Rural Voices 2018-2019 Winners Announced

This article was published on: 02/27/2019

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.