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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.


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.

Two High School Seniors Win Rural Voices Youth Contest

Two high school seniors in North Central Kansas are being recognized with the John R. Cyr Rural Voices Award for submitting the top entries in the 2018-2019 Rural Voices Youth Contest.

Students had the option to submit an original essay or video reflective of the contest theme — “Rural Kansas…My Community.” McKenzie Shippy, a senior at Herington High School, was awarded first place in the video category. Kara Eilert, a senior at St. John’s Catholic High School, Beloit, was awarded first place in the written category. Both students will receive a cash award of $850.

The awards are named in honor of John Cyr who served for 22 years as the NCRPC Executive Director. High school seniors in the 12-county NCRPC service area were eligible to participate. NCRPC has sponsored the contest annually since 2006 and has awarded more than $22,000 to seniors from across the region.

“The contest theme this year allowed high school seniors to reflect on their community and the value it has in their lives,” NCRPC Executive Director Doug McKinney said. “Community culture, whether it is a specific place or an overall feeling in a broader area, is important. Knowing how a community works and its strengths and opportunities is also important.”

Both students say they enjoyed participating in the Rural Voices contest.

“I loved the opportunity to be creative showing Kansas how my community has shaped me into who I am,” Shippy said. “This video was my way of giving back to Herington and Woodbine for all the support they have given me.”

“To me, rural Kansas is home, so I was very excited about the opportunity to write about what rural Kansas means to me and share my thoughts on how we can strive to keep our communities sought after places for individuals to call home,” Eilert said.

To view the top entries or to learn more about the contest, visit Details for the 2019-2020 contest will be announced in the fall.

This article appeared in the March 2019 NCRPC Newsletter.

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.

Internships Benefit Student Intern, Host Organization

Written by Doug McKinney, NCRPC Executive Director

An internship is a way for young adults to get credit for real-world experience. Interns work with an organization engaging in activities that provide them with new learning while benefiting the host organization. One funding source for internships is the Dane G. Hansen Foundation Community Intern Initiative. It matches Northwest Kansas communities or organizations that have a specific need with upper-level college students to address that need during a summer internship.

Communities or organizations first identify a community improvement project — such as downtown revitalization planning; community website/marketing; park or trail improvement; design for re-purposing an old building; or a host of other possibilities — and then apply to host an intern to assist with the project beginning in late May and ending in early August. Hosts in 2018 were City of Belleville, Jewell County Economic Development, Lincoln County Economic Development Foundation, North Central Regional Planning Commission, Ad Astra Music Festival of Russell and Wallace County Community Foundation.

Emily Reno, 2018 Hansen Intern for NCRPC, focused on food system information gathering as part of a regional food system assessment the NCRPC is doing in 2018 and 2019.

“While the first day on the job gave me somewhat of an indication of what my summer would look like, it in no way prepared me for the friendships I was to form in just a short period of time. And little did I know that I would soon find myself immersed in rural culture down to every last county fair, harvest festival, and Fun Day,” Reno said. “North Central Kansas is truly a unique place. Enough for me to consider it as a place I could come back to and call my home.”

Two interns with Lincoln County Economic Development Foundation focused on downtown building façade improvements. Some of the signage and improvement ideas they laid out will occur yet this year.

“It was definitely worthwhile,” Kelly Larson, Lincoln County Economic Development Foundation Executive Director, said.

Russ Piroutek, Belleville City Clerk, said the city hosted an intern who was able to work on community center concepts for the downtown area and gain a great deal of public feedback about the ideas generated.

Jewell County hosted two interns in 2018. They worked on deteriorating building and spatial development options in various downtown areas. They also worked with the Jewell County Health Coalition on fitness center options.

“It was a great project with lots of value,” Jenny Russell, Coordinator for Jewell County Community Development Association, said. “Hansen support was imperative!”

Another example of a successful internship program is the Nex-Generation Student Internship Program. In 2018, 56 businesses across Northwest and North Central Kansas hosted 68 high school and college interns.

“One of our main objectives is to expose students to Northwest and North Central Kansas workforce opportunities at an early age and encourage them to look for jobs right here at home,” Mendi Anschutz, Nex-Tech’s Economic Development/Networking Specialist, said. “We launched this program through Nex-Tech in 2011 with 6 interns. Three years ago, we opened up the program to local businesses, and a true culture shift has begun.”

At the conclusion of her internship, Emily Reno wrote a Letter to the Editor at the Beloit Call. To read the letter, visit

For more information about the Hansen Intern Initiative, click here. The deadline for communities to apply to host summer interns is October 31, 2018. For more information about the Nex‐Generation Student Internship Program, click here. Businesses interested in hosting interns should contact Nex-Generation before December 2018.

This column appeared in the September 2018 NCRPC Newsletter.


Rural Voices Contest Open to NC KS High School Seniors

Rural Voices Youth Contest logoHigh school seniors in North Central Kansas are invited to compete for a chance to win $850 by submitting an essay or video in the 2018-2019 Rural Voices Youth Contest. The NCRPC sponsors the contest and has awarded more than $20,000 to seniors from around the region since 2006.

Students submitting the top entry in each category will receive a cash award of $850 and the winning entries will be published on the NCRPC website. Entries are to be reflective of this year’s contest theme, which is “Rural Kansas…My Community.”

Any senior in high school who lives in or attends a school in the 12-county NCRPC service area is eligible. The deadline is November 30. For details, visit

This article appeared in the September 2018 NCRPC Newsletter.


Rural Voices 2017-2018 Winners Announced

Congratulations to the 2017-2018 Rural Voices winners!Rural Voices Youth Contest Logo

First Place Video Entry: Sydney Johnson, Beloit Junior-Senior High School, Beloit, KS

First Place Written Entry: David Lutgen, St. John’s Catholic High School, Beloit, KS

View the winning video and read the winning essay below.

Rural Kansas… If I Were in Charge
By David Lutgen

Rural Kansas is a great place to call home. Growing up in Beloit, Kansas, has taught me the values of family, hard work, dedication, thankfulness for my blessings, and giving back to others. I love the small town atmosphere where neighbors are friendly, people know and respect each other, and it is a safe place to raise kids. There are many other positive aspects of rural communities in Kansas; however, changes are needed in order to maintain, or, more importantly, to allow these communities to grow. It is necessary to keep up with the times and be willing to make changes. An unknown author said, “Old ways won’t open new doors.” I believe a good place to start would be to attract young families to rural communities. Without increasing and revitalizing the population, these rural communities will die out.

The current housing market deters young people from moving to rural communities. It is not feasible because it is unaffordable for most. I would start by making affordable housing available. In addition to building affordable homes, it would also be beneficial to repair run-down homes, as well as clean up areas in need of refurbishing. This would not only make more housing available, but would enhance the appearance of rural communities, making them more attractive to potential residents. In 1973, a group of people from a rural community in Texas realized a growing need in their community. Their neighbors’ homes were in disrepair, and the homeowners could not afford to fix them. These individuals volunteered their time and skills to help their struggling neighbors. They realized the good their work was doing and its potential. They began an organization called Rebuilding Together to repair and rebuild homes that had fallen into disrepair. Rebuilding Together is now a nationally recognized non-profit housing organization. Organizations such as this would create an improved rural environment. I would create a volunteer home-repair organization for those who would be willing to help others who are not physically, or financially able to make repairs on their own. People who work in their community also take pride and ownership of it. An attractive housing market would encourage growth and revitalization in rural Kansas.

If affordable housing were available, it would be easier to recruit start-up companies or those seeking to expand. Companies such as Sunflower, Carrico Implement, and Agco have had a positive role in attracting young families to the Beloit, Kansas, community by providing employment to a large percentage of residents in Beloit. Other examples of employment that I would promote would  include: construction (building new housing developments), civil service jobs, financial institutions, and restaurants. With that being said, big chain stores such as Walmart would devastate rural Kansas. Kenneth Stone, a researcher at Iowa State University did a study on the effects that Walmart had on local businesses in rural Iowa. The study compared thirty-four rural Iowa towns that had Walmart stores nearby to fifteen Iowa towns that did not. Populations in these towns ranged from 5,000 to 40,000 persons. The results concluded that some small towns lost up to forty-seven percent of their local retail trade after ten years of having Walmart stores nearby. I would be strongly opposed to allowing businesses such as Walmart to take up residence anywhere near a rural area that is wanting to grow. A business such as Walmart would put local stores out of business, which would have the opposite effect of building up small towns.

Hospitals and/or medical clinics are also key components to a thriving rural community. Not only do they provide employment, but also healthcare close to home. People shouldn’t have to travel long distances to receive medical treatment. Some people may argue that traveling long distances is worth it for quality healthcare. Yes, Mayo Clinic may provide better healthcare than a rural hospital; however, rural hospitals are vital for everyday and emergency needs. Take for example, eighteen-month-old Edith Gonzalez. Edith had a grape lodged in her throat and tragically died in her desperate parents’ arms. Edith’s parents could not reach medical treatment before she passed away, as there was no hospital in their rural Texas county. The problem was simple, yet there was no solution. According to the American Hospital Association, there are about 5,700 hospitals in the country, but they tend to be unevenly distributed–only thirty-five percent are located in rural areas. According to the federal Office of Rural Health Policy, researchers at the University of North Carolina have determined that there are 640 counties across the country without quick access to an acute-care hospital, roughly twenty percent of the nation’s 29,000 residential areas. Tragic situations such as this are very preventable with healthcare close to home. Since the rural environment may not be appealing to many doctors, I would promote a student loan forgiveness incentive for young doctors fresh out of medical school to practice in rural communities. This would be a win-win situation for both rural communities and young doctors. Rural communities would have the opportunity to have healthcare, and young doctors could receive a great start to their career, while not having to worry about their student loans.

Schools are also a priority. Parents should not have to worry about their children receiving a quality education. We can’t produce leaders of tomorrow if we don’t give them a quality education today. I would increase funding for grade schools and high schools to ensure all children receive a quality education. Also, perhaps there could be an incentive for college students to work in a rural community after graduation, if jobs were available to them.

Local shopping and recreational activities also boost the rural environment and economy. Many people shop on the internet or commute long distances to shop. I would encourage competitive pricing in local businesses to entice people to shop locally, keeping money in the community. I would also promote new local business by providing a tax-free incentive for new business owners. Entertainment also plays a role in rural areas. For example, Beloit, Kansas, has a community movie theater, new water park, Chautauqua Park, Isle of Lights during the holiday season, bowling alley, and community concerts. Restaurants are also important to a community. More people than ever before are eating out. Why not bring in quality, affordable eating establishments and keep the money in town? Activities such as school and church functions, county fairs, festivals, barbeques, car shows, parades, farmers markets, and fundraisers also contribute to a small town atmosphere. Recreational activities and restaurants make rural life enjoyable.

A young generation rejuvenates rural communities. A thriving rural community is built around its people. The sense of family, rural atmosphere, and small town values are attractive to young families; however, there is always room for improvement. Rural communities must be willing to change in order to grow. If I were in charge I would provide affordable housing, quality jobs, healthcare, and schools as they are all key components in bringing young families to rural Kansas. Young families are the future of rural Kansas.

Works Cited
Stone, Kenneth “Impact of the Walmart Phenomenon on Rural Communities.” Iowa State
University. Iowa State University. Web. 12 Oct. 2017.

Williams, Joseph “What Happens When a Town’s Only Hospital Shuts Down.” US News and
World Report. US News and World Report, 8 Nov. 2013. Web. 10 Oct. 2017.

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 November 15, 2018. Further details will be announced and registration for the 2018-2019 Rural Voices Youth Contest will begin in September 2018.

Engaging Youth a Valuable Investment: Career Exploration and Leadership Program

Youth Career Exploration and Leadership Program at Waconda Lake

Students spent time at Waconda Lake with a Wildlife Biologist from Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

After a successful first year of the Career Exploration and Leadership Program for 7-9th grade students in Mitchell County, planning has begun for the summer 2018 program.

“We have students who enjoyed the program so much they are already asking about it for next year,” Heather Hartman, Mitchell County Community Development Director and member of the program planning committee, says.

Hartman says the program was a great way to show students career options close to home.

“Small communities need to realize how important it is to get these kids interested when they are young,” Hartman says. “We were amazed at what was accomplished with very little investment. It may seem daunting, but I encourage others to jump in and start planning.”

The Mitchell County program came about after Jeff Travis of USD 273, Eric Burks of NCK Tech, Heather Hartman, and NCRPC Director Doug McKinney attended a forum sponsored by the Kansas Department of Education in December 2016 featuring Pine Bush, New York, and their approach to career engagement and re-attraction of young persons.

The local planning committee discussed overall themes and goals for establishing a local program—the main requirement being to have “hands-on” experiences—and then hired staff to develop the content.

“We were able to hire Cris Adams of USD 273 who worked with that age of students, which was helpful because he had a feel for the types of activities that would work,” Hartman says.

Stephanie Litton, USD 273 Counselor, was also a big part of the program and served as a student guide along with Adams.

Scheduling was one of the biggest challenges in planning. Ultimately the committee decided to offer the program Monday through Thursday for three consecutive weeks in June from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Students could sign up for one, two, or all three weeks.

Students explored applied agriculture, wildlife biology, food creativity, health care, business technology, graphic design, worldwide advertising, civic leadership, robotics, as well as entrepreneurship.

“We wanted to expose students to things they normally wouldn’t see,” Hartman says. “This included classes they could take right here at NCK Tech and also careers they could choose close to home.”

While youth entrepreneurship curriculum exist, Hartman says the Mitchell County program developed its own content and curriculum. Leadership was integrated into each week as well.

“We as a planning committee knew we were passionate about showing kids something new and were thankful when we had staff step up and help,” Hartman says. “Our business community was excellent and really helped out with allowing tours and speakers to interact with these students.”

The cost was $10 per week or $25 for all three weeks. Students received t-shirts and the program offered scholarships.

The Mitchell County program was made possible through local support and a small investment from the Rural Business Development Initiative (Formerly Tax Credits), which the NCRPC administers.

Requests of up to $1,000 to help support the establishment of youth summer learning/entrepreneurship programs throughout the region will be considered. Contact NCRPC for more information about the Rural Business Development Initiative.

Rural Voices Winners Announced

Rural Voices Youth Contest LogoCongratulations to the 2016-2017 Rural Voices winners!

First Place Video Entry: Isabella Hartman, St. John’s Catholic High School, Beloit, KS
First Place Written Entry: Riley Doebele, Hanover High School, Hanover, KS

Watch the winning video and read the winning essay below.

Rural Kansas…Why it Matters
By Riley Doebele

There is a sense of peacefulness that fills a person when they are surrounded by the beauty of nature. People who live in more urban areas do not have the opportunity to see the beauty of the morning sun as it rises into the sky because there is too much pollution which has filled the sky and too many buildings or objects blocking the sight of it, taking away the allure that exists when it is witnessed in a natural environment. Rather than being able to open the windows while doing the dishes to observe the land while listening to birds chirp while the cool breeze of fresh air permeates the room, people who live in urban areas might have a view of their neighbor’s house or of the busy street. Their ears are filled with buzzing vehicles and the air is tainted. The calming sounds and sights of a trickling stream of water and a mother deer crossing a road with its fawn are nonexistent. They have been replaced with bright, blaring sirens and excruciatingly loud construction work. People in rural areas are blessed with the simple things that others who live in large communities might not even know exist.

The aspect of nature is something I absolutely love and cherish about living in rural Kansas. I love being able to look outside the windows and observe the wonders Almighty God has created for us. I love being able to wake up early on a cold morning to watch the sunrise, the frost glisten on the ground, and the wisps of steam rise from the ponds. I love seeing the clear blue sky filled with fluffy white clouds on a warm summer’s day; with waves of golden wheat rolling in the wind. I love how diverse the seasons are in Kansas. The fact that the weather goes from scorching hot to bitter cold amazes me. We are able to watch the seasons change distinctively from fresh, warm, and lively in the spring with everything blooming to bright, hot, and breezy during the summer. It becomes cool, crisp, and colorful during the autumn season and turns to cold, white, blustery, and enchanting in the winter. People who live in urban communities are still capable of feeling the seasons change but they do not actually see it. They are not able to see the environment change as drastically as they would if they lived in an area that is not as altered as the one they inhabit.

Another reason I love being able to live in rural Kansas is because I adore living in a small community where everyone knows everyone and people like to get involved. Even though this is an extremely small gesture, having someone wave to you while driving by or being able to wave to someone who is walking down the street is always something I look forward to. I look forward to it because it is just something that makes my day; seeing the kindness that people can show towards one another. In large towns people give strange glances if you wave at them. The sense of community which is present in a small town is incredible. In disastrous times people are ready to drop everything and come together to support one another. It does not matter if it is someone you are close to or someone you do not particularly get along with, or even someone who you have never talked to in your life; they will show up to help in times of need. This sense of community is also present during community events. The members of my small community all become involved in community events whether this includes attending the event, donating money, or helping assist in these events. Some of the events that take place in my community is the Days of ‘49 which consists of a carnival, parade, and additional activities. We also have a very impressive firework show which is put on by people who are from our community. Other events that the entire town shuts down for is sporting events. If there is a football or basketball games you can expect almost every member of the community is at the field or in the gym. People look forward to watching the games all week and show the athletes more than enough support. The community is very tight-knit and the kids do everything together. They do activities like, swimming in the ponds, swimming at the pool for hours, sledding, shooting baskets, and riding bikes. Kids are able to develop strong friendships and bonds that will last forever.

Being able to live in a rural area also gives me the opportunity to live on a farm and have experiences with farm animals, farm equipment, and growing crops. Having the background experience of living on a farm is something I would never trade. Being able to work with machinery and being knowledgeable about equipment are life experiences that could come in very handy in certain circumstances. I enjoy being around cattle and like being knowledgeable about agriculture. It has taught me many life lessons and working on the farm is a great way to build a strong work ethic. All of the jobs which need done are not always “fun” tasks but they build character. Not to mention the enjoyment you can receive by living on a farm or in the country. I will never forget the times I was able to watch a calf being born, or being able to bottle feed a baby calf. The times I had to help work cattle or use a blow dryer to try to warm a newborn calf during the winter. I will always remember the times I was able to ride in the combine or tractor with my dad, uncle, and cousins. I will always remember the four wheeler rides and planting and picking the watermelons and pumpkins that we planted in an open spot in a field. I will always remember riding in the back of a pickup with my cousins and the farm dog to go pick mushrooms. I will always remember the times I was able to go play on the sand bar and walk in the river. I will always remember being able to go sledding down the hill at the farm. I will always remember being taken fishing and waking up early in the mornings to drive around and look for deer.

These things should matter to others outside of our geography because these are background experiences that will help people to be successful. They should matter to the people living outside of our geography because we are the backbone of the country. We are the ones who work to provide for our families as well as families across the globe. Without people like us, people across the country wouldn’t have produce like the meats and crops we provide. This is one of the ways that the gap is bridged between the distinct culture of rural Kansas and our neighbors in more urban areas. We raise the livestock, make the grain, and produce ethanol for others to use all across the country. One of the ways we can “reinvent” rural Kansas is by making others informed. By using social media we can easily educate urban individuals on what people in rural Kansas do in their everyday lives as well as promoting and advertising our products. A great example of how social media can help educate others is the Peterson Farm Bros. This group has done well to educate what life is like on the farm; this includes their crops and their cattle. They do so in an entertaining way which has created many global connections for them which could ultimately assist our state to capitalize on future growth. Another way we can reinvent Kansas is to continue to upgrade the technology in our equipment, techniques for growing crops, and medicine for our animals. As technology continues to improve it allows us to work more efficiently in all of these different components.

Everyone has their different likes and dislikes and something I really like is living in rural Kansas. Living on a farm, in the country, or even in a small town might not be ideal for everyone and I’m not saying it should be. I enjoy living in rural Kansas for a number of reasons and that is just my personal opinion. People do not have to enjoy Kansas the way I do, but they should appreciate it. Farmers and Ranchers in rural Kansas do more than some people will ever know and they should be thankful for that. They should be thankful for all that they do and this is the reason rural Kansas should matter to others who live outside of our geography because we are connected in more ways than one would think.

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 November 15, 2017. Further details will be announced and registration for the 2017-2018 Rural Voices Youth Contest will begin in September 2017.

Rural Voices Contest Still Going Strong after 10 Years

Rural Voices Youth Contest LogoThe NCRPC is once again offering the Rural Voices Youth Contest for high school seniors in North Central Kansas – marking ten years since the contest began.

The contest was created to give a voice to youth in North Central Kansas and to promote thoughtful reflection on rural Kansas. Students may submit a written essay of a short video based on the year’s contest theme of “Rural Kansas…My Legacy.”

The top entry in each category will receive a cash award of $850 and will be published the site, an affiliate of the NCRPC. More than $15,000 has been awarded to high school seniors from around the region since 2006.

The contest deadline is November 16, 2015. Click here for additional contest information and registration details.