This Week In Serviceship 2018: Week Ten!

Broken Bow, Neb.

When considering the fact that we are finishing up our last full week here in Broken Bow, it is hard to believe how fast the summer went. Our time spent here has been so great – we have met so many amazing members of this community as well as Custer County as a whole. Our projects have wrapped up nicely and we are excited to be able to give some final updates.

“This serviceship gave me insight I otherwise wouldn’t have gotten into the world of local government, economic development and the importance of small town innovation in rural Nebraska.”



Our Sturgis project wrapped up nicely with banners hung up around town at various businesses as well as the park, the Barn, and the entrances into Broken Bow. These banners were obtained through Coca-Cola and Budweiser due to those companies being official sponsors of the Sturgis bike rally. Our Sturgis cards have been distributed and we decided to place more at the Visitors Center or the Barn as well as a water station/ bike repair tent that pops up in a restaurants parking lot.

Some of our final progress on the YMCA project has been getting key community members on board for a YMCA activities director recruited to come to the county. We have met with Optimist Club – the current group that is heading up most of the youth sports. They were excited about having someone to lead these programs, though they are still happy to volunteer their time to simply help.

Diamond Youth Organization (DYO) will be contacted in a few weeks once baseball season is over. They will be the last group to reach out to before things can really be moved forward. On July 25th we had the opportunity to tour Adam’s Land and Cattle. This was an amazing chance to see the huge facility that they have south of town and learn a little bit more about the industry.

Jessica gave a presentation to the City Council about the Leadership Certified Community. All members, including mayor Cecil Burt, were in favor and excited for the opportunity. Only a few more components are left to add to the document before it will be sent to the State of Nebraska Economic Development.

“I am so thankful for the opportunity to come to Custer County and learn from the amazing individuals here. I have learned some invaluable lessons and am so excited to continue to use the tools I have been given during the past 10 weeks of my serviceship.”



Leanne’s final article will be in the Custer County Chief Wednesday August 1st, coincidentally our last day in Broken Bow. Her article focused on the mammoth remains found south of where the Comstock concerts are held annually.

Our final days will be filled with spending time at the Custer County Fair and tying up any other loose ends. Overall, this opportunity has been amazing and we are already looking forward to visiting the community in years to come.




Columbus, Neb.

“This is the end of my part in Columbus, but they are on the cusp of some amazing stuff here.”



We have finished up our time in Columbus and have wrapped up or handed off all of our projects. The Columbus Area Future Fund had us working on creating marketing materials. We took videos and pictures of the Fund Advisory Committee members and used them to create monthly newsletters. The videos will also be used to promote the fund in the future.

During our time with the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce we have worked on four different projects. We updated, rebranded and advertised the community calendar, Good Times.

We also held an event to reenergize the community brand, Something Good. The event was held over the course of two weeks, we posted trivia questions, held pop-up booths and chose winners through daily drawings.

Throughout the summer we planned and held Interns’ Night Out for the interns in the area. During those events, we offered dinner and had an activity, one night we had the local airboaters association give the interns rides down the Platte River.

In September, Columbus will be holding an event in conjunction with Young Nebraskans Week. We have been an integral part of the planning process for that event. We formed a committee and created a plan for them to follow in the months leading up to the event. We are looking forward to seeing how the event turns out.

When we asked KC Belitz what his favorite part of having us this summer was, he said, “The practical side is that you guys got actual work done. You worked on projects that we would not have done otherwise. The flip side of that is the staff had the chance to learn from both of you. What you each brought from your backgrounds and demographics and then also what you brought together are things that we all learned from. We will use that for a long time.” Kara Asmus replied, “I just love your enthusiasm and how you jumped in and gave 110% from the moment you got here. Your perspective, fresh ideas and participation exceeded my expectation.”

“We came here to make a difference for them, but they made a difference in us.”






Cozad, Neb.

One of our main projects this summer was the collaborative work on the First Impressions Program between Cozad and Ogallala. The First Impressions Program provides an opportunity for communities to learn about existing strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of the first-time visitor. The results from a First Impressions visit can serve as the basis for community action. This tool is particularly useful because as a matter of human nature, all communities have difficulities viewing their surroundings as others – customers, visitors, potential residents, and potential businesses – see them. Our views are skewed by over-familiarization, a lack of differing perspectives, expectations, and a reluctance to be completely honest with our neighbors when dealing with difficult issues, such as the appearance of buildings, customer service, and the maintenance of public faciities.

Volunteers from two somewhat similar communities agree to do unannounced visits and then report on their findings.  Participants become “secret shoppers” for the day to discover what they can about their sister community. This summer we’ve compiled and streamlines the feedback the teams provided about Cozad and Ogallala. Last week, we presented to Ogallala about the challenges and opportunities seen from a visitor’s perspective. Similarly, next week, we will be presenting the findings to community stakeholders in Cozad. In addition, we’ve included results from a recent community survey done by the library. This data will enhance what we are saying but backing it with community member views.

“The opportunity to spend the summer in a rural community shows you just how much Nebraska has to offer.”




Utilizing the information uncovered through the First Impressions Program, Ogallala and Cozad are applying for a grant through the Sherwood Foundation to take action on the opportunities presented. Property owners, businesses, and home owners along the highways and interstate corridors into the towns will be able to apply for matching grant funds to make aesthetic improvements. Clean-up and improve the aesthetics of the highway and interstate corridors into Cozad and Ogallala.

These projects can include public space improvements including landscaping: trees, shrubs, or permanent elements; professional removal of eyesores; compliance with local codes; murals; and public green spaces. Funding can provide property owners matching grants for replacement of boarded, missing, or broken windows; painting of structures; façade improvements; lighting or illumination of blighted areas; and demolition of dilapidated structures. Businesses and community organizations can use the grant to modernize websites of businesses, civic organizations, local administration, and tourist attractions to encourage a welcoming feel towards potential residents and companies.

We are excited to wrap up this project by celebrating the achievements and embracing the opportunities with the community members of Cozad. We hope to hear more about the status of our grant this fall and will be excited to see how Cozad develops in the future.




Norfolk, Neb.

As we wrap up our last full week in the Norfolk community, we are finishing up our projects with both the City of Norfolk and the departments we’ve been working with on that assignment, along with our projects with Daycos. Our next couple of days will be filled with coffee dates, lunch outings, and dinner get togethers to say goodbye to our mentors, co-workers, and all of the wonderful community members we have had the awesome opportunity of working with this summer.

“This serviceship experience has enabled me to grow my strengths and leverage them to leave the most positive impact possible on the Norfolk community.”



We have spent much of the past two weeks presenting our findings to many leadership and business groups in Norfolk. We do a large overview of the Rural Futures Institute and our projects with Daycos and the City of Norfolk, and then we dive into our strategies for cross-promoting business and up-selling Norfolk. We have developed an activity called “Griswold’s Norfolk Vacation” that has our audience try to identify a different business to recommend the disruptive Griswold’s to for every item on their very detailed and determined shopping list for their week away in Norfolk. It brings to light all of the noteworthy businesses that their community has and the impact that cross-promoting can have on their overall economy and culture.

One of the most successful presentations that we had was a focus group discussion that we held for all of Norfolk’s retail business owners. We invited the twenty-five businesses that we did Secret Shopper surveys on, along with many others. We shared with them the results and the data that we collected and where we believe the gaps are in their community. We gave them great action steps to start cross-promoting within their own businesses.

The portfolio that we will hand into the City of Norfolk when we finish our internship this summer will include many projects, strategies, and ideas to answer their original question to us: “How can the community of Norfolk cross promote all areas of retail?” The first example of this is a completed assessment of the Secret Shopper surveys we completed, analyzed, and discussed with the community members and stakeholders.

We also are working on finalizing a strategy on how to incentivize local businesses to up-sell Norfolk. We created a marketing plan to promote all areas and sectors of the community’s retail. Another project we are including in this portfolio is the windshield assessment that we worked on, focussing on the six major hubs of retail in Norfolk.

Lastly, we created a plan to execute a Norfolk-wide customer service training seminar, partnering with the major players in the community.

Last week, we also had the opportunity to join on of our mentors, Economic Developer Candice Alder, for the Network Northeast Nebraska meeting. We heard many success stories about a few new strategies in rural development, such as ProsperNE, hiring out private consulting firms, and ECAP. This was a great learning experience, but more than that it was a great way to meet many leaders in rural economic development in Nebraska.

“I look forward to taking what I have learned from my serviceship experience in Norfolk and applying it in my future career. I know that I am leaving this community with a step in the right direction, a better knowledge of my career goals and a strong network of community leaders.”


As we’re starting to reflect on our experience in Norfolk, we have come to the conclusion that we have had the opportunity to apply so many valuable skills and use so much vital knowledge that we have gained from our college classes and past internship.

Traci Jeffery, Visitors Bureau Executive Director said, “Cheyenne and Samantha bring an impressive skill set to our community that was valued by many local leaders. They instantly stepped into the role and were advocates for Norfolk. Their work provided a vision for retail and has set us on a course for success with local businesses.”




Omaha Land Bank

The time has come, and Sydney and Kyle are done with their internship at the Omaha Municipal Land Bank. It is crazy to think that just 10 short weeks ago we started out on this journey. We came into the internship with little knowledge on what our work was going to entail this summer at the Land Bank. However, at the end of week 10 we are leaving with more knowledge and information than we had ever planned on.

The last two weeks have been busy for Kyle and Sydney at the Land Bank. Last Friday we attended a “Why We Can’t Wait Urban League YP Summit.” We were able to interact with multiple community members and associations on different topics impacting Omaha’s community.

These topics included: Pay Equity, Gentrification, and LGBTQ. The information we gained from this Summit was very eye opening and opened a lot of good discussion for the Land Bank.

Our mentor, Laura Heilman, lead the discussion on Gentrification and how it affects North Omaha. Kyle and Sydney took notes and helped capture what Omaha was really feeling about Gentrification and how the Land Bank could help remove these thoughts of Gentrification and move the thoughts to “community development.”

In addition to our time learning about community input and the area that we are working in, we had the opportunity to watch two development projects get into their final steps.

The film crew the Land Bank hired allowed us to shadow as they interviewed individuals involved and began creating promotional material of homes that had been redone. The first day of filming was with a transformed property in the Country Club neighborhood. This home was a large house in an upscale neighborhood but had a hole in the roof, was overgrown, and had overall become rundown over the years. The Country Club house was originally on the slate of demolitions for the City of Omaha until the Land Bank stepped in to save it. Now the renovations are complete, and the new owners move in on Friday.

“One of my favorite things about the Land Bank is how concerned they are with community input. They really care about what the community wants and what is in the best interests of community members instead of what will benefit their business more.”


The property owners were kind enough to allow the staff to walk through and see the finished home before they had moved. Sydney and Kyle were able to see the inspector for the city come look over the property for approval. Additionally, we were able to speak and listen to interviews with the general contractor, neighbors, and the design team. The sheer scope of what went into this beautiful home cannot be overstated as it was transformed from a hazard with termite damage and animals getting in and out to a stately home on a prominent corner lot. What had caused neighbors on either side to leave because of the vacant and dangerous property next door is now a newly renovated envy of the neighborhood.

Today we had the chance to go see the installation of the house built by Metro Community College in their construction trades building. The lot was owned by the land bank and located across the street from the campus. It will be a 1600 sq. ft home with attached garage and a size-able backyard located in north Omaha. The home will be sold to a family that can ideally live in it long term and help begin to fill in vacant lots near the campus and bring up the rest of the neighborhood. The home was carried by semi in three segments and set on a foundation. We were able to witness the move of the home from the truck and onto the foundation across steel beams. This coming Fall, the home will be up for sale and give a new family a great home. Hopefully more projects can be planned out over the course of years and metro will be able to continue to install new housing in their own backyard so students for decades to come can see the work done to make the city a better place.




Red Cloud, Neb.

In the preceding weeks we had been working almost constantly on the economic development plan and other related projects. Starting last Monday, we shook things up and drove out to the Starke Round Barn for a week much different than most of our time here. The Starke Round Barn is the world’s largest round barn used in agricultural production. It is three stories high and 140 feet across—not to mention 115 years old. Today, the barn is privately owned and upkept by Liz Rasser, who we spent the week working with.

“As we pass on the torch, I am confident that we helped to fuel the community’s growth and change. Of all the things I learned, I will never forget the energy and dedication of the people here. They will certainly keep the flame burning for a long time to come.”



The Rasser family purchased the barn in 1931 after the Starke family went bankrupt during the Great Depression.  Part of our task was to figure out what led to their fallout and bankruptcy. To do this, we learned how to use microfiche, microfilm, and century old courthouse records. Some of these techniques were more fun than others.

It turns out that microfilm is not exactly easy to use, and we became rather disoriented after only a few minutes staring at the bright screen. To avoid the headaches, we spent a lot of time inside the office of the Red Cloud Chief newspaper where they store physical copies of every Red Cloud newspaper since the 1880s…except the year 1923. And, what do you know, that is the exact year we were looking for!

Liz had known that the Starke cattle herd contracted tuberculosis and our mission was to find out what happened to the herd. In the District Court records we found a case where the Starke Bros. sued a man who refused to pay for the sick cows the Starkes sold him (Starke, Chris and William v. Louis Borcherding, 1924.)

After looking through all the newspaper in the area at the time of the court’s decision we found absolutely nothing about the dying herd. To make up for it, we found out when and for how much the Rasser family purchased the Starke property for! Although we didn’t come away with ground breaking information, it was great to learn about all the resources for finding out historical information.

The rest of the week we helped Liz update the barn’s website, create a new visitor and tour policy, and plan out an art gallery she is hosting in September. It’s quite impressive how she has been able to maintain the Round Barn and its story while still working full time on a farm—a true representative of these dedicated people.

“With this Serviceship wrapping up and our Economic Plan being handed off to the citizens here, I cannot wait to see what amazing progress they make with it moving forward. And I can’t wait to come back in the future to see this amazing community continue to grow and thrive.”


During this week, we spent our time polishing the economic development plan. On Friday the 13th we hosted a meeting with the city council and other stake holders to get feedback on the plan and that went very well. We also had a meeting on Wednesday with the Economic Development Advisory Board for additional thoughts. This week we added a few items, changed some, and made lots of tiny edits to get it into presentable shape. Thursday the 26th and Friday the 27th of July we give presentations to the public about our plan.

After this week it will be up to the people here to follow through with the steps to make the community grow. It’s quite amazing to think that we came here only a few months ago and, in that time, managed to understand how the town functions and organize the concerns and ideas of so many different people. We know that the people here are passionate and inspired to keep moving forward and we have no doubt that they will.