautiful plant life in our downtown business district in an effort to create a more inviting appearance. After pitching our ideas to the City Council, we have gotten support for both of these projects to be funded by our community LB840 money. We are incredibly excited to see how these projects turn out!

In an attempt to make our community more beautiful, we didn’t stop in our downtown. We have been working with an outstanding member of the community Nate Swanson, who was kind enough to help us create a community video that shows the beauty of Arapahoe. Last week, our team met Nate and flew a drone around the city to take videos and photos. The community members are sending in beautiful pictures of town to be in the video. Currently, Nate is busy editing and putting together all parts. 

Moreover, we have been helping businesses with their online presence. We helped business owners create and manage google my business accounts, Facebook pages, Shopify accounts, and other marketing and selling websites depending on the type of the business. We weren’t experts in this field, but we had to learn and make sure that we have as much information available for business owners. Grow Nebraska’s presentation at the Arapahoe Chamber of Commerce explained how important it is to have businesses’ information out there and had some of them reach out to us afterward for us to help them with their accounts.

“I think that this experience has created a very rare outcome. There has been a mutual benefit for not only the community but also us as fellows. I think it’s really interesting when the community members tell us that we are bringing a new spark and a lively energy to the community. For me the community has created a parallel impact on my spirit. I feel as though a fire has been lit under me, inspiring a restored passion for community.”

Megan Tofflemire

With only 2 weeks left, we have started coming up with plans to make sure that the team that will take over the projects will understand what our goals were and what we wanted the community to gain from them. We plan on making reports of how we did all the projects we worked on, and how they can manage them in the future. 

“Coming up with ideas is the easiest part of the process; everyone can do that. However, making sure that those ideas change people’s lives is what makes us unique.”

Aline Abayo

To conclude, the last few weeks have been full of learning moments for both of us. We hope that our ideas and projects will inspire members of this community to work together and continue to make Arapahoe grow in the future!


#RFIFellows in Action: Ravenna

Ravenna Community Foundation honors the RFI interns through donating money towards their projects in Ravenna.

By Ethan WeicheConnor McFaydenKori Siebert and Andromede “Andy” Uwase

It’s been three weeks since our last update and we have been busier than ever! Since then we have wrapped up old projects, started new ones, and done more than our fair share of downward dogs (special thanks to Jacquie at Rural Roots Yoga!).

Seeing some of our work start to pay off in the community has been very rewarding. The scavenger hunt night was extremely successful, and we are anticipating a similar outcome for the upcoming community concert. We all agree that being able to see and experience tangible results such as these are a major perk of the job. However, these successes don’t come without their challenges. Every day presents us with new problems to solve, which only makes the process that much more rewarding.

“The fellows have brought enthusiasm and passion into Ravenna and renewed the community’s excitement. Overall they face every challenge with grit and every project with determination.” – Amber Ross, Community Innovation Fellow

Kori & Andy

We have been in full force trying to get as much accomplished before we have to leave. A lot of our time has been put towards marketing and social media to create a stronger online presence. Last Friday we sent out our first monthly newsletter that will go out to all businesses, and we are currently batch working more for the future!

“I never want this experience to end. Ravenna has become my home away from home, and I can’t imagine leaving here at the end of July to go back to school. I have gained so much hands on experience, and I’m just so thankful for everything and everyone that has made this fellowship incredibly life changing!”

Kori Siebert

A program called Sentext has also been a priority during our time here. The idea behind this program is to keep community members up to date and in the loop with everything happening in town. Our business highlights are a constant everyday occurrence, and we just uploaded many of the videos to our “Ravenna Chamber of Commerce” YouTube channel.

“This experience showed me how rural Nebraska communities are essential in the development of the state. I met hardworking people, committed and amazing leaders, and inspiring business owners. I’ve enjoyed hearing their stories and seeing them at events, as well as getting to share my culture and experiences with them. I am grateful for all the skills, people, and challenges Ravenna has offered me this summer.”

Andromede “Andy” Uwase

Small Business Saturday has also become an essential social media tool as we’ve started to bring more awareness to the unique businesses in Ravenna. On top of all our projects, we have been working on finalizing the small details of our upcoming FREE concert at the Ravenna golf course on Saturday at 8 p.m. 

Connor & Ethan

Since our last update we have continued to push for putting plants in the median, put together a first draft of a brochure for the hike/bike trail and pulled off a popular scavenger hunt and cruise night. In order to accomplish this work, we have had to pitch the idea to put plants in the medians of main street at a recent City Council Meeting. While we intended to only propose our idea for the plants, we also got a unique glimpse of how a rural town operates at the local government level. It was nice to see and engage with community members about both our specific project and what they wanted to see done in general. While we were nervous, it was a wonderful experience and reaffirmed our belief in the power of rural towns and their resilience when coming together.

“This program has shown me just how much passion exists in rural communities. You get to meet so many wonderful, hardworking people that are willing to step up to make their hometown a better place. It’s inspiring to see them in action, and gratifying to know that we could help them in a big way.”

Connor McFayden 

Amidst all the meetings, clue-writing sessions and fights with Adobe software, we have also found the time for some smaller projects, too, including: writing grants for the local EMS team and Historical Society, tracking down blurbs for a Ravenna brochure and setting up an Amazon SMILE account for a local non-profit. 


#RFIFellows in Action: Pierce County

By Judith Grey and Marie Meis

We have seen a lot of our projects moving forward over the last couple weeks! We know our work is important because we are giving the communities within the county a jumpstart, if not a booster, to keep on moving forward in the right direction of improving themselves and taking advantages of their opportunities. 

Since we last wrote, we have put on a community event celebrating the opening of Osmond’s new pool. It was a heartwarming experience to see a pool celebration turn into an elaborate event with various moving parts. The newscast from US92, a local food truck and an ice cream truck offered their services to add to the event. It was a much needed event for the community of Osmond, and it was nice to see the positive interaction of a community that we get to be a part of. 

We have also been working on creating community videos and recently posted the community video for Osmond. The stats were astounding to see that the community responses on Facebook with 7.7k views, 99 shares, and 11k people reached! In addition, there have been 63 new likes since we were placed in Pierce County. It was moving to see the responses from the community on Facebook that the town of Osmond was represented well. 

Additionally, we have completed flyers to encourage people in the county to get on shopwhereilive.com and also to claim their domain on google maps. These projects help our business owners have the opportunity to have a worldwide customer base and be accessible to those who travel through the community or newcomers to the community. 

“Our projects are allowing me to see how much a rural area has to offer and why each community in Pierce County is so valuable. I’ve realized how much I can do with simple actions and how much collaborative work can help a project. Having a focus on assets rather than deficits has been one of the biggest takeaways for me not for just future projects, but the way I look at my life.”

Marie Meis

We also have had the opportunity to sit in different Chamber and City Council meetings to gain a perspective on what each community is going through and how our work is impacting them. These meetings enabled us to get to know the personality of each town so that we can efficiently cater to them. 

The variety of work that we were given truly gave us the flexibility of switching to different projects when we needed a mental break. We are able to switch from one task to focus on another which allows us to be motivated to do more projects. A bonus is that we get to see the real impact of what we’re doing each day. Our videos, events, posters, and everything else are being shown across the county and starting real conversations.

Through it all, we have learned about how rural communities operate and stay alive with strong communication because it is noticeable how they need each other to function. In a rural community, everyone knows each other and that influences the great or not so great results in how they stay alive. We have learned the weight and significance of how one person can trigger great things, and how important it is to utilize each other as a soundboard to reach the goal that we’re all aiming for.

“Pierce County is looking for change. We are making an impact because they have been encouraging and accepting the opportunities we put before them.”

Judith Grey