Rural Prosperity Nebraska Extension educators received three of 10 awards offered at the National Association of Community Development Extension Professionals (NACDEP) conference on May 2. The categories for awards received were Excellence in Teamwork, Educational Materials, and Creative Excellence, which is sponsored by another national Extension organization, the Joint Council of Extension Professionals (JCEP).
Award applications are reviewed by a committee of judges and are given based not only the submission’s innovative ideas, but also on how effectively the application shows the tangible benefits of their projects on helping and strengthening communities.
“I was thrilled,” said Shawn Kaskie, the nominating educator who received the Excellence in Teamwork award.
Kaskie collaborated with six other Rural Prosperity Nebraska Extension educators to submit the application, which was titled “Helping the Smallest Communities Access Critical Resources: Nebraska’s American Rescue Plan Act-ARPA Response Effort and Follow-up Assistance.” Their proposal centered on how Extension educators helped 90 small communities in Nebraska apply for and receive their federally appointed ARPA funds, which the government gave to communities during the COVID-19 pandemic to help with local infrastructure projects and community improvements.
“This award really highlights and exemplifies the value of our local Extension relationships,” said Kaskie. “Relationships with community members, community leaders, community officials, all of them.”
Jason Tuller received the Educational Materials award, which recognizes exceptional educational products that help communities with development efforts. Innovation, credibility and user-friendliness are among the key judging criteria.
For this award Tuller submitted the Business Transition Models booklet he created in 2022. Funded by a Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation grant to research grocery stores and transitions, the booklet aims to educate business owners, service providers, and communities about business transition. It covers the various transition options, from liquidation to private sales to family/employee transfer. Flow charts provide visual representations of the steps so individuals can track their progress along the transition path as well as see expected time frames and pros/cons for each option.
“I’m thankful to the Kauffman Foundation for providing the grant to study rural grocery store transitions,” Tuller said. “Even though this is an individual award, all Extension projects take a team. I’m thankful for the entire team that worked on that grant.”
Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel was the nominating educator for a multi-state team of Extension professionals that received the Creative Excellence award for the Marketing Hometown America program. This educational program, which Burkhart-Kriesel co-founded in the Panhandle and is now employed by Extension offices throughout the U.S., focuses on helping communities attract and retain residents by engaging locals in constructive conversations, creating action plans, and executing projects that augment the communities’ existing assets and strengthen their culture.
Speaking of receiving the award, Burkhart-Kriesel said, “It was wonderful because it’s a multi-state team. That, for me, is the best part. I made the application because there are a lot of people working hard, and I wanted them to be recognized. It’s good work. It’s important work.
Part of the application for the Creative Excellence award was discussing the collaborative efforts and reach of the submitted program, which, for Marketing Hometown America, has expanded internationally. In June Burkhart-Kriesel and Extension Educator Marilyn Schlake will travel to Australia to share the program with residents there and discuss how it can be adapted to Australian communities.
“It’s great to be a part of something where it not only adds value to Nebraska, but it adds value to other places as well,” said Burkhart-Kriesel. “You know you’re on the right track when people are wanting to know more about your program, and they’re wanting to replicate it.”
Rural Prosperity Nebraska brings together Extension professionals, faculty from across the University of Nebraska system and student fellows to work with community leaders to help make Nebraska’s rural communities more vibrant. Rural Prosperity Nebraska is housed within the University’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. For more information, visit ruralprosperityne.unl.edu.