After working as OC first intern, Simone Cahoj has remained actively involved with Ogallala Commons. While Simone currently works as the Wichita County Economic Development Executive Director, she also serves as a Staff Contractor and an OC Board Member. In the blog post below, Simone reflects on her experience with OC and how it has shaped her life.
OC: You made history as the first Ogallala Commons intern. Tell us about your internship experience with OC, and any impact you think it has made upon you.
SC: My first internship in 2007 can be summarized as an adventure. The biggest takeaways I had from being one of the first interns was how important each of the 12 key assets are to building a sustainable and vibrant community. I learned to love local food and understand its role in community and economic development. I learned more about playas and water conservation and about wildlife and natural world than I had before. I learned how each of the key assets can contribute to our communities. I also realized during that first summer that one person’s dream can make a lot of things happen. I think that’s something I’ve certainly carried forward in my work today. I went in wanting to learn more about Ogallala Commons, community and economic development–and came away with a lot more.
OC: How did you transition from being an OC intern to being a Staff Contractor and member of the Board of Directors?
SC: I think staying in touch with many of the OC Board of Directors after my internships helped to create the transition from intern to Staff and Board member. I would have to say as a high school and college student I always marveled at the diversity of the members of the Board of Directors: all experts in their fields yet always having these “secret” interests or talents. However, no one was ever too full of themselves to not put differences aside and work together for the good of the Commons. I also appreciated that as an intern they valued my opinion, again respecting what I brought to the table, though I was no expert in anything. I think that in and of itself helped with the transition. It seemed like I’d had always been a respected member of the group, so it felt natural to transition into the role of board member. It’s also just a pleasure to help students make connections and discoveries that help shape their career path. I enjoy having a hand in that as a staff contractor.
OC: How have your experiences with OC continued to shape and grow you?
SC: In a way I would echo what I mentioned above. I think my involvement with Ogallala Commons and the knowledge that was gained has continued to shape who I am. I think surrounding myself or immersing myself in new interests related to the 12 key assets helps me to keep evolving and being a better board member for the OC.
OC: What has been the most rewarding aspect of working with Ogallala Commons?
SC: Hands down, the people I’ve met and worked with is the most rewarding aspect. I’m so thankful to Ogallala Commons for the experiences I’ve been allowed to have and the doors that have been opened thanks to these people. I really just enjoy sitting back and watching internships and relationships unfold–all because of the work of Ogallala Commons and their willingness to invest in the future of rural America, the High Plains, and in the future of our youth. It is really awe-inspiring.