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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


Operations Update

To our Partners, Clients and Friends,

The NCRPC offices will be closed beginning March 18 as a precaution to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Staff will be working remotely during this time. Please know that while our office may be closed, we are still hard at work and staff will be responding via email. If you are seeking assistance while our office is closed and are not sure who to contact, please email us at and the appropriate person will be in touch.

We are grateful for technology that allows our staff to continue serving the needs of Kansans in North Central Kansas and beyond. We are also grateful for the efforts of everyone working to keep our communities healthy and safe. As we monitor the situation, we will continue to look to our local health departments, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the CDC for guidance.

These are trying and uncertain times. Thank you for your patience as we do our part to keep North Central Kansas safe and healthy!


We will be updating a list of resources as they are made available.

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Rural Voices 2019-2020 Winners Announced

Rural Voices Youth Contest logo Congratulations to the 2019-2020 Rural Voices winners!

Jake Toole, Washington County High School

Julisa Wolf, Ell-Saline High School

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 2019-2020 theme was “Rural Kansas…Rural by Choice.” Read the winning entries below.

The Reasons to Choose Rural Living

By Jake Toole

I’ve lived in Washington, Kansas nearly all of my life. It’s a nice little town with a population of around one thousand people. My parents made the choice to move to a small town when I was young because they believed I would benefit from rural living. Why did they make that choice when so many others do not? I believe the answer is that so many do not know what they are missing. To help new families choose rural life we must help them understand the benefits of rural living, we must show them that jobs can be found and created in our area, and we must persuade them that small-town life is the right choice for their children.

There are many benefits to rural living. All of my friends live within bike-riding distance of me. I know everyone in town, (or at least my parents do). I grew up with the benefits of having a yard – and so did every other kid in town, whether rich or poor (which, on a side note, means plenty of potential customers for my teenage mowing business). Plus we have large public parks, ball diamonds, and open areas to take advantage of. And if more space is needed, there’s always a friend’s farm to go hang out at or the state lake just down the road to have some good outdoor fun. My grandparents live “out of town” which is less than a 5-minute drive from my “in town” home. I can pop out anytime and be outside city limits, giving me a chance to let our dog run free, to practice target shooting or shoot fireworks in the summer at a moment’s notice. I can also drive to the grocery store, the gas station, or the pharmacy and be back home in less than 5 minutes. There is no such thing as traffic and no time is wasted sitting in rush hour on the way to work every day. Although time is often added to a “quick” trip because you run into someone who wants to ask about your latest endeavor at school or inquire if your grandpa got over his cold or if your Mom is enjoying her new flowers at the house. That’s what makes rural life so great – it is truly a community – a place where we have common interests, goals, and love for our shared lives.

Unfortunately promoting rural living has one big challenge: jobs, or rather the lack thereof. Young couples need the assurance of good jobs and who can blame them with student loans to repay, small children to care for and long-term savings to consider. According to the United States Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the largest employment sector in Washington County is agriculture, the next largest is education and healthcare, and third is retail trade. According to Data USA, the number of employees in Washington County has declined by 1.55 percent from 2016 to 2017. While the job situation for our county may not look too bright, there are other options. Washington, Kansas, is about a half-hour away from several larger towns: Marysville to the east, Belleville to the west, Clay Center to the south, and Fairbury to the north. Although none of these towns are large by most standards, each has many more job opportunities both for blue-collar workers and for those with higher education. My father is a CPA and makes the twenty-minute commute every day to his accounting firm job in Marysville. This short commute, compared to 45 minutes in rush hour traffic, is a much more viable option for a young couple in need of a well-paying job. Allowing them to experience small-town life while working in a larger town. However, the commuter’s life is not the only option. Washington County is ripe with entrepreneurial opportunities. Our town has many small businesses that provide goods and services. If the service is needed a business can survive and thrive. One example is the hair salon industry – we have six independent hair salon businesses in our small town. Everyone needs to get their hair done. We have a family-owned grocery store that’s been serving our community for generations. There are also many stores around the area that provide services and supplies for farmers. These businesses also draw in customers from the rest of the county and beyond, helping to boost the local economy. Although these small businesses may not have a large customer base, they DO have very little competition. Entrepreneurs have a great opportunity to find a niche and focus on building a business, instead of undercutting the competition.

So how can we attract people to our community so they can experience all these benefits? I believe the answer lies in my parent’s example. My mother grew up in the same small town we live in now. When I was two years old, my parents agreed that sending me to a massive city school with class sizes of five-hundred or more was not what they wanted for me. They wanted me to know my classmates and to develop friendships with them over the years of my schooling. They wanted me to be well rounded by being involved in a variety of things in school. And most of all they wanted me to be an actual person to my teachers, instead of just another name to get to know for one year and then never really see again. All of this was possible when my parents decided to move to my mother’s hometown of Washington, Kansas. I’ve known my classmates since kindergarten. My grade school teachers still cheer me on at my high school cross country meets. I participate in band, chorus, art, forensics, scholar bowl, track and more. THIS is how we appeal to young couples – through their children. People will make the hard choices to move, to try new jobs, to leave malls, movie theatres, and sporting arenas if it means something better for their children. Let’s show them the opportunities that exist for their children in our small towns – to have a yard, to ride a bike in town, to know their neighbors, to walk a dog down the street. Let’s show them the opportunities for their children in our schools. The opportunities to truly know their classmates and teachers. The opportunities to allow their children to dip their toes into a variety of fields and activities, so they might truly find what they want to pursue. But how can we spread the word of all these great opportunities for small town living? I propose we advertise where the young couples are. Facebook ads are a great way to promote rural living as they can be targeted by age and location and are relatively cheap. I also propose radio advertising in large, metropolitan areas during rush hour traffic. What better time to convince listeners of the beauty of wide open spaces and a simpler life, than while they are sitting in a traffic jam on their way to work?

Obviously, rural living isn’t for everyone. But I believe that if more people knew all the benefits of small-town life for themselves and for their children, they would live rural by choice and never look back.

Rural Voices Youth Contest

By Julisa Wolf

When we, as teenagers, leave our homes to pursue our future careers in college or begin our time in the workforce, we tend to forget where our lives truly began. I believe that as we grow older, we reflect on all that we have accomplished and achieved. We ponder the great things we have received. We may have financial security, or we may also be well endowed with numerous items that show how wealthy we are. We may be recognized and revered by the community we live in. One might say that we are living our best lives. However, all of this fortune, comfort, and recognition means nothing, because there is a void inside ourselves that cannot be filled with tangible items. There is something that is missing, but we try not to pay attention and instead ignore it. We think that our money and considerable success will aid us in forgetting or ignoring the void, but it will always be there, until a change is made.

Over the course of my high school career, I have had the opportunity to hear some incredibly powerful stories of how people have managed to find their way back home to pursue their dreams where they grew up. I have been able to actively sit and listen to their vivid descriptions of how they got to their starting point that inevitably led them to their hometown. These deep and emotional narratives have impacted my life significantly.

A teacher of mine, we’ll call him Mr. Lyn, shared his story with our class. I looked forward to hearing his story because I thought of him as ancient and sage, for he was always willing to share his experiences so that others could learn from him. Mr. Lyn began his story by describing how successful he felt for graduating high school. Not long after, he moved away from his hometown to pursue a career in agriculture at a four-year university. Obtaining an agriculture degree was a dream he wanted to achieve since he was a young boy. Mr. Lyn’s ultimate goal was to make a difference somewhere by impacting the people around him to be better versions of themselves. He described his love for the experience he had and that he would most certainly do it again if given the opportunity. Nevertheless, he also shared that while he was gone, he felt alone and stressed. There was something inside him that just didn’t sit right. It was like a prickling on the back of his neck, a constant discomfort that never seemed to go away.

While in college, Mr. Lyn decided to further his passion for agriculture by becoming an educator because he wanted to share this passion of his with the younger generation. After graduating, he soon got a few jobs teaching around the state, but he still maintained close ties with the university he had attended. He was a very well liked man who was easily recognizable. His life was full of prosperous blessings, but still, despite all the attention he received, he could not stray away from the loneliness that burrowed in his heart and mind. Mr. Lyn wondered whether he needed to look at the world from different places. He thought to himself, perhaps this will fill his void? Maybe afterwards he would feel better and be able to continue, so he took on traveling. Although he had plenty of company and was genuinely enjoying himself around different countries, the sadness continued. He began to think that perhaps this wasn’t his purpose in life. All of the knowledge he had gained in school, all of the experiments and beautiful things done in college, he could no longer do. Every place he would travel to did not feel right for him. It was as though he did not fit in. Shortly after, he received disturbing news that his father was gravely ill. He returned home…only to bury him.

A few years after his father’s passing, he had an epiphany–he was no longer depressed. During these short years, he was hired at his alma mater, the very same place he graduated high school. He was teaching what he loved most–agriculture. He was given the opportunity to teach diverse students from ethnic backgrounds and learn both with and about them. Although Mr. Lyn returned home for unexpected and world-shattering reasons, there was a blessing hidden underneath the dark cloud. For he was able to continue sharing his passion for agriculture with students who he had common interests with. He immediately knew that this job was what he wanted to do, but most importantly it was where he belonged. As the years go by, Mr. Lyn’s story continues to inspire several of his students in the same manner in which I have been inspired. He taught us that sometimes, we do not need to travel the world to make a difference. Sometimes, the difference can be made in our own community.

Mr. Lyn set a goal for himself and achieved it. He educated us with the proper way to give back. Everyday we learn in class about what we can do for others around us and what that feels and looks like when we do things for others. For example, our annual canned food drive, we give food to local families in need during the holidays. Or our community garden, where we gather fruits and vegetables to donate to our school cafeteria for lunch. With his knowledge and kind heart, he has helped provide several amazing things to his community table that go beyond the examples previously described.

In conclusion, to reiterate the Rural Kansas question, what can be done in our communities for people to want to come or return? What challenges must be overcome to encourage others to be rural? The first step is that we need to have faith in ourselves and determine and set goals. The steps taken to get to the end goal aren’t as important as meeting the needs of our community. The second step is that we must learn to collaborate as a community so that we can easily recognize and address the highest needs of our rural areas. In every place we choose to settle down in, there will always be something that we can help with. No matter the profession, no matter the person, the amount of work is endless. One possible solution to the challenges that need to be overcome is by making our communities more friendly and welcoming. By making the community approachable, comfortable, and at-ease, it shows people that anything they contribute is useful and resourceful. The people of the community need to feel as though the location where they choose to make a difference, suits them. They need to feel that they belong.

The next contest deadline will be December 1, 2020. Check back in the fall for details on the 2020-2021 Rural Voices Youth Contest.

Rural Voices 2018-2019 Winners Announced

Rural Voices Youth Contest logo

Congratulations to the 2018-2019 Rural Voices winners!

First Place Video Entry: McKenzie Shippy, Herington High School

First Place Written Entry: Kara Eilert, St. John’s Catholic High School

View the winning video and read the winning essay below.

Rural Kansas…My Community
By Kara Eilert

When I hear the word community, a definite image appears in my head. I think of main street. Every town has one, yet they are all different and unique in their own way. Some are large and long, some abandoned, and some thriving, but each hold a vital piece that is essential to the identity of the community.

Rural Kansas is often described as a place “where everything always stays the same.” Some ask me why I like it here. I have to think, then I respond. It is all I have ever known. Living in a small town, my life has a basic routine: Friday night athletic games, church on Sunday, with school, work on the farm, and time spent with friends and family in between. It’s a comfort to know no matter where I go in life or what challenges I might face, I will always have a strong support system from my local community.

The rolling hills, fields stretching for miles in the distance, and vibrant sunsets all echo the same truth; we are not alone. A quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson helps capture the meaning of living in an area surrounded by the constant allure of nature, “Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting.” When living in a rural community, all it takes is a five minute drive out of town on the highway to exit our busy lives and find the beauty and simplicity of our world in nature.

Many features set my community, Beloit, apart from other rural communities and make it unique, however, I would like to focus on four areas: education, health care, industry, and recreation. Each of these sectors help Beloit thrive and makes rural Kansas a sought after place to call home.

In Beloit, we enjoy excellent educational opportunities for all ages, from early childhood learning all the way through post-secondary education. Mitchell County Early Learning Center provides developmental opportunities for children starting as young as two weeks old through twelve years of age. When it is time for parents to enroll their children into school, Beloit offers two quality school options, a public school and a private Catholic school. Beloit Elementary and Jr./Sr. High School won the 2018 National School of Character Award and strives to implement innovative teaching programs. St. John’s Catholic Schools, with classes Pre-K through 12th grade, was awarded the Kansas Newman School of Excellence award in 2015 and provides small classes with a family atmosphere focusing on the development of the entire person: mind, body and soul. For students deciding to further their careers, NCK Technical College, established in 1965, provides multiple options for students pursuing post-secondary educational opportunities. They pride themselves on being nationally ranked in job placement and graduation rates. Education has been shown to increase economic growth and stability, two critical components of a progressive community. Beloit is fortunate to have these educational institutions providing valuable human assets to its community.

An important component of any community is access to quality health care. Beloit is home to Mitchell County Hospital Health Systems, a level four trauma center. The Beloit Medical Center, with eight doctors, is available for routine appointments and health concerns. If additional services are necessary, several doctors come to Beloit for specialty services. Hilltop Lodge Retirement Community provides options for skilled nursing and rehab to assisted living units to on-call assistance independent apartments. With exceptional health care easily accessible, residents of Beloit have strong, consistent relationships with their physicians and seek treatment when necessary to enjoy a happy, healthy, productive life.

To thrive, individuals must have access to strong employment opportunities. Several renowned industry options exist within Beloit. Although the economy revolves around the agriculture industry, which is supported by AGCO, Carrico Implement and Central Valley Ag, other vital industries in the area provide quality employment opportunities including health care and education. Possibilities exist for people with degrees in engineering, education, health care and business, only to name a few.

When the day is done or the weekend is here, residents of Beloit have multiple entertainment options. Chautauqua Park is home to Chautauqua Pool, a family aquatic park, a frisbee golf course, picnic shelters and playground equipment. If fishing or boating is part of your weekend plans, Waconda Lake is a short fifteen minute drive outside of Beloit. With abundant farm ground and pasture land, hunting is a popular hobby for many residents. And for an overall family night out, the Solomon Valley Cinema provides current movies for everyone to enjoy.

I am fortunate to live and grow in a very progressive community. In the last thirty to forty years, many forward thinking individuals have set the stage for all of us here today. They took chances, I am sure a few ended in failure, but many succeeded. However, we cannot be complacent and expect our community to continue to thrive based on these past successes. New opportunities are waiting to be explored and implemented. It is vital to encourage college graduates and young families to return to small communities, yet this can be challenging. Injecting new ideas and fresh thoughts into existing industries is crucial as well as generating new companies and services to keep us on the leading edge.

I feel one area the community of Beloit needs to continually evaluate is their position in reference to technology. We must have an up-to-date technology infrastructure. In today’s world, we operate within a global community. Everyone is connected via technology. We must have structures in place for individuals to complete their work timely and efficiently from anywhere they might be. Cell phone towers and high speed networks must be readily accessible, reliable and affordable. Beloit may not physically be home to Fortune 500 companies, but with technology advances, individuals can work for these companies while still living in Beloit.

Another area which must continually be evaluated is quality, affordable housing options. If we want people to live and work here, we must provide attractive living alternatives. We need to provide options ranging from apartments and duplexes, to family homes to retirement living. Beloit was established in the late 1800’s, so over the years, many houses have been built. Some of the older homes are small and require needed improvements. Construction of new homes require a large financial investment, which may not be affordable. Beloit must maintain an inventory of homes with various price points to attract residents to establish roots in our community.

All throughout the state people talk about the “Kansas winds.” A recent push by the State of Kansas has been to turn these vibrant Kansas winds into a viable, renewable energy source. Kansas is squarely placed in the center of America’s wind tunnel, a corridor stretching from North Dakota south into the Texas panhandle. With our abundant open prairie fields, Beloit needs to capitalize on this developing technology and industry. Many jobs and sources of income are available to those who embrace this new forward thinking. With available jobs and an increasing economy, our population would benefit with the establishment of wind farms in our community.

Community, from the dictionary, is defined as a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. Does this definition hold true in all communities? Probably not, so ask yourself what you are doing or can do to improve the outlook people have on your town. As the younger generation starts to take ownership of what we want our community to be, we must strive to stay on the path of innovation, prosperity, and resilience. This will then in turn lead our rural communities to continue to thrive for years to come, even after our part in it is complete.

About the Contest:  The Rural Voices Youth Contest is sponsored each year by the North Central Regional Planning Commission (NCRPC) 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 next contest deadline will be December 2, 2019. Check back for more information for the 2019-2020 Rural Voices Youth Contest in late August.

Food Systems Intern Shares What She Learned about North Central Kansas

by Emily Reno

Note: The following post is Emily Reno’s Letter to the Editor that appeared in the August 10, 2018 issue of the Beloit Call. Reno was a 2018 summer intern at the NCRPC. As a Food Systems Intern, she worked closely with the NCK Food Council helping with the community food survey and regional food assessment. Her position was made possible through the Dane G. Hansen Foundation and K-State Research and Extension Intern Program.

Dear Editor,

North Central Kansas is imperfect. It’s imperfect, but in the best kind of way. Ten weeks ago I could have told you a thousand reasons why living in rural Kansas is the worst idea anyone has ever had. I could not have come up with more than ten for why it is the best. Ten weeks later, and I feel obligated to write a letter of apology not only to the community of Beloit, for not having given it enough credit at the start, but to the entire region of North Central Kansas. Time and time again I have been welcomed with open arms, loaned various kitchen utensils, stopped for conversation, and given wide eyes but not shunned for being from—yes, that other University in Kansas. No, I’m not a Wildcat, but I am a Kansan. And I’ve never been proud of it until having spent time in a place that felt so far away from home you would have thought I left the country. As weird as it sounds, all the oversized Czech eggs, tractor parades, and toilets in the middle of a cornfield is what makes North Central Kansas a truly unique place. Enough for me to consider it as a place I could come back to and call my home. Gone are my assumptions that city life offers a way of living unparalleled in rural America. The two worlds are not better than one another. They are just different, and special in their own ways. My internship with the North Central Regional Planning Commission is hands down one of the best decisions I ever made, because I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on other, better opportunities by being here.


Capital Improvement Planning Workshop Offered

The North Central Regional Planning Commission will host an educational workshop about the benefits of and process of Capital Improvement Planning for Local Government. Capital Improvement Plans (CIP) act as long term guides that provide a schedule of construction or acquisition of capital improvements and provide a framework for how they will be funded.

Participation in the workshop is encouraged from anyone in our 12-county service area whether you have a plan that needs updating or have never had a capital improvement plan for your city or county. We will go over in detail an 8-Step Capital Improvement Planning Process developed by the Kansas Association of Regional Development Organizations. In addition, you will leave with valuable worksheets and educational materials to use and share with your local government. We will also review the results of our CIP survey that was sent out to all cities and counties in our region. We are confident this will be an excellent learning opportunity and encourage several members of your local government to attend! Choose the date and location most convenient for you.

Cost: $5 per Person

Time: 5:30pm – Dinner will be Provided

Date and Locations:

Wednesday, February 15
Bennington Senior Center
409 N Nelson St, Bennington, KS

Thursday, February 16
Linn City Building
104 5th St, Linn, KS

Please RSVP to Emily Benedick at or 785-738-2218.

Take the Survey!

The NCRPC is asking for your participation in a survey developed to help us gather information about the wants and needs within the cities and counties we serve. The purpose of the survey is to gather information in order to help communities begin to develop a capital improvement plan specific to each individual city/county situation. In addition, we hope this survey can lead to regional benefits by determining projects which could be accomplished on a regional level but not necessarily a local level.

The survey can be completed online at: