This Week In Serviceship 2018: Week Two!

Black Hills Energy

Unlike the other RFI Serviceships taking place throughout the state this summer, my experience with Black Hills Energy has been in progress since the beginning of April. My experience is also unique in that, because Black Hills is a regional natural gas provider, my work deals with the company’s priorities at a statewide and regional level.

I’m fortunate to have started my Serviceship while the Nebraska legislature was still in session because it gave me the opportunity to accompany my lead mentor to the capitol on one of the legislature’s final and busiest days. It was really fascinating to see the lobbying process firsthand, and helped me to understand the importance of educating and working with elected officials on issues that have implications for the utility. Each year there are a number of legislative bills that have the potential to affect the ability of Black Hills’ customers and employees to safely access affordable natural gas.

It means a lot to me to be able to work with a company that encourages its employees to give back to their community and even provides numerous opportunities to do so.



I’ve quickly learned that safety is a non-negotiable for Black Hills. As part of my training, I participated in multiple safety training modules, and I joined employees from throughout the state at the annual Black Hills Safety & Wellness Summit, where we engaged with speakers on a variety of topics, including empowering teams, the bystander effect and health.

Emily joins Black Hills Energy Endowment Scholarship recipients for a tour of Lincoln’s natural gas distribution and odorizing station.

It didn’t take me long to realize how much I took natural gas for granted, and how little I understood about it or the components necessary to ensure the safety of the utility and those who maintain it. Natural gas is a safe, reliable energy source, and produces less carbon dioxide than any other fossil fuel. That’s why many people choose natural gas to heat their homes, water, and appliances. Originally, natural gas is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. The pungent rotten egg smell commonly associated with natural gas is actually caused by mercaptan, an organic sulfur compound, which is added to the gas to make even the smallest leaks easy to detect. Though rare, gas leaks can be very dangerous, and it’s important to know how to prevent and respond to a suspected gas leak. That’s why I’m creating a natural gas safety outreach plan, specifically aimed at college students, who are often moving into their own independent housing for the first time.

Another piece of my Serviceship is assisting with the Black Hills’ community giving strategy in Nebraska. Recently, I was able to volunteer alongside other Black Hills employees at a local elementary school, where we provided and served lunches and helped the teachers organize games for their students.


Broken Bow, Neb.

We have both been very busy here in the community of Broken Bow! Both with working on major projects and a few smaller ones here and there. Our first week consisted of meeting a multitude of people and setting up coffee talks with the community. Our plan there is to reach out residents for their opinion on recreational opportunities here in Broken Bow.  We have started working on tourism and getting in contact with potential partners in Sturgis and surrounding areas in South Dakota. Another smaller project has been contacting television stations to get a ‘Through My Eyes’ promotional commercial about Broken Bow out across the state. We have learned a lot about cold calling Nebraska TV stations and getting campaigns put together to run this ad. Two smaller projects we are taking on by ourselves include making Custer County Leadership Certified and a Livestock Friendly County.

The drive that this community has to take on projects and move forward makes me so excited to see what we can accomplish in the next 9 weeks. Broken Bow is one of a kind and the people are really willing to make an effort to make you feel welcome and get you involved.


Both of us are really looking forward to involving ourselves in the local culture by participating in more festivities and celebrations throughout the summer!

Leanne and Jessica discuss the community coffee talks they’re hosting live on the air for 92.3 KBEAR.

Our Serviceship is pretty unique in the fact that we are working with three people directly with completely different projects. This has really given us the opportunity to meet even more people, as well as work with different leadership styles and just learn more about Broken Bow as a whole. We have attended many board meetings including: Custer County Economic Development Corporation, City Council, Custer County Chamber and CAPABLE Youth Development. Being introduced to these groups have given us a great network that we feel comfortable reaching out to when we need things for the handful of projects we are working on.

We have already gotten plenty of ideas as far as places and organizations that we can volunteer for and with. Some that we are looking to include Custer County 4-H, the Red Barn Visitors Center and State of Art and Music Festival. A lot of the community has banded together and offered their help and support with the different projects that we are working on.

One of the coolest things I saw when I first arrived in Broken Bow was the town square surrounded by flourishing businesses. It’s been cool to meet individuals in the community over the past couple of weeks and really get immersed into the culture. This town is truly diverse and moving forward!

We have already enjoyed many things in the community such as going to the movies and eating at several local restaurants. Some of the different events we find unique and different in Broken Bow are Third Thursdays and Thursdays on the Square. Thursdays on the Square resembles a farmers market with food vendors and craft vendors. Third Thursdays are bigger celebrations with live music, bounce houses, food and craft vendors, and delicious food trucks—truly an event for the whole family.



Columbus, Neb.

Columbus: small town; big things. We started the week with back to back meetings and networking. We met many of the communities leaders and were able to learn about our projects for the summer. It was a long day and we were running on fumes, but our hosts, the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce and the Columbus Area Future Fund, were able to come together and provide us with a “Get to Know the Newbies” Dinner. It was a welcome meal as we had spent the day adding to the ever growing list of projects. Throughout the dinner we were able to speak with the mayor, the chairman of the Chamber Board of Directors, and the president of the Columbus Area Future Fund. We were also dining with a journalist from the Wall Street Journal, as she was in town gathering information for a piece on the growing need for rural housing.

Columbus has proven to be incredibly resourceful in the way they tackle problems. So many key community players have stepped into the boxing ring to fight for a better Columbus.



Clayton and Amber were featured in The Columbus Telegram. Read their article >>>

We have spent the week gathering information on our projects for the summer. We will be working on various events for the Chamber, including Interns’ Night Out, an evening event of all of the interns in the community, Young Nebraskans’ Week Event, a week of personal and professional development for the young people (19-30) of Nebraska that will take place in September, and a marketing event for the Something GOOD brand. We will also be working to create a community calendar so that community members are able to know what is going on in the community. The project with the Columbus Area Future Fund will be a little more challenging, marketing their first major fundraising campaign. It will be a busy summer but we will learn a lot.

As we have traveled through the community we are really impressed with the variety of opportunities. There is everything from the mom and pop shops to the big name brand stops. You really don’t have to go to Lincoln or Omaha for anything, it is all right here.

We asked Kara Asmus, one of our host team members, what her big takeaways from our first week were. She said “I am just really impressed with the two of you. You are both so on top of things. I give you something and boom it’s done.”

We also asked our host lead, K.C. Blitz, the same question and he answered, “Now that we have met and worked with you guys, we are really excited about what we are going to get done this summer.”

And let’s not forget about our own thoughts and impressions. Columbus is new territory for us, and with that comes first impressions. We have also been impressed with the people that we have met. We have met a lot of different people but they have all sung the same tune—there is something good going on here. We have both really enjoyed meeting the key community players that work every day to improve Columbus, and we’ve been impressed by the quantity and quality of these key players in the community as well.



Cozad, Neb.

Shelby assists with the Biz Kids Camp in Cozad, Neb.

In Cozad, we hit the ground running during our first couple of weeks. We’ve attending multiple meetings including, but not limited to, Cozad City Council, Rotary, and the Cozad Development Corporation Citizens Board. We’ve already gotten one project almost wrapped up and are working hard on several small tasks that have been overlooked for too long. The people in Cozad are marvelous—we can’t wait to build more connections in town!

The past two weeks, Shelby assisted with Cozad’s first Biz Kids Camp. There were ten middle school students that had four days of classroom instruction from Janita Pavelka, Entrepreneurship Educator. Shelby shared some of her entrepreneurial experiences with the students as well as helped prepare them to start their businesses. The biz kid students learned from local entrepreneurs and businesspeople, the UNL-Extension EntrepreneurShip Investigation curriculum, which led to everyone starting a new business.  Shelby will help these students launch their businesses at Music Monday in Cozad on June 4th.

Living in rural areas, we often get so caught up in the day-to-day we forget how incredible our small towns are – sometimes it takes an outsider to pull us back and admire what makes us so great.



All communities have difficulties viewing their surrounding 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 facilities.

Christy helps the Cozad Development Corporation build a stage for their new Music Monday events.

“First Impressions” is a program developed by K-State Research and Extension through the Community Vitality program. The focus of the program is to help communities learn about existing strengths and weaknesses through the eyes of visitor. The results from a “First Impressions” visit can serve as the basis for community action and as a way to document changes in a community over time. Cozad has partnered up with Ogallala in a First Impressions Program. A team from each community visited the other town looking at buildings, infrastructure, businesses, local government, friendliness, customer service, houses, etc. through the eyes of a visitor. Christy is now compiling the comments and evaluations into a report for both towns. The information will be presented to the communities in the coming weeks.

The Cozad Development Corporation, in cooperation with Wilson Library, is hosting Music Mondays every week in June in a downtown block of Cozad. Different live bands will be performing each week, and food trucks and drinks will be available. Every concert is free admission to the public. In preparation for this event, we built a backdrop for the flatbed trailer being used for the stage. We also worked with Paulsen, Inc. to create fencing for the area. We are excited to see how the first concert turns out next week!



Omaha Land Bank

The first two weeks in Omaha, Neb., at the Omaha Municipal Land Bank have been nothing short of amazing. Between being welcomed in the office to going to the house sites and exploring the city we have been able to really feel like a part of the OMLB team.

The work team at the Omaha Land Bank has a chemistry that makes you feel like you aren’t really even at work. It’s fun and rewarding. I can’t wait to see what the next 8 weeks has in store for us.



Sydney and Kyle stand outside their office for the Omaha Municipal Land Bank.

As a group, Sydney and Kyle went on a trip to a home the Land Bank has acquired. With Kurt, Dave, and Laura we were shown the types of property that OMLB takes on and looks for individuals to redevelop. At this property, securing the house and cleaning up the lawn were big priorities. The home had sat vacant for 12 years and will in the next few months be purchased for redevelopment (which needs to happen within nine months) thanks in large part to OMLB having the ability to waive leans and other blockades to developers having interest.

Additionally, Sydney and Kyle went to a transformed property for a final walk through. The home was one of the first to be bought by the bank and subsequently redeveloped. Having seen before and after photos, the property was unrecognizable. The developers redid the floors, landscaping, and cleared out 28 years of junk and waste that had accumulated over time. The property had been in a state of disrepair that was uninhabitable and now has been leased to a new family. It has begun to spur redevelopment in the neighborhood and the adjacent home has begun renovations with smaller projects occurring along the block.

Sydney has been working on the Social Media posts for the 2018 year for OMLB. She has put together many posts on segments like #DidYouKnow about the Omaha Land Bank. She has also got to do a #GetToKnowTheStaff and learn interesting/fun facts about each of the team members. Kyle and I are going to one of our coworkers rock band shows (he’s the drummer) on June 28 because of the #GetToKnowTheStaff project (we’re VERY excited for this). Along with the posts she has had the privilege to find pictures to go along with the posts. Sydney is also currently working on writing a blog post about the RFI interns at the Omaha Land Bank. Sydney’s focus this summer with mostly be in the communications department. She is working along side Laura Heilman.

Coming from a science background, I never knew how much fun the business/marketing world really was (or how much work actually went into it).



Kyle has been working in the acquisition team with Dave Schreiner, Stephen, and Juan Mancinas-Rangel, the administrative assistant. He has been familiarizing himself with the platforms used by the OMLB (eProperty etc) and has assisted in the legal process of the Land Bank taking on 510 new properties. His duties have ranged from helping make legal documents for publication and the documents we send to individuals whose property we are in the process of acquiring. There has been a steep learning curve in the first week for us to get into the stride of the office culture and flow.



Norfolk, Neb.

Cheyenne and Samantha are excited to be in Norfolk, Neb., for the summer!

Cheyenne Gerlach and Samantha Guenther are in Norfolk for their RFI serviceship. For the first five weeks, we are working to tell the story of Daycos. Daycos is unique in that they are a for-profit AND for-good business. It is our job to capture what Daycos does, how they do it, and why they do it in hopes of informing and inspiring others to possibly do the same. The overarching goal of our project with Daycos is to come up with a way to re-brand Daycos’ for-good movement, Daycos4Good, as simply intertwined with Daycos as a whole. We will be creating video, web content, and written publications to help portray this message.

For the second five weeks, we are working to promote the retail and service sector of the Norfolk community for the visitors bureau. We will be acting as “secret shoppers” to get an inside scoop on how business owners and employees are welcoming and promoting Norfolk through their business. We will also be doing a “windshield assessment” of businesses in Norfolk to gain a better understanding of how it can be improved. Then, we will be working to help make those improvements to strengthen the retail and service sector.

For our day to day tasks during the past two weeks, something that we have started doing every Tuesday is creating a set of objectives and goals for the week. This means that we created the first set of goals our second day on the ground in Norfolk. These goals are hung in our office and in our homes so that both of us go to bed and wake up thinking about what we all need to get done by Tuesday. This has been a great experience and has really impressed the people that we are working with. We have wasted no time “acclimating” to Norfolk or planning our work. We’ve jumped in feet first, and it has really helped us in the long run.

After my first two weeks in Norfolk it’s easy to see that the success of the community is the success of the people in community. Good things don’t happen in rural places without good people doing good things.



We’ve spent this week video interviewing close to 30 Daycos stakeholders. This includes about 15 employees, 7 community members, 5 company leaders, and 3 customers. We’re interviewing these individuals on the impact that Daycos has on the Norfolk community. These stories and inspirations leave many interviewees in tears when reflecting on everything that Daycos has done for themselves and for their community. We both wonder how we ended up in a private company that has such a tremendous, world shaking impact on such a large rural community.

Overall during our first two weeks in Norfolk, we have made connections with various community leaders. We have met with many key stakeholders in all industries: public schools, non-profits, government entities, and private partners. Everyone has been very welcoming and excited to have us in town. We are very excited to be working with and in the Norfolk community.

In my future, I want to work in rural community development and RFI has given me an amazing opportunity to gain experience and skills that will directly benefit that.





Red Cloud, Neb.

We are working in Red Cloud with the main project of developing an economic development plan for the community and passing LB840. LB840 is a legislative act that allows cities and villages to collect sales tax revenue for economic development in a variety of forms. Our other tasks include helping facilitate events, working with the heritage tourism project, and nuisance property maintenance.

We both arrived on Sunday night and began working in the office on Monday morning. Our office is located in The National Willa Cather Center. We spent the first day meeting the staff of the Cather Center, toured the office facilities, and toured the historical properties owned by the Center which included the Cather family’s original home and other notable sites. The Heritage Tourism Advisory board met that day as well which we were able to sit in. The Heritage Tourism project is a local/regional rural tourism focus based on history and culture of the region.

Although we have barely scratched the surface of our project here in Red Cloud, I can already feel the work Trenton and I are doing impact the community in a positive way. We are continuing to grow and learn from the people in this community, and by the time we are done this summer I know we will have gained an amazing and unique perspective that will carry us even further in our careers and life.


On Tuesday we discussed the goals and outcomes of LB840 as well as the processes to get there. Our first step is to develop an economic development plan and form the legal wording which would be used by the city. Then, we would need to engage with the public by holding meetings to inform them of the measure which will eventually be on a ballot. Those are the two steps we hope to achieve this summer. Then, later, the measure will be put to a vote and a board is formed to dictate what the funds will be used for.

Later that day we took the “country tour” of the Cather sites which includes many of the places referenced in Willa Cather’s books (particularly My Antonia and O Pioneers!). This tour spanned most of central Webster County.

Our next meeting took place on Wednesday with the Economic Development Advisory Board in the city’s new Community Center. In that meeting we went over LB840. In the afternoon we toured the town’s newest project, the Garber Hotel. This project has been in the works for a couple of years and is now in the beginning stages of coming to fruition. The Red Cloud Community Foundation Fund is spearheading this project which seeks to renovate an old storefront into a 30-hotel named after the town’s founder and former state governor, Silas Garber.

Trevor and Trenton volunteer at the Starke Round Barn for a Red Cloud Alumni brunch.

Thursday, we had another meeting with the Bike Ride Across Nebraska (BRAN) board. BRAN is a bike ride that has about 300 riders. The town is hosting many activities for when the bikers come and stay in town on Wednesday,f June 6th. Later, we toured the Starke Round Barn. This barn, built in the early 20th century is the world’s largest round barn that was used for agricultural purposes. It is owned and maintained mostly by one person. Finally, we went through the Webster County Historical Museum.

We were visited by Marty Barnhart from the Omaha Landbank on Friday who discussed the model that they use in Omaha to deal with housing. Red Cloud also has a housing issue and many local citizens showed up for his presentation. The Valley Child Development Center (TVCDC) gave us a tour in the afternoon. This was the latest success for the city which fundraised a significant amount of money to open the center earlier this year. Late in the afternoon we helped a group of volunteers place honorary civil war plaques on the graves of veterans in the Red Cloud cemetery. In the evening we attended the Red Cloud Community Foundation Fund’s annual banquet in the town’s Opera House.

Tuesday and Wednesday we spent scraping paint off of a city-owned house. This was part of a community-wide cleanup event. Wednesday afternoon we interviewed the town grocery store’s owner. He recently purchased the store and moved back to Red Cloud this year. We were also given a tour of the town’s utilities by the city superintendent. Not only did we get to see the city’s four diesel electricity generators, but we even got to peer into a manhole built in the 1920s.

Trenton and Trevor attended the Cather Conference in the Red Cloud Opera House.

Thursday began the 63rd annual Willa Cather conference which we will be helping with/attending until Saturday evening when it concludes.

As a whole, most of the week was spent getting introduced to the town’s assets and stakeholders. For our task, this is a very important step because these people live and breath the problems of the community that we were sent here to help solve. We can already tell that the city has a lot going for it. There are many well organized groups who are trying to improve the town in many ways from tourism to athletics to housing. In the coming weeks we will be seeing a lot of these people and some new faces as we try to pin down the problem(s) that we want to help solve. We can already see a lot of the big issues. But, it is also a matter of understanding the limit of our influence both in direction for the town and financially.