Student Fellows Make Impact in Arapahoe during Summer 2020
During Summer 2020, Arapahoe hosted two Rural Student Fellows to help our community continue growth and development. The following is their reflection on their experience. You can watch a video from their experience here.
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.
We 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 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). We worked with a local business to create a video that captures the entire community. Additionally, we 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.
In addition, we were graced with the knowledge of our City Office staff who are invested in seeing Arapahoe prosper. Together they helped us come up with projects that we were both confident and passionate about. Their presence encouraged and empowered us to make an impact in Arapahoe.
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.
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.
Through eight weeks, there were 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 gained all that we had hoped for and far more than we could have imagined.
As we return to our own communities, 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!
“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