Connecting with Alumni: April News

This month, Ogallala Commons has taken a little time for reflection with some of our outstanding intern and apprentice alumni. Building and maintaining these relationships with our alumni (and our alumni building and maintaining relationships with each other) is a key part of OC’s story. We hope you enjoy the stories of Simone, Delissa, Beto, and Shelby.

A Lasting Impact of Skipping School

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.

Simone, at the HTC academy
Simone (far right, in white) attended the HTC Academy in Holyoke, Colorado April 20-22, 2005.

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, where I can focus on helping communities remain viable through entrepreneurship as an economic development tool.

simone in 2015
10 years after that HTC Academy, Simone is still a vital part of the Ogallala Commons story (Photo by Alphonso Rincon).

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.

Former Intern Sees Homecoming Opportunities

Last month, we were thrilled to reconnect with Delissa Villa at OC’s Partner Reception on March 19th.  Currently, Delissa is the manager of an H.E.B. Supermarket on Bandera Road in San Antonio, where she works with 240 partners (employees). H.E.B. Grocery Stores is a privately held supermarket chain based in San Antonio, Texas, with more than 350 stores throughout the state of Texas and northern Mexico.

delissa and simone elder
Delissa (right) converses with Simone Elder, OC Board Member and fellow intern alumnus, at the 2015 Partner Reception. (Photo Credit: Alphonso Rincon)

Back in 2009 when she was in college, Delissa interned for her hometown of Tulia, TX (the first OC Intern from Swisher County), and then completed two more internships through OC in 2010 and 2011.  Besides helping her to gain work experience, these internships had a more lasting effect on Delissa. “The internships served as an invitation. Before…I did not believe there were opportunities for me in my hometown but now I do. Also, it was an opportunity for me to learn more about entrepreneurship.  Even though I work full-time as an H-E-B Grocery Store manager, I have started my own business: Laridel Properties.”

It is easier to summarize the objectives that an intern accomplishes, than to know the deeper and more long-term impacts. Reflecting back on her internships, Delissa identifies a spark that many alumni can relate to.  “On a personal level I do see my main accomplishment as having sown a seed in Tulia, TX, that will bear fruit in the future. That seed is the knowledge that I will one day be back to drive and support educational growth in Tulia.”

Delissa also attests to the fact that, to realize their dreams, it is often necessary for our youth to go out in the world and away from our hometowns:

“For me, it was important to go out and gain what I couldn’t get here, and then to bring it back.  But I plan to return to the Texas Panhandle area to grow my real estate business. God willing, with financial growth in my business, I will be able to give back to my hometown of Tulia. I want to better the education at the high school level, and also have fitness and nutritional programs for the community.  Youth need to learn that there are opportunities.”

OC Intern Alumnus is Servant Leader of the Year

From Seguin LULAC Community Garden:

beto wins award
(L-R) Ricardo Guerra (Beto’s supervisor), Esther Boehm (Beto’s mom), TLU Mascot, Beto, Dr. Steve Boehm (Beto’s stepdad), and Dr. Paul Martin (OC Board Member). Photo by Alphonso Rincón (Beto’s dad).

Texas Lutheran University (TLU) recognized Alberto “Beto” Rincón with a Community Servant Leader Award during a ceremony at the university April 10. Beto was nominated for the award “In recognition of the difference you have made as a Seguin community member in the lives of others, particularly through your community involvement, volunteerism, and service.”

Much of Beto’s community work was through an internship and an apprenticeship co-sponsored by the LULAC Council 682 Foundation of Seguin and Ogallala Commons.  Locally, Beto’s community service stemmed from the management, health promotion, collaboration, education, grant writing, and food justice advocacy affiliated with the Seguin LULAC Community Garden.

Ricardo Guerra, LULAC 682 president, Dr. Paul Martin, OC board member and LULAC Foundation member, and Dr. Darryl Birkenfeld, OC Executive Director, have been the coordinators of Beto’s internship and apprenticeship. Tim Barr is the director of the TLU Center for Servant Leadership.”

Beto’s award, the 2015 Servant Leader of the Year in the Seguin Community Member category, is given to those who:

a) Exhibit kindness, humility, and respect in all they do,
b) Impact the quality of life of people on the margins of society, and
c) Have demonstrated an ongoing commitment to service, especially in the last year.

Congratulations, Beto!

Program Evaluations Shed Light on Alums

Shelby Thibodeaux, another intern alumnus, has returned to help Ogallala Commons, with a new project that she outlines in her latest update:

“I am currently working on my second internship with Ogallala Commons and the main focus of my internship is conducting the first Community Internship and Apprenticeship program evaluation. The objective is to reconnect with the past interns and apprentices that were a part of OC’s program, to gauge how well they achieved their objectives, to find out what they are doing now and if they have come back to their hometown or region.

There have been over 200 interns and apprentices who have gained work experience and skill development through our program from 2007-2014, and we aim to reach more than half of them. We are reaching out through email and phone calls to ask interns and apprentices to fill out a simple online survey.  So far, more than 60 alums have completed the survey, which is over half way to our goal. If you are an OC Community Intern or Apprentice alumnus, please take 10 minutes to fill out the survey that you have received by May 15th”.

2011 community interns
Community Interns pose at the 2011 Intern Retreat in Nazareth, TX.

Big Gathering Set for June

orientation flyer

Sponsored by CoBank, OC’s annual Orientation Retreat will feature keynote presentations by Julene Bair, author of The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning, as well as by Dr. Debra Bolton, extension specialist and faculty member at Kansas State University. Other presentations will include:

  • “Creativity: Tapping Resources for Personal Achievement” by Joe Franco,
  • “How to Find Funding” by Katharyn Wiegand,
  • “Getting Your G.A.M.E. On” by Joann Starr, and
  • “Digital Storytelling: Tapping into Real Life, Creating Community” by Shelby Thibodeaux

Join us for a time of training, professional development, and networking as we launch the 2015 Intern and Apprentices!


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