The city of Hastings soon will have four rest, rehydrate and recharge stations along the Pioneer Spirit Trail.
Hastings received a $24,250 AARP Liveable Community Challenge Grant. Connie Benjamin, state director for AARP, was on hand during the Aug. 12 Hastings City Council meeting to present Mayor Corey Stutte with an oversized check for that amount after council members voted to accept the award.
Each R3 station will include a shade tree, park bench and water fountain with a bottle filler.
The project intent is to solicit additional match funds of $3,920 by private donors to include optional pet fountain attachments at each drinking fountain.
The goal is to remove the fear that older or less active adults have in starting healthy lifestyle changes.
“Folks who don’t use the trail regularly or folks who are just starting healthy lifestyle habits, it’s a little intimidating when you don’t know how far you can go or how far before you get to your next stopping point,” Don Threewitt, development services director for the city of Hastings, said in an interview Wednesday afternoon.
The R3 stations could help people like that venture past their comfort zones.
Two of the R3 stations will include a mobile bike repair station with an air pump, and a set of tools attached by cable to the station.
“If you’re going along and you’re having problems with your bike you’ve got a place to stop and fix it,” Threewitt said.
Parties interested in funding the pet fountain attachments could email Threewitt at firstname.lastname@example.org or Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Hassenstab at email@example.com.
City staff members still are in the process of finalizing the locations of the R3 stations, which have a November deadline for installation.
Equitable distribution, as well as access to water mains, are factors for where the R3 stations will be located.
The anticipated outcome is that a demonstrated use of the R3 stations coupled with a quantifiable increase in trail use would spur other community organizations to sponsor or build additional R3 stations in pedestrian-oriented areas throughout Hastings and Adams County.
In addition, the project aims to add a series of step-counting markers along the Lake Hastings loop.
Since step-counting is a common activity goal that health practitioners suggest to their patients, having a free and convenient way to count steps while walking in an attractive environment will further promote building healthy habits.
The proposed projects will add needed amenities that will benefit all citizens, but primarily those who are less active, over 50, or those with very young children.
The award fully funds the city’s original application, which will purchase the materials for each rest area.
Although there was no required funding match, the city agreed to provide the labor and infrastructure for installation.
The AARP Community Challenge grant program is part of the nationwide AARP Livable Communities initiative that helps communities become great places to live for residents of all ages.
The program is intended to help communities make immediate improvements and jump-start long-term progress in support of residents of all ages.
By receiving the AARP Community Challenge grant, Hastings is in exclusive company.
For the third-annual AARP Community Challenge, AARP received more than 1,660 applications from nonprofits and government entities.
Of those applicants, 159 grant winners will share nearly $1.6 million to develop “quick-action” projects across all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Each project will help communities make immediate improvements while jumpstarting long-term progress to support residents of all ages.
Hastings is one of two AARP Community Challenge grant recipients in Nebraska this year. Grand Island was the other.
Omaha was the first Nebraska recipient, in 2018.
“The community should be proud,” Threewitt said.
One hundred thirty-six years after its founding, Hastings College has entered a new era, thanks to a unique academic calendar and curriculum structure.
With the school year starting Aug. 14, planning and preparation has finished and the focus has turned to refining the changes.
Before classes even started, students began with a new step in their college orientation: Picking up iPad Pros and Apple Pencils.
The freshmen are learning how to use their new technology during the only class they will be taking over the next two weeks — Introduction to Hastings College. During the class, they are also learning how to be a college student by practicing sending emails to professors and managing their time.
“We’re trying to introduce everyone to Hastings College. We want people to be able to feel comfortable at Hastings College; we want to settle all the nerves they have,” said Kaelan Dea, one of the student assistants for the freshman class.
The iPads come with installed apps from the college, including Google applications and Notability.
Notability is a note-taking app that Annette Vargas, associate dean of arts and humanities, said has several benefits over pen and paper like sharing notes and recording lectures.
Faculty also have iPads, but have been experimenting with them for over a year. Faculty worked on different techniques using the iPads to improve their teaching ability.
Vargas, who is also a theater teacher, said she used to make digital sketches of a stage design and send the file home with students to edit. Now, she can give students the design almost immediately to edit in class and give quick feedback.
“This may not work, but we’re really excited to try something new because maybe it will work and we can create something better,” Vargas said.
The college has leased electronic versions of textbooks through Follett, the campus’ textbook supplier, and made them available on the iPads. Students are not paying for the electronic textbooks. Books that are not digital will also be paid for by the the college.
One of the more dramatic changes for Hastings College is the new calendar. During the first block this year, students will take one, 2-credit class every weekday until Aug. 27. The class will last three hours, starting either in the morning or afternoon.
Students will get a day off, Aug. 28, before beginning the second block. In the second block, students will take one or two classes, each worth 4-credits and go for seven weeks. After a four-day weekend, the third block will begin, functioning like the second block. In the spring, the schedule will go 7-2-7.
Celeste Borg, a returning senior, said the schedule so far feels like J-Term, a 3 1/2 week period where students used to take one class every day during January. She is interested to see what the seven-week block will be like.
“It’s kind of like an abbreviated J-Term,” Borg said. “There’s been a bit of a learning curve. I think it will be interesting to be in block two and kind of see what professors are doing with that.”
Students will be able to take a total of 144 credits over four years, but they only need a minimum of 120 credits to graduate. Vargas expects some students will occasionally take just one class during a seven-week block or take an entire block off entirely.
During the first two-week block this fall, groups of sophomores are meeting the new travel requirement. On Wednesday, one group made their way to France and more will be traveling to Peru; Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada; and Panama. Travel also will happen during the spring two-week block.
The college also has a new curriculum, moving away from the traditional major and optional minor. Now, students will choose a major, a minor in a different academic division from the major and an interdisciplinary emphasis area. Students must also complete the CORE, where classes for writing, speech and the travel are found.
Over the summer, the college has added the Gallup StrengthFinder, an evaluation every student will take that ranks 34 “strengths” the student has. The program was paid for by a $5,000 grant from last spring.
Borg, who is helping teach the freshmen, said reactions to all the changes has been mixed and large dependent on each student’s class. She said freshmen are mostly excited to just be at college, and sophomores are optimistic because they went to Hastings College knowing the changes were coming. The traveling also happens during the sophomore year.
Borg said juniors and seniors are more split on the changes. Some juniors are frustrated with how curriculum changes affect their academic plan, while others are excited for the changes. She said some seniors are frustrated with having to deal with a significant change during their last year while others think the change will be better for the college in the long term.
“I’m definitely in that camp,” Borg said. “The long-term benefits, I think, are huge and definitely worth a little heartache on our end.”
The college had one of its largest enrollments this year with 330 incoming students.
BLUE HILL — Students and staff at Blue Hill Public Schools kicked off the community’s new Beef in Schools program at lunch on Friday.
Supporters of the program were there to help serve a free lunch and introduce the program. Kindergarten through 12-thgrade students ate a total of 450, 100 percent beef patties with an entire food island of toppings to go along with them.
Attendance at lunch was higher than normal, as all attending we anxious to try out the new beef program.
“Today couldn’t have happened without all of the local support from producers, schools, and other donors,” said Jana Mcneill, who heads the Blue Hill Beef Boosters.
The South Central Cattlemen’s Association, a strong supporter of the program, cooked the hamburger patties, providing beef for every student and employee and several guests.
“These burgers had a lot more flavor,” said Madi Menke, a Blue Hill senior. “You could really taste the char from the grill, and that was a lot nicer compared to the burgers we usually have.”
Local beef producers said they are excited about the new program for Blue Hill students.
“We want to be involved in this program in order to get good quality meat to the kids as they go about their school day,” said Art Lienemann, a member of the cattlemen’s association. “It is also important to provide the information that counteracts some negative attention surrounding beef.
“Obviously we want to promote our product, but more than that we want to provide good nutrition to the schools. Fake meats are not natural; we want to get away from the chemicals in the fake meats and provide real food for them.”
The beef education provided to the students is done through the Nebraska Beef Council, Lienemann said.
“We believe future consumers and producers in the schools, and we want them to have accurate information,” he said.
Local program supporter Evert Barton was excited to see the turnout.
“Supporting this program is simply the right thing to do for everyone,” Barton said.
Mike Karr, local beef producer and supporter of the program, agreed that education is a key aspect of the program.
“It is important to share how the beef gets to the table,” he said. “Learning what we do as beef producers is important. People should know what is on their plate and how it got there. This type of information is vital to this area. We need to know what is in our foods and where it comes from.
“Our goal is to serve beef from the council two times a week. It has been shown in other schools that on the beef days they actually have higher lunch attendance. Silver Lake, Lawrence, and Red Cloud are all having success with the beef program in their schools.”
Some of the biggest support for the program came in the form of smiles and long lunch lines during Friday’s free lunch, with the larger-than-before beef patties filling the plates and stomachs of children as they went into the second half of their day.
Within six weeks of taking the emergency manager job in Clay County, Tim Lewis had a disaster at his hands.
A wind storm Aug. 7 had swept through the county, causing tree damage, multiple power outages and left Trumbull without potable water.
Lewis swiftly took action, coordinating with volunteers to clear debris, bring electricity back to homes and deliver safe drinking water Within the day, he had started a disaster declaration request to the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency. He did it with the support local first responders, many of of whom he met for the first time.
“Immersion is a good way to learn what’s going on,” Lewis said.
Since the storm, Lewis, a native of Butte, has been documenting the damage for his report to NEMA. If NEMA approves the disaster declaration request, funds will be available to help pay to repair some of the damage.
Lewis, 58, started his new position June 27. He came to it after working for public safety in Longmont, Colorado, where he served as a sergeant in charge of undercover narcotics operations and intelligence unit.
As methamphetamine labs in Longmont started becoming a bigger issue, Lewis became a hazardous materials technician through a fire department to better respond to dangerous chemicals in the labs. As Lewis did his training, he said he became more familiar with the National Incident Management System, a tool for bringing together large numbers of organizations to assist in an incident.
“We would bring a lot of federal partners to the table, a lot of locals, and then a lot of outside institutions. So we had a lot of players working together,” Lewis said.
Lewis said he found NIMS to be a much more effective tool when responding to an incident and so he started teaching the system in the Rocky Mountain region. From his time training people in the NIMS system, Lewis’ passion for public service grew and his specialty became emergency management.
“The service to the community that comes out of emergency management really appealed to me,” Lewis said. “I liked being able to make a direct impact to the community.”
But response is only part of emergency management. Lewis also developed a strong interest in preparing before an incident occurs. He did community outreach, teaching important things like a family or business having a place to meet in case of a fire, to little things like wearing sun block.
He continued emergency management while climbing through his field and into executive leadership positions until an early retirement at age 55.
“I reached a point where I was tired. It was not the emergency management piece but I was commander over detectives and worked all those years undercover. So it was time to retire,” Lewis said.
But retirement didn’t last long as Lewis began to miss serving a community. For a short period of time, he became a mail carrier. The charm of delivering a tax return versus stopping drugs from entering a community felt good but different, he said. So Lewis went back to emergency management, applying for the Clay County emergency manager position and got the job.
Lewis sees being emergency manager as being a conduit for information and solutions for preparedness, response and recovery. This can mean finding grants to purchase equipment for a fire department to acting as a liaison between the county and state level. Lewis said he even drove extra sand bags to Nuckolls County when a river there began to flood.
“One of my friends calls it, being an emergency manager, is like a walking Walmart for your communities and first responders. If they don’t have it and then need it, you figure out how to get it for them,” he said.
Becoming emergency manager means getting a lay of the land quickly, because as Lewis found out, emergencies can happen anytime. To help speed up his familiarity with Clay County, Lewis has been driving around while in off-duty to each town. That way, he said, he knows how to get somewhere and what the area is like when an incident occurs.
As part of his job, Lewis has been assessing first responders in Clay County and he is pleased with their dedication to the profession.
“They’ve got strong commitment to their communities. They’ve got strong commitment to the profession, to their departments. The leadership is really wanting to engage the community to make sure they’re ready to deal with whatever issues come to the community,” Lewis said.
Already, Lewis is working with law enforcement to fix a few issues he has seen. One example is making sure it is easier for first responders to find a location by making house addresses more visible. He said if numbers for a home address are hard to see or behind a bush, first responders lose valuable time looking for a house.
Lewis has also assessed the emergency preparedness of local schools, businesses and families. He is happy to see the current state, but said preparedness is a constant action and can always be improved.
“Traditionally, Nebraskans are strong and independent as individuals, and that reflects the communities. I’m seeing a great level already of preparedness and taking ownership of things that happen,” he said.
Lewis has two daughters, Amber, an assistant principal at a middle school in Kearney, and Ashley, a director at a homeless shelter in North Platte. Lewis is married to Marilyn Lewis.