Many people think that I only attended the HomeTown Competitiveness (HTC) Leadership Academy in Holyoke, Colorado, as a high school sophomore because I wanted to skip school. Maybe I did. However, I like to think that I already had identified a connection with my hometown of Atwood, Kansas. One thing is certain, though: that training helped solidify the connection and affinity I have for rural communities. During those few days in April of 2005, I met Darryl Birkenfeld, Ogallala Commons Executive Director, whose friendship and mentorship has helped shape me over the past decade. I also met Craig Schroeder with Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, whose path I would cross many years later. I learned that an entire community development framework had something to do with supporting young people and entrepreneurs. I also proved that not all young people in rural communities are the same, when I told Craig I would save the money he was offering rather than spend it on pizza.
Since that two-day training in Holyoke, I’ve been blessed to have had pieces of Ogallala Commons (who organized that HTC Academy) interwoven in my life. I’ve learned about commonwealth assets through speaking at one of OC’s annual conferences, through my participation in a youth entrepreneurship fair with an idea that was sparked during that HTC Academy, by becoming the first OC Community Intern, and later, by serving on OC’s Board of Directors. My personal journey has also included going to college at the University of Kansas to study business management and leadership studies and entrepreneurship, with my sights set on returning home to western Kansas. I served the people of Kansas from Washington D.C. in a semester long internship with Senator Jerry Moran. I returned home to take a job as the Wichita County Economic Development Director, where I supervised three community interns through Ogallala Commons’ program. Now I have the opportunity to serve parts of western Kansas as the manager of rural entrepreneurship for NetWork Kansas (http://www.networkkansas.com/
All the while, I have never let the commonwealth assets — especially sense of place — stray far from my heart. The region of the Great Plains, the Ogallala Aquifer, and the Commons has become part of who I am over the past 10 years. While the HTC Framework has had strong influence in my life choices, I know that Ogallala Commons’ board members, advisers, and methodology have opened many doors for me. Without Ogallala Commons hosting that initial Academy, who knows where I would be. If I have a chance to encourage a student or two to someday skip school to attend a meaningful conference or leadership training, I certainly will. Thanks to my parents, community, and Ogallala Commons, I know the lasting positive impact that skipping school can have on one’s life journey.