#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!