Blog Archives

Rural Voices Youth Contest 2023-2024 Scholarship Winners Announced

Congratulations to the 2024 Rural Voices Youth Contest scholarship winners!

About the Contest

The NCRPC sponsors the Rural Voices Youth Contest each year to engage high school seniors in North Central Kansas in thoughtful reflection on rural Kansas and to promote a discussion among citizens based on their insights. The 2023-2024 theme was “Rural Kansas…Success Through Innovation.”

Rural Kansas: Success Through Innovation

By Noah Goss

Rural Kansas residents, community leaders, and business owners have a long history of being innovative. Rural communities have produced many successful entrepreneurs and innovators, who have developed creative solutions to community problems, established unique traditions, and built successful businesses. Join me as we discuss examples of innovation and successful entrepreneurs in North Central Kansas and my community, the historical context and key figures, and discover what more can be done to encourage and support innovation in the region.

One specific example of innovative thinking in North Central Kansas is the development of the Prairie Pothole Region, a unique tradition that serves a purpose in the town of Jamestown. The Prairie Pothole Region is an area with small, shallow depressions that collect rainwater, creating a habitat for diverse wildlife and a natural filtration system for the water. In Jamestown, the community has recognized the value of preserving and enhancing these potholes and has turned them into a tourist attraction. Local residents and community leaders have worked together to create walking trails, observation platforms, and educational programs to highlight the significance of the Prairie Pothole Region. This innovative approach not only showcases the natural beauty and wildlife of the area but also provides an opportunity for tourism, which ultimately brings economic benefits to the community.

In addition to the preservation of natural resources in Kansas, residents have also been innovative in solving community problems. The town of Beloit is an example of a community that has successfully turned a great idea into a creative solution. Facing a decline in population, leaders in Beloit recognized the need to attract and retain young professionals and families. To address this challenge, they developed the “Rural Opportunity Zone” program, which provides financial incentives to individuals who relocate to designated rural counties in Kansas. The program offers student loan repayments and income tax waivers to participants, encouraging them to settle in rural areas and contribute to the local economy. This creative solution has helped to reverse the population decline in Beloit and has attracted new residents who bring valuable skills to the community(along with quality athletes to the rest of the league’s frustration).

Keeping up with the trend of innovation in North Central Kansas is the establishment of businesses by local entrepreneurs. For example, the development of PrairieLand Partners, a John Deere dealership with locations across the region. PrairieLand Partners was founded by a group of local farmers who recognized the need for reliable and modern agricultural equipment and services. They saw an opportunity to fill this gap in the market and worked with the support of the local community to establish a dealership that provides high-quality products and support to local farmers. The success of PrairieLand Partners has not only provided jobs and economic opportunities in the region but has also contributed to the efficiency and productivity of the agricultural sector. The dealership’s commitment to customer service and innovation has made it a trusted and respected business in the community. Aside from adding these benefits to the community, PrairieLand Partners has served as a strong support system for youth organizations such as the North Central District FFA. By supporting programs such as this, they are developing youth for the future.

These examples demonstrate the innovative spirit of rural Kansas residents, community leaders, and business owners, who have harnessed their creativity and resourcefulness to address local challenges and opportunities. Their efforts have had a positive impact on their communities, contributing to economic development, environmental conservation, and social well-being. However, there is always room for improvement, and more can be done to encourage and support innovation in North Central Kansas.

One way to promote innovation in the region is through investment in education and training programs that develop the skills and knowledge needed for entrepreneurial success. By providing access to quality education, rural Kansas residents can develop new ideas, start and grow successful businesses, and address community needs. Collaboration between local businesses, educational institutions, and government agencies can facilitate the development of innovative solutions and support the next generation of entrepreneurs and community leaders. Additionally, access to funding and resources, such as grants, loans, and business development services, can help aspiring innovators to turn their ideas into reality and contribute to economic growth.

My home community in Ellsworth has done an outstanding job in recent years in providing opportunities for youth entrepreneurs by offering educational resources along with funding for their dreams. Stacie Schmidt with “Grow Ellsworth County” has been especially innovative by recognizing the traditions and history of our cowtown while searching for ways to expand and capitalize on the great qualities of our community. By combining tradition and evolution, communities can appeal to younger families while maintaining the “small-town” vibe many search for.

Furthermore, creating a supportive environment for innovation requires the involvement and engagement of all within the community. By fostering a culture of collaboration, creativity, and risk-taking, rural Kansas residents, community leaders, and business owners can work together to identify opportunities, address challenges, and implement innovative solutions. Building networks and partnerships, sharing lessons learned, and celebrating successes can inspire others to pursue their own innovative ideas and contribute to the well-being of North Central Kansas. Additionally, recognizing and rewarding innovation through awards, incentives, and public recognition can encourage individuals and organizations to continue their creative efforts and promote a culture of innovation that is celebrated.

In conclusion, the history of rural Kansas is rich with examples of innovation and successful entrepreneurs who have made meaningful contributions to their communities. Whether it’s through the preservation of natural resources, the development of creative solutions, or the establishment of successful businesses, rural Kansas residents have demonstrated their ability to adapt, create, and thrive. While there have been many successes, there is still much more that can be done to encourage innovation in North Central Kansas. By promoting education and training, facilitating access to funding and resources, and fostering a culture of collaboration and recognition, rural Kansas can continue to harness the creative potential of its residents and build a vibrant and resilient future.

The Start of a Mowing Empire

By Thaddeus Donley

When I was in 5th grade, I noticed that there was a lack of teenage kids that were willing to do physical labor. Realizing that I was about to be at that age, I saw the demand for work such as raking leaves, mowing lawns, and doing odd jobs for people around town. Our town was also in need of lawn care as our lawn and landscape company had just gone out of business in the late winter of 2017. These two things are what created the spark in me to start my own mowing business in the spring of 2017.

My dad bought me a push mower to get me started, and, of course, my parents had to drive me around because I did not have a driver’s license yet. Without their help, I would not be where I am today. Not only did they drive me around, but they also helped me out with the mowing and weed eating if they did not have anything else going on. They helped me figure out billing and bookkeeping and many other things.

During my first year I obtained around five regular lawns and a few trims on other random lawns here and there. For example, the random lawns were for people while they were on vacation or simply could not get to it when it needed to be mowed at a particular time. To obtain these yards, I printed out some homemade business cards I had made. I brought them to school and started asking my teachers if they needed someone to mow their lawn.

Halfway through the summer, my brothers started helping me. My next oldest brother is two years younger than me, and my youngest brother is three years younger than me. With them being smaller than me at the time, they mainly mowed while I did the more physical work, such as weed eating.

In my second year, 2018, I mowed ten to fifteen yards consistently. We would also do some odd jobs on the side. Those jobs consisted of anything from lawn cleanups to moving stuff inside a house that an elderly person would be unable to do. Not only was the work profitable, it also helped to keep our community nice.

In 2019, my brother that is two years younger than me became a partner in our mowing business because we had grown to about twenty to twenty-five yards. While we were gaining more yards, we also had to do more and more invoices, which takes time, so it was helpful to have him as a full-time partner.

The year 2020 rolled around, and we found ourselves amid a global pandemic, so we did not know whether we would lose business or not with people being home from work. Surprisingly, the opposite happened, and we were mowing thirty-five to forty lawns consistently. Since we gained so much more business again this year, we brought our youngest brother, who is three years younger than me on as a full-time partner.

In 2021, we had obtained around forty-five to fifty lawns that we consistently mowed throughout the year. By the fall, we noticed an increase in people who wanted their leaves cleaned up other than the customers that we were already doing it for. Even though leaf cleanup is not our favorite thing to do, we bought a machine specifically to use to pick up leaves. The main reason we did this is because there are elderly people who are unable to do this for themselves. It also cleans up our community by lessening the number of leaves in people’s lawns.

Then the year 2022 rolled around, and we noticed the demand for rental houses in our community as there was a minimum, if any, that were vacant. We formed an LLC to purchase the rental house under the age of eighteen. We completed the imperative renovations to make sure we would have a quality house to offer to potential tenants.

We also consistently mowed around seventy-five to eighty lawns throughout 2022. With this many lawns, occasionally, we started hiring on contract laborers to help us out if we were behind and/or so we could get our lawns mowed more efficiently. This has proven to help other young members of our community to earn extra money and learn the value of a hard day’s work.

We continued to grow in 2023 by picking up some public utility contracts in our communities and in the surrounding communities. These contracts help to keep our community tidy. At this point, we were steadily mowing ninety to one hundred private lawns and commercial properties.

In the upcoming year we plan to keep growing to better serve our communities. For example, we plan to keep being involved in our communities’ city-wide cleanup days.

The reason I write about the business I created with my brothers is to explain that my brothers and I identified a need in our local communities. We used one of the skillsets that we have, the ability to work hard, and created a business. While growing up on a farm and ranch helped me to develop my work ethic at a young age, I think starting my own business has helped other kids around my age in my community to develop their work ethics and get jobs. Whether it be working for a farmer, working at a manufacturing business, mowing a few lawns themselves, or any other job, I would venture to say that in my community there is a much higher percentage of teenage kids working now than there was five to ten years ago.

In turn from our hard work, we were able to purchase and renovate a house. This house first caught our attention when we saw its price. It was reasonably priced, so we talked to our economic development director about the rental market in our area. She said that there was a high demand for more rental properties in our area. We decided that since it would be good for our community and a good business decision that we would purchase the house. Then we had it renovated and it is currently rented.

The creation and growth of our business truly shows that even young people can have a positive effect on their community with a little grit, hard work, and entrepreneurial spirit.

Check back in Fall 2024 for details on the 2024-2025 Rural Voices Youth Contest.

Project Bundling Workshop

image promoting project bundling workshop hosted by North Central Regional Planning CommissionNCRPC hosted a Project Bundling Workshop in coordination with the Federal Highway Administration, Build America Center, and Applied Research Associates on June 1, 2023 in Salina, Kansas. The objective of this one-day workshop was to understand practical application of project bundling between local public agencies to solve infrastructure needs.

Meeting Materials/Resources:


Final Report – DRAFT (PDF, 6.13 MB)

This report draft highlights the NCRPC Project Bundling Workshop sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Every Day Counts round five (EDC-5) Project Bundling team. The workshop was held in-person with several virtual presentations.


For questions, contact the NCRPC Community Development team at 785-738-2218 or email Deb Ohlde, NCRPC Strategic Development Advisor, at

Federal Transportation Funding Announced for North Central Kansas

image of Federal Transportation awards announced graphic

North Central Regional Planning Commission has been named an awardee of two different programs offered through the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“We are fortunate to have received both awards in a highly competitive process at the federal level,” said Debra Carlson Ohlde, NCRPC Strategic Development Advisor.

Based in Beloit, the NCRPC serves as the rural economic development district comprised of 12 counties with 83 towns in North Central Kansas.

The first award is through the Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) Grants Program. Through its SMART Grants Program, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded tech demonstration projects across the U.S. focused on advanced smart city or community technologies and systems to improve transportation efficiency and safety.

The SMART award for North Central Kansas funds a pilot program focused on drone use to inspect transportation assets. The data gathered from the drone inspections will be integrated in a prototype GIS-based platform that catalogs local infrastructure assets for innovative data management, monitoring asset conditions, and utilizing technology to inform solutions for infrastructure management and maintenance.

“We are excited to begin work on the SMART grant with member counties and with other partners across the state,” Ohlde said. “This project will enable the NCRPC to bolster GIS capacity in the region as well as pilot a system to use drone technology to manage transportation asset inspection and data capture.”

Although this first 18-month project is a pilot and has a limited number of participating counties, there is opportunity to grow the project to the entire region in the future.

The second award is through the Thriving Communities Program, also offered by the U.S. Department of Transportation. This award will provide no-cost, intensive technical assistance services for NCRPC and its project partners to build resilience and better position the region to access funding for future transportation projects. The project is anticipated to get underway in late spring/early summer and continue through 2025.

“The application to the Thriving Communities program was a natural fit for the NCRPC,” Ohlde said. “We have always tried to engage our region in new programs and this one offers the opportunity to learn from other similar regions and to access additional technical support for our counties. It is challenging for rural areas to capitalize on federal funding programs and we know we will be better able to do that as an organization and region through this opportunity.”

Community Connection 2023

Zoom Session Resources

NCRPC recently hosted a virtual Community Connection event to share more about the organization and funding opportunities.

April 12, 2023  |  Zoom Recording (MP4, 820 MB – 1:03:35)

Presentation Slides – PDF, 791 KB


A virtual NCRPC Community Connection event April 12, 2023 gave stakeholders in the region another opportunity to hear about the latest in grant funding opportunities.

Two in-person events took place in Beloit and Ellsworth earlier in March.

“We had great feedback from those who participated in our previous Community Connection events and we wanted to make that information available to others in the region who were not able to attend,” said NCRPC Strategic Development Advisor Deb Ohlde.

In addition to discussing funding options, there was conversation about how North Central Regional Planning Commission can partner with local communities and organizations to help them achieve goals.

The NCRPC provides assistance to a variety of sectors including cities, counties, non-profits, rural water districts, schools, small businesses and entrepreneurs.

More Information

For questions or to discuss project ideas, please contact the NCRPC Community Development team at 785-738-2218 or send an email to Deb Carlson Ohlde, NCRPC Strategic Development Advisor, at

Rural Voices Youth Contest 2022-2023 Scholarship Winners Announced

image of 2022-2023 Rural Voices Youth Contest theme and logoCongratulations to the 2022-2023 Rural Voices Youth Contest winners!

About the Contest

The NCRPC sponsors the Rural Voices Youth Contest each year to engage high school seniors in North Central Kansas in thoughtful reflection on rural Kansas and to promote a discussion among citizens based on their insights. The 2022-2023 theme was “Rural Kansas…Working Together.”

Rural Kansas: Cooperation and Dedication

By Jane Letourneau

“What’s your load of limestone?” This seemingly odd, yet relevant question for the parishioners of St. John the Baptist Catholic Parish, has been asked over this past year because of a restoration project that began in 2022. A little over one hundred years ago, the same church in the small, rural community of Beloit went through a similar process; but the parishioners had to hand-quarry limestone to build it. Since the beginning of the recent restoration, parishioners of the rural community have come together and are asking themselves and each other what their contribution, whether a financial gift or one of physical labor, will be.

In the year 1900, construction began in the little town of Beloit to build a better, more beautiful Catholic church. Restoration efforts were led by Monsignor Hietz, and his lofty dreams may have seemed like outlandish tales to some. With determination, his dreams were eventually
fulfilled, but it was not by his own drive and determination. The whole community of St. John’s Catholic Church put their heads together, and got to work. It was no easy task as the church was built with limestone that was quarried from nearby farmland. “ Tools and equipment in the early 1900s were primitive. Imagine quarrying thousands of loads of stone with hand tools and hauling stone and sand in horse-drawn wagons over trails and dirt roads” (Duskie). As was stated in an article about the project, “Anton Eilert assisted in the construction by hauling rock from a quarry eight miles northeast of Beloit. He hauled not only the thirty loads, stipulated by the pastor, but, because of his age, he was unable to quarry rock, so he compensated for this by hauling eighty loads”(Duskie). In the year 1904, the massive church was finished. Sacrifice, grit, and teamwork were major influencers and direct contributors to the success of Monsignor Heitz’s lofty dreams. Without the strong community of Beloit working together, it would have been impossible.

Fast forward nearly 119 years later, and a peaceful Sunday afternoon in Beloit was disturbed by the wailing of fire truck sirens. The upstairs church library was on fire, and a curious and anxious crowd had gathered in the parking lot across the street. Thankfully, the fire had been discovered before spreading to the rest of the church, but the damage had been done. Smoke had filled the space, and the stairs leading to the library and beautiful choir loft were charred. The emergency was, of course, unexpected and sudden. But it fueled a series of discoveries about the state of the more than one hundred-year-old church. And the question loomed: should the parish patch up the damage, or begin again and work together as their ancestors had years ago?

The decision was made to tackle complete restoration of the beautiful building rather than do a temporary patch-up job. Fundraising began, and a significant amount of money was needed for the project: three million dollars. But St. John’s parish community was ready for the challenge. Shae Johnson, the Communications Director for St. John’s Parish stated, “…when we started the campaign in May of 2022, we started with around $300,000 from the fire fund that rolled over into the restoration fund. With that in mind, we got to the 2 million mark in August of 2022, so it took 3 months to get there. It took 7 months to raise $2.9 million… from May 15 to December.” Working together was not only demonstrated in that of financial giving, but also physical labor. Needing a temporary location for the church, an old Dollar General store that had been out of business for several years was selected. Though it was not ideal, the space was large enough and it was decided to move all of the old church pews into it for seating. The job was completed in just one afternoon, and Shae Johnson again stated that, “Approximately 140 helped with the Dollar General move.” It has been inspiring and encouraging to watch the small parish community in Beloit, Kansas work together in such a way by their donations, physical labor, and campaigning efforts along the way.

This event is only a glimpse into the generosity and hard work of rural Kansans. As a whole, we are determined, strong, and ready to help each other in times of need. I have witnessed several instances where someone new has moved to my community, and a huge amount of help comes pouring in to make their transition from one place to another as pleasant as possible. Whether it be moving furniture or making meals, the generous support to those who are new in town is often overwhelming. Rural Kansans also are ready to help a neighbor with their work; especially when harvest is in full swing. With generous hearts and a willingness to serve, Kansans can be seen supporting one another in many instances, and welcoming one another with gracious attitudes.

My community of Beloit, and more specifically my parish community of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church has done an inspiring job of working together in the past year and a half. Without the love for our church and cooperation with one another that has occurred, the financial support and physical labor that has come pouring in would not have been possible. Rural Kansas was seen working together in the early 1900s when Monsignor Heitz decided to restore St. John’s church for the first time. The labor that has gone into our restoration looks different now than it did one hundred years ago. But it is obvious that Kansans are still working together in many inspiring ways as St. John the Baptist Catholic Parish works toward complete restoration. Not only our parish community, but all of rural Kansas can be seen helping one another when support is needed in instances such as helping a community member move in, and assisting a neighbor at harvest time. The restoration of St. John’s Church is only a glimpse into the ways that Kansas can be seen helping one another and building strong communities around cooperation and dedication.

Work Cited

Duskie, Rev. Monsignor John A., P.A., J.C.D. “Our Church A Mighty Fortress: The History of St. John the Baptist Parish, Beloit KS 1869-1982

Rural Kansas… Working Together

By Kady Toole

I wrote a book. In fact I have written and illustrated two children’s story books. As a self-published author for the last three years, I have been marketing and selling these books on my own, without the help of a traditional publisher. Currently I have sold over 2,000 books, and all but a couple hundred have been direct sales, not sales from online places like Amazon, or other online dealers. Although I’m not making millions, I am making enough to cover all my publishing expenses and put away some money for college. Overall, I consider this experience of creating and marketing children’s books a success. I want to share with you why I think this success has been possible: because of the support of my North Central Kansas community.

I wrote and illustrated my first book as a sophomore in high school in a project-based learning class. The encouragement I received from family and friends as soon as they saw my finished product motivated me to pursue publishing my book. The project was a high-school wide endeavor and finalists were chosen to present in front of the high school. Those finalists were featured in our local paper: The Washington County News. And that’s how it all started… Once the news got out, my book took off. I had people stop me in the grocery store, talk to me at ball games, catch me on the street when I was out walking my dog… All of them wanted to congratulate me and purchase my books.

Because of my books I have realized the beauty of living in a small community. We are a family. I am their native daughter. My success is their success. They talk about their neighbor, the girl from their school, their student, their friend’s daughter, the Kady Toole girl from their town, the girl from their county and even the girl from their state who wrote and illustrated the children’s books. They share my story with others and are proud of my accomplishments because I am “one of theirs.”

Let me share some specific stories of how my community has rallied around me in this process.

I have lived on the same street in Washington, KS since I was six years old. I have played on this street, shared cookies and treats, and visited with our neighbors all of those years. They have watched me grow up and have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. Down a few houses on my street lives my wonderful neighbor Patty and her husband. This 80-year-old fireball has been a pillar of our community for years. She is personally responsible for selling over 30 of my books. She has shared them with her daughter who jumped on the bandwagon and now shares books with her friends in her Arizona community. She’ll call or text me and say, “I need some more of your books.” Who needs a publishing house when there are Patty’s right next door?

Traci is our elementary school’s self-proclaimed “library lady.” She knows everyone, everywhere. Traci reads my book to her classes, keeps a plush doll of the dog in my book in the library, initiates asking the school board if I can sell my book at our Scholastic book fair, and tells people about me whenever she can. Because of Traci, I have my book in school libraries in Germany and all over Kansas. Because of Traci, I even ended up doing a school author visit at Hickok Elementary School and now over 40 kids in Ulysses – in the southwest corner of Kansas – own my book.

The stories aren’t just limited to people, local businesses have enthusiastically supported me as well. The Washington County Hospital purchased copies of my first book to put in their “new baby” baskets. The Friends of the Library club purchased books for prizes for the summer reading program. Styled by R, a local boutique, invited me to do my second book release in their shop downtown as it was a perfect location. The list could go on and on.

This community spirit of helping out one of their own goes beyond just my small town – it extends to my county and all of North Central Kansas. Marcy, the librarian from Marysville, KS – a slightly larger community just 20 minutes to the east, featured my book in the very first Story Walk presented by their library. Their local high school KAYS Club raised the funds to put in a Story Walk in the city’s park, and instead of choosing a classic book, they chose mine – because I am a local author that they wanted to support. What a blessing! And this blessing just kept on giving. Because of the Story Walk, I was asked to speak at the Marysville Rotary club and to give a presentation on creating and marketing my book. And because of that presentation, Blue Valley Technologies out of Home, KS – a tiny town just east of Marysville – chose my book to include in their Christmas Giving Tree baskets this year for over 100 families in the area.

I have visited over 20 public libraries, 6 schools, 6 day cares, 3 preschools, 7 area clubs, had 6 book signings, and even participated in a parade in the last two years. I have been in our local paper at least three times, been interviewed by local radio 5 times and been on the Topeka television station once. All because I am a local author and illustrator, and people are excited to share what is going on with my book. This is the beauty of our North Central Kansas community. They truly want to see me be successful.

Although big cities would have more people available to hear about and purchase my books, I do not believe that I would have experienced the success in those locations that I have had being a member of my small North Central Kansas community. The sense of family and being “one of their own” leads my community to share and promote my books with pride because I am one of theirs. In a big town I am just another person trying to make a go of it. I live in a town of under 1000 people and although there is no way of proving this, I am pretty sure most of those households own one of my books.

I hope others see what I am doing and realize that they can jump out on their own and try something unique, knowing they will be completely supported and encouraged by their community. Not just through their words but also through the enthusiastic purchase and use of their product or service. I truly believe that my success is directly related to being a member of my small, rural, North Central Kansas community.

I am truly blessed and honored to be a part of my community, and my goal is to do everything I can to make these wonderful people proud of the books I create. Their encouragement and support make me want to do the best I can, not for myself, but because I represent them. I represent what North Central Kansans can do because we do it together.

Check back in Fall 2023 for details on the 2023-2024 Rural Voices Youth Contest.

Rural Voices 2021-2022 Winners Announced

image of 2021-2022 Rural Voices Youth Contest theme and logoCongratulations to the 2021-2022 Rural Voices Youth Contest winners!

About the Contest

The NCRPC sponsors the Rural Voices Youth Contest each year to engage high school seniors in North Central Kansas in thoughtful reflection on rural Kansas and to promote a discussion among citizens based on their insights. The 2021-2022 theme was “Rural Kansas…Tomorrow’s Leaders.”

By Phillip Shirkey

Rural Voices: My Community and Me

America is a rural country.“Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain” is not just a lyric in a song, but a statement about America. What makes our country so unique in the world is that it is a collection, not of massive coastal cities or of densely populated areas, but of small towns and communities who look out for their own and work together to make this country great. America is a country built on small communities, families, scattered throughout the beautiful countryside who, in order to achieve their dreams, encourage learning, leading, and teaching. Kansas is the epitome of that unique American culture and astounding American community.

My community is Concordia, a small town in North Central Kansas whose residents number only five thousand. They make up for that in spirit and in drive, propelling the younger generation to take up the mantle of leadership and to safeguard the community for the generation after them. For example, the American Legion chapter in Concordia promotes two events, Boys’ State and Girls’ State. These are opportunities for high school students a scant few years away from joining adult society to learn how the Kansas government functions and why it sometimes doesn’t. These events see a few Concordians every year go to Manhattan and meet with hundreds of their peers from around the state, form a simulated government, and run a virtual state of Kansas. But, of course, this one-time event only scratches the surface of how Concordia prepares its youth to make their voices heard. Our teachers encourage respectful political discourse in the classroom and challenge our assumptions on politics and power, to show us how a real leader should behave and support our ambitions to make the world a better place. Our school administration coordinates visits and seminars featuring Kansans who have achieved their dreams, such as state Attorney General Derek Schmidt, K-State coach Bill Snyder, and others.  They provide once-in-a-lifetime insight on how an ordinary person can become an extraordinary leader. Our residents are very involved in the political process and the leadership of our community. For example, this last November saw a bond issue come up for debate. Voices from across our city and county spoke on both sides of the issue. Our youth spoke with their parents and researched the issue on their own. We were supported by our community as we did what all Americans should do: learn about the issues which will affect us and use the empowerment provided by our community to speak up on these issues.

While I could go on about how my community has helped me recently, that is but one issue which determines how rural voices of youths like me are heard. Another important matter centers around how a community can ensure that these youth will not simply migrate to the coasts, as so many have done, but will go back to their roots and, like Napoleon coming back to France after his exile, rekindle in their community pride and hope for the future. For a community to survive, it must retain young people to lead it into the next era. If it fails to do so, it will simply go extinct. In a modern world, one which changes every hour of the day, it is impossible to be static. It isn’t enough to say that the younger generation will automatically return to their homeland in a civilization of billions, with countless evolving opportunities. Instead, every community must encourage its youth to return and lead in the future. My community does a good job of this. One would think that a Kansas town would have predominantly old leaders. Those “community grandfathers”, you’d expect, would be running the show. However, nothing could be further than the truth. Many of the people who lead our town are in their 30s and 40s. These are people who were born here, left to pursue their dreams at the time or get an education or accomplish some other task, but returned home when they realized that there was something in Concordia that did not exist in Chicago or Charleston: community. My town of Concordia is small enough and close enough that its leaders personally know everyone that they affect. Whereas the mayor of New York City only sees a handful of his constituents, the mayor of Concordia eats lunch in the same cheap pizza place as everyone else. They have to answer to their community and they are kept honest by them. That is a magnet for good leadership. My community has an ability unique to small towns: it encourages young people to return because they know that they can be led honestly and themselves can lead honestly.

That brings me to my final point. I consider myself a competent and smart leader (of course, everyone thinks they’re smart). I lead my school now and I hope one day to lead my community. Perhaps the most important task of a leader, though, is not just to lead in the moment, but to plan for the future. Otto von Bismarck, ruler of Prussia from 1871 to 1890, was a good leader in the moment, propelling his country forward to create a German Empire. But, for the success he fostered, his country was cataclysmically destroyed a few decades later in World War One because he failed to include the next generation in his plans. Bismarck only planned for his own gain, and did not encourage future leaders to take his place. I have many ways to address this and secure my community’s future. As a leader, I would support programs like the National Honor Society and the Rotary Club, opportunities for our youth to learn the value of having a strong work ethic and moral center. As someone who has grown up in a social-media filled time, I could utilize online polls and the latest technology to gauge how the younger members of the community view our leaders. A group like teenagers, for instance, has little leadership power or political influence, but that’s not the point. The point of community leadership is to let all of our rural voices be heard. That is what my community is best at and that is what I will do with everything I am given.

By Hart Nurnberg

Cultivating Leadership in my Kansas Community

I see lush wheat fields swaying on the rolling hills; I hear the weather vane rattling on top of my barn; I feel a gentle breeze in my hair. These are the sensations that I experience from my front porch. I live in the middle of nowhere in Saline County, Kansas. In addition to living in the middle of nowhere, I also attend a school that’s surrounded by a cow pasture. People from urban communities may think that an absence of next-door neighbors means an absence of community. However, this could not be further from the truth. Though my home is remote, my community is extremely connected and intentionally cultivates driven and energetic leaders.

My first experience with leaders in my community was getting taught by caring teachers. From kindergarten to my senior year, the teachers at my school have been some of the most impactful people in my life. My class has only 50 people, so my teachers have given each and every one of their students special attention. They genuinely care for my peers and me, and the school environment is productive and welcoming because of it. I attribute much of the extreme academic success of my class to this tight-knit school setting where everyone gets the resources needed to succeed. Not only do our teachers encourage us to succeed in the classroom, but they also track our growth throughout our high school careers and encourage us to get involved in activities to apply our unique strengths. One of my most important extracurricular activities, FCCLA, has helped boost my confidence and leadership skills. I never would have joined this club if my FACS teacher, Mrs. Wilson, had not been aware of my strengths and weaknesses and encouraged me to join. The caring leadership and intentional guidance of my school’s teachers help every student succeed in and out of the classroom.

Engaged teachers aren’t the only step toward building leaders in my community. My community has a diverse range of leaders, and they constantly collaborate with the area’s youth to increase awareness and understanding of the impact we can have in the future at a local, state and even global level. In an effort to recognize students’ hard work, my school’s administration team established the Top 10% Luncheon to recognize and celebrate students at the top of their class academically. At this luncheon, students receive an award for their hard work. The most important part about this event, however, is the guest speaker. Every year, a successful Southeast of Saline graduate gives a speech to the students. They talk about their career, their goals, how Southeast of Saline Schools prepared them for their future, and how they apply leadership skills to better their environment. I always walk away from these speeches feeling inspired to give back to my community. I also gain more appreciation for the commitment and dedication that these leaders have to my community. These speakers have included local state representatives, non-profit directors, farmers, authors, artists, foster parents, scientists, and more. Many students don’t see the energy that these leaders put into the community, but the luncheon bridges this gap and shows us that we, Southeast of Saline students, have the ability to affect the lives of others.

Southeast of Saline graduates have had a great impact on their families, coworkers, and wider communities. They reach out to students to show them the power of their voices, and I would like to continue this chain reaction of success. There are a few ways I plan to continue cultivating and empowering leaders in my community. First, I would like to take over my family’s pumpkin patch. My family has run The Sunny Side Pumpkin Patch for the past 20 years, and my parents are ready to retire. I have a lot to learn before I take over the family business, but I’ve gained valuable leadership experience so far through planning and delegating for prom as class president, balancing my FCCLA district’s financial situation as the district treasurer, and helping run the books for my school’s scholars’ bowl tournament as my scholars’ bowl team captain. The pumpkin patch gives families the opportunity to get out of the house and enjoy a fun activity together. However, none of this is possible without my siblings’ and parents’ hard work over the summer. We plant pumpkins, roll drip tape, hoe weeds, and spray plants all summer long. The great reward that comes every October is the direct result of our daily commitment. I’ve learned many lessons from living on the pumpkin patch, and I would be thrilled to carry on its legacy of family and community values. As a leader in my community, I’d like to collaborate with the youth in my own way. Once October comes, the business needs many volunteers; it’s all hands on deck. I’d like to bring in some of the youth of the community to volunteer and help execute the daily routine of the pumpkin patch. They’ll be able to apply hard work and diligence, and it will create a tighter-knit community overall.

If I want volunteers, I’m going to need to do something to help retain people to come back to the area after college. The main reason people come back to my community after graduating is because of our school. They want their kids to have the same educational experience that they had. I hope to keep Southeast of Saline an appealing district with its supportive, forward-thinking, rural pull that attracts people to the school. There are many straightforward ways to do this, such as running for the board of education, attending athletic events, and even speaking at the Top 10% Luncheon. I’d love to share the story of my leadership and empower students to come back and lead in the community. I also have parliamentary procedure experience being the president of my FCCLA chapter’s parliamentary procedure team. I get great satisfaction from debating and working out issues between groups with several interests to create a productive result. Applying these skills to my school district would be very rewarding.

Overall, I’m extremely grateful to live in an engaging community that cultivates leaders. Even though I can see wheat fields for miles from my front porch, I still feel extremely connected to my community. Through getting taught by supportive teachers, listening and engaging with inspiring Southeast of Saline graduates, and working on my family’s pumpkin patch, I’ve become a well-rounded leader. I’m eager to come back to my community after high school and inspire another generation of rural youth.

Check back in Fall 2022 for details on the 2022-2023 Rural Voices Youth Contest.

We Want to Hear from You!

survey imageThe NCRPC is updating its regional Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) and needs your help. We invite you to take a short survey if you live or work in North Central Kansas — including the counties of Clay, Cloud, Dickinson, Ellsworth, Jewell, Lincoln, Marshall, Mitchell, Ottawa, Republic, Saline and Washington.

Your feedback is important to help shape the future of North Central Kansas and help our organization better serve your community needs. Survey input will also ensure the CEDS document reflects the current needs and priorities of the region.

As a thank you for completing the survey, respondents have the option to list a non-profit organization located in the NCRPC 12-county service area. Two survey responses will be randomly selected and a $50 donation will be made to the nonprofit of choice listed by the respondent. Donations will be paid through private funds.

The survey should take less than 5 minutes to complete. It will end June 15. Thank you!

Take the survey:

This article appeared in the May 2021 NCRPC Newsletter.

Request for Proposals for Delivery of Training and Technical Assistance for Region’s Businesses and Non-Profits

The North Central Regional Planning Commission (NCRPC) has released a Request for Proposals for delivery of training and technical assistance to businesses and non-profits located in NCRPC’s 12-county service area.

Experienced firms, groups, or individuals are invited to submit proposals that focus on providing training and technical assistance in the following areas: Developing an Online Presence; Business Continuity/Succession Planning; Employee Recruitment; Non-Profit Board Retention and Development; Business and Non-Profit Basics; and Grocery Store Specific Training.

The NCRPC currently serves the following counties in North Central Kansas: Clay, Cloud, Dickinson, Ellsworth, Jewell, Lincoln, Marshall, Mitchell, Ottawa, Republic, Saline and Washington. This RFP and the resulting trainings/technical assistance are being developed as part of the region’s response and recovery to the economic impacts of COVID-19. It is funded in part by the U.S. Department of Commerce EDA CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant awarded to the NCRPC. A schedule of training is anticipated to be available in July.

“We look forward to building a cadre of professionals who can deliver personalized training to businesses and nonprofits in North Central Kansas,” training coordinator Laura Leite said. “Another goal is for training to continue through on-demand and web access into the future. A resource bank will also be developed to include online training, sites with general information and links to service providers who specialize in non-profit and small business support.”

NCRPC will host a call on Wednesday, May 12 at 10 a.m. to answer any questions about information contained in this RFP. Proposals are being accepted until May 21, 2021. To view the RFP, visit

Rural Voices 2020-2021 Winners Announced

Congratulations to the 2020-2021 Rural Voices Youth Contest winners!

  • image of 2020-2021 Rural Voices Contest logoAvery Johnson, Beloit Jr. Sr. High School
  • Carrie Roe, Herington High School

View the winning entries below.

About the Contest

The NCRPC sponsors the Rural Voices Youth Contest each year to engage high school seniors in North Central Kansas in thoughtful reflection on rural Kansas and to promote a discussion among citizens based on their insights. The 2020-2021 theme was “Rural Kansas…Tomorrow’s Possibilities.”

By Avery Johnson

By Carrie Roe

Rural Kansas — the best place to grow up. I am a fifth generation resident of the little town of Herington, which is located in the southeast corner of Dickinson County. I was born and raised in this railroad town of just 2,264 people, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. My dad grew up in Belleville, another small community in North Central Kansas, but my parents made the decision to live in Herington because they wanted us to build valuable relationships with extended family. My maternal grandparents own farmland that has been in the family for over 100 years, and it’s the pride they take in caring for this land that makes me want to raise my own family in rural Kansas.

The endless number of opportunities that are available in a small town are significant. When I was younger, I spent the majority of my time riding bikes with my siblings, swimming at my neighbor’s pool, and going to church with my family. The school bus stop was right outside my front door, so I’d talk with my friends before engaging in a full day of learning with my class of just 30 kids. Now, I’m able to represent Herington in all sports and extracurricular activities. My teachers know my name and my plans for the future, and help build me up to the person I need to be to reach my goals. Residents of Herington will see me mentioned in the local newspaper and never fail to congratulate me for my accomplishments on the volleyball court, for winning Homecoming Queen, or anything else far and in between. It’s blessings like these that just don’t come from a bigger town. Many people don’t understand that small town living is a hidden gem that needs to be discovered… Rural Kansas can become tomorrow’s possibilities, but will have to overcome challenges and setbacks to reach its full potential to thrive.

From the beginning of time, Herington has been a hub for a number of rail lines, including the Rock Island, Cotton Belt Route, Southern Pacific, and Union Pacific Railroads. The Union Pacific still uses Herington to this day. In recent years, Herington has begun to transform into a recreation destination, with numerous opportunities for fishing and camping at the Herington Lake, which covers 367 acres, and the Herington Reservoir, which covers 555 acres. The city also offers opportunities for hiking and horseback riding because we are in the western end of the Flint Hills Trail, a state park that stretches for 119 miles, from Osawatomie in the east to Herington in the west.

While all of these components of Herington are positives that we need to continue to build upon, there are definitely some struggles of living in a smaller farm town. For example, Herington is losing small businesses. My grandma remembers a movie theatre, skating rink, two grocery stores, lumber yards, pharmacies, and three banks. Now, however, we are just barely lucky enough to have a grocery store, two banks, a hospital, and a few hair salons. So many of our residents would rather take the 30 mile trip to Junction City to shop at Walmart, rather than walk down the street to shop locally. Without support from the citizens of Herington, our remaining small businesses will be forced to close. Another problem in Herington, as well as many other rural Kansas towns, is lack of income and job opportunities. Herington’s poverty rate is 23.47 percent. Many residents are born in the vicious cycle of poverty and aren’t quite sure how to work their way out of it. Citizens of smaller communities are in desperate need of a breath of new life, and here’s how to create it.

Strong communities are the lifeblood of Kansas. To build stronger towns, Community Development Programs sponsored by the Kansas Department of Commerce may be able to help rural areas with their businesses and main streets. Commercial rehabilitation grants help cities improve the quality of their downtown structures by assisting private property owners in the restoration of rundown buildings. The goal is that these grant funds will help prevent the spread of bad conditions to other nearby structures. Another program of the Kansas Department of Commerce is the Kansas Main Street program, which provides technical assistance and support for communities working on developing ways to revitalize and strengthen their downtown. It is centered around four points: economic vitality, design, promotion and organization. These strategies guide the local program toward a distinct vision of what they want their community to be. Per the Kansas Department of Commerce website, from 1985 to 2012, more than $600 million in redevelopment took place in participating Kansas communities. This included the opening or expansion of 3,800 small businesses, and creating more than 8,600 new jobs. With the return of the state program in 2020, 25 returning communities and new programs will be provided with the resources and tools they need to spark their potential. Another program sponsored by the state of Kansas has designated 77 counties as “Rural Opportunity Zones,” which means moving there brings a significant number of benefits. These designated counties offer new full-time residents state income tax waivers for up to five years and/or student loan repayments of up to $15,000 over a period of five years. I believe the state may need to expand this classification to more rural counties in an effort to bring the younger generation back to the heart of our state.

In correlation to these state programs, recently, my town has started a similar program called Herington Hearts that offers support to families in helping them build financial, emotional, and social resources as well as economic stability within the community. It has proven to be extremely beneficial thus far, and I believe a program similar to this would be beneficial for all rural communities that are desperate to decrease their poverty rate. These types of programs could offer a range of services to help communities in rural Kansas improve infrastructure, promote local businesses, preserve history, and enhance quality of life for those living in the farm towns of Kansas.

My vision for rural Kansas in ten years is one where people are proud to say they are from their tiny towns. We have many amazing communities in the area but I will always stand firm in my belief that rural towns are where families need to be raised. The values, morals, and work ethic that come from small town living makes admirable, hirable young adults. By 2030, I hope and pray for a thriving agricultural economy with happy residents and friendships that will last a lifetime. I strive for rural Kansas to have prospering businesses that fill the main streets and for poverty rates to be near zero. I am excited for the opportunity to raise my future children in a town similar to my own, so they can also experience the wonders of rural Kansas. I want them to know the feeling of being able to walk out the front door to hop on the school bus, and the pleasure of making real connections with their teachers, not just being a number in a database or a face in a crowd. These blessings don’t just come from everywhere… they do, however, come from rural Kansas — the best place to grow up.

Check back in Fall 2021 for details on the 2021-2022 Rural Voices Youth Contest.


Resources in Response to COVID-19

The North Central Regional Planning Commission is working hard to ensure current programs continue to operate as seamlessly as possible during this time. Recognizing the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on individuals and businesses in the region, this resource page is intended to provide helpful information. It will be updated as needed.

Business Financial Resources

NCK Business Relief Loan Fund - RLF
The North Central Kansas Business Relief Loan Program provides loans to for-profit businesses adversely impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic to help preserve businesses and jobs. Eligible counties include Clay, Cloud, Dickinson, Ellsworth, Jewell, Lincoln, Marshall, Mitchell, Ottawa, Republic, Saline, and Washington County, Kansas. The program provides up to $50,000 per job being created/retained up to $150,000 maximum loan amount with $10,000 minimum loan amount (subject to availability of funds).

More Information: See all eligibility requirements and learn more at the NCK Business Relief Loan Fund web page.

Innovation Stimulus Program
The Technology Development Institute at Kansas State University is offering the Innovation Stimulus Program as a result of CARES funding provided by the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The program offers existing businesses or entrepreneurs who have been adversely impacted by COVID-19 the ability to apply for no cost engineering and business development assistance. The program provides up to $150,000 worth of services with a project cap of $20,000 for any single project.

Examples of projects which could fit within the program would be:

  • Design, engineering or prototyping of new concepts
  • Creation of SolidWorks models
  • Creation of production drawings or other manufacturing documentation
  • Conducting preliminary customer/market research
  • Conducting preliminary intellectual property research
  • Creation of websites or marketing materials
  • Other areas of technical support as needed

More Information: Learn more and apply at the Technology Development Institute (TDI) website.

USDA Business and Industry CARES Act Program (BICAP)
This program makes available up to $1 billion in loan guarantees to help rural businesses meet their working capital needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also may assist agricultural producers that are not eligible for USDA Farm Service Agency loans.

Program Highlights:

  • Bank loan guaranteed 90% by USDA
  • Business located in community under 50k in population
  • Use of proceeds:  Operating capital, inventory, and ongoing debt service
  • Maximum loan amount based on 12 months operating capital less PPP award and EIDL grant/loan (up to $25 million)
  • Interest rate set by bank
  • Term up to 10 years
  • Payment deferral for 12 months, but interest will accrue.
  • $1 for $1 market value collateral coverage
  • Personal guaranty

More Information: View the Fact Sheet and learn more at the USDA Rural Development website.

U.S. Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loans and Loan Advance
Eligible small businesses and agricultural businesses may apply for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Advance of up to $10,000. This advance is designed to provide economic relief to businesses that are currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. SBA resumed processing EIDL applications that were submitted before the portal stopped accepting new applications on April 15 and will be processing those applications on a first-come, first-served basis. On June 15, SBA began accepting new EIDL and EIDL Advance applications from qualified small businesses and U.S. agricultural businesses.

More Information: View the Fact Sheet for the U.S. Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loans. Applicants may apply online, receive additional disaster assistance information and download applications from the SBA.

U.S. Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program* (Funds currently Depleted)
*The program closed August 8, 2020.

The Paycheck Protection Program is a loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. SBA will forgive loans if all employee retention criteria are met, and the funds are used for eligible expenses.

More Information: Additional information is available from the SBA.

Kansas Small Business Development Center Resources
Additional small business resources, including free training webinars and information on financial assistance, are listed at the Kansas Small Business Development Center.

Housing Resources

Kansas Eviction Prevention Program (KEPP)
The Kansas Eviction Prevention Program (KEPP) provides rental assistance to households that have missed one or more rent payment(s) as a result of the COVID pandemic. Landlords and tenants apply via a joint online process. If the application is approved, the landlord receives rental assistance funds directly from KEPP, applies KEPP funds to the tenant’s account, and waives late fees for the month(s) assistance was awarded. Approved tenants are eligible for a maximum of nine months of assistance, not to exceed $5,000 per household.

Program funds are limited and applications are being processed in the order they are received.

More information is available from the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation (KHRC).

Technology Resources

NCKCN Assistance
NCKCN, a NCRPC affiliate, is offering a virtual helping hand to those in need as much as they possibly can during these uncertain times. For those working remotely and those attending classes online from home due to recent events, NCKCN would like to announce that they will be handing out (on a very limited supply and donated “AS IS”) computers to those who need them. NCKCN is also increasing their customer’s Internet speeds who are currently receiving 6Mbps or lower at no additional cost. These are only a couple things NCKCN is doing to help out their local communities. Learn more at NCKCN.

Information from Official Sources