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First-year college students find local shopping to their liking

Two Hastings College freshmen from larger cities in other states say they have come to appreciate Hastings’ small-town qualities and the local businesses that prime the pump for its economy.

Ally Banks and Jeremiah Cox were given the assignment last month to report on locally owned businesses in hopes their storytelling using the Hastings Tribune’s print, digital and social media platforms would illustrate the importance of supporting local businesses.

Banks is a native of Shawnee, Kansas, and Cox grew up in suburban Minneapolis. Both are first-year students in the Scott Scholars program at Hastings College.

Throughout December, Banks and Cox interviewed nearly 30 local business owners through the shop at home local business profiles initiative.

“Growing up in a town as big as Shawnee made it easy to get lost in the crowd,” Banks said. “I’ve spent my whole life there, and I can still walk out of my house and meet 50 new people or walk into a business that I’ve been to multiple times and not have a relationship with the employees. Individualized personal experiences are scarce.”

That isn’t the case in Hastings, Banks said.

“I soon realized what I was missing,” she said. “Getting the opportunity to come to a community like Hastings has been truly beneficial. I’ve gotten to see firsthand what a truly personalized experience is like.”

Cox agreed.

“Through this initiative, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing nearly 30 different business leaders throughout Hastings,” he said. “This has provided insight into the personalized, personable experience that small businesses bring to their communities.”

From Trish Ludemann and Tammy Valentin of Gary Michael’s Clothiers guiding their customers through every step of the clothing selection process to Maggie Esch of Vaughan’s Printing, who is carrying her family business into its third generation, Cox said he has “seen the human side of enterprise.”

“It has changed my perspective,” he said. “Now I consider who my dollars are going to support before making a purchase, deliberately choosing small businesses in order to support them.”

Banks agreed, saying her reporting opened her eyes to just how much is invested by the men and women who run the small businesses in Hastings.

“I’ve heard so many stories and learned so many different things about the local businesses here,” Banks said. “I’ve learned about businesses that have lasted three generations and about owners who finally achieved their dream of owning a business.”

Cox said he was impressed by the camaraderie among business owners in Hastings and with how they build relationships with their customers, which is something you don’t always find in a large city.

“As a Minnesota suburbanite, I’ve grown accustomed to an impersonal shopping experience,” he said. “The local stores around my hometown are primarily national chains whose managers and owners are seldom known to the public. The area I’m from is dominated by big-box stores, so I grew up knowing nothing else, and not realizing what I was missing.”

Underscoring the importance of locally owned businesses, funding and support for these profiles were provided by Pinnacle Bank, the Hastings Business Improvement District, Hastings College and the Suzanne and Walter Scott Foundation.

The Hastings Tribune will continue the shop at home series for businesses that want to participate.

“Writing these articles has even furthered my joy and appreciation for this close-knit community,” said Banks, who wrote the stories that appeared in the Tribune. “I’m glad to have had this experience. I feel immersed in this community, and I’m excited to spend the next three-and-half-years here while I finish my bachelor’s degree at Hastings College.”

Cox’s role in the initiative was to record his interviews via Zoom and then share those interviews on social media channels.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity to meet so many business leaders throughout Hastings,” Cox said. “It’s shown me how micro-enterprises cultivate community, foster friendships and inspire ingenuity.”

Firefighters rescue two dogs from house fire
  • Updated

Hastings firefighters rescued a pair of dogs from a house fire Tuesday in the 1900 block of Boyce Street.

Hastings Fire and Rescue responded to multiple calls of smoke coming from a single-family home at 1930 Boyce St. about 11:40 a.m.

aroh / Amy Roh/Tribune  

Crews from Hastings Fire and Rescue and Hastings Rural Fire Departments respond to a house fire at 1930 Boyce Street Tuesday.

Fire Chief Brad Starling said when firefighters arrived, they saw visible flames coming from the attic of the home. Within 10 minutes, they were able to extinguish most of the fire and began work to make sure the fire was completely out.

While no people were inside the home at the time of the fire, Starling said, two dogs were rescued from the basement of the house.

The dogs initially were unresponsive, but first responders administered oxygen to both dogs using masks made specifically for small animals. Both animals appeared to be alert and responsive before they were transported by veterinarian Tammy Craig with TLC Vet Care for further treatment.

The Hastings Rural Fire Department provided mutual aid, and the Salvation Army arrived to support the firefighters.

aroh / Amy Roh/Tribune  

A Hastings firefighter works the scene of a fire at 1930 Boyce Street Tuesday.

According to a report of the incident on the city’s website, the fire caused significant damage to the structure, leaving it uninhabitable. The homeowner is receiving assistance from Adams County Emergency Management, the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

Amy Roh/Tribune  

Troy Vorderstrasse of Hastings Fire and Rescue treats a dog rescued from a house fire at 1930 Boyce St. Tuesday. Two dogs were rescued from the house, treated at the scene and taken to a veterinarian for further treatment.

Starling said the cause of the fire was accidental in nature due to improperly discarded trash.

South Heartland laying groundwork for more senior citizen vaccinations
  • Updated

The general population of senior citizens ages 75 and older may begin being vaccinated against the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, in the South Heartland Health District as early as next week.

That’s the word from Michele Bever, executive director of the South Heartland health department, who hastens to add that the exact timeline for the vaccinations will depend on the availability of doses in the four-county health district.

In the meantime, she said, those age 75 and older now are welcome to fill out a form online with their name and contact information so health department officials can keep in touch with them.

What’s more: The pool of senior citizens eligible to sign up may soon grow even larger with Tuesday morning’s news that the federal government is revising its guidance to prioritize senior citizens 65 and older, not just 75 and older, for vaccination in the coming weeks.

The first doses of COVID-19 vaccine arrived in the South Heartland district on Dec. 15, 2020. The district encompasses Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties.

Up to now, South Heartland has been distributing a combination of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for the inoculation of frontline health care workers, including emergency medical services personnel, across the district. Meanwhile, residents and staff members at long-term care centers are being vaccinated by private-sector pharmacy personnel under the auspices of a separate government program.

Both the frontline health care workers and the long-term care residents and employees are designated as top-priority “Phase 1A” recipients of the vaccine under Nebraska’s Vaccination Plan.

Bever said in the South Heartland district officials now are wrapping up Phase 1A, getting the vaccine to everyone in those groups who is interested in receiving it at this time. As of Monday night, a total of 1,700 district residents had been vaccinated — including 243 who already had received their second dose in the two-dose series. (The specified interval between the first and second doses of the Pfizer vaccine is at least 21 days. The interval for Moderna is at least 28 days.)

Bever said she hopes by next week the district has entered Phase 1B, which as of Tuesday still was defined to focus first on individuals age 75 and up and thereafter on specified types of essential workers.

To facilitate communication with senior citizens as the process unfolds, South Heartland went live on Monday with a link on its website, www.southheartlandhealth.org, where senior citizens 75 and older can enter their names, contact information and certain other data (age, underlying health conditions, etc.) that will help South Heartland develop its game plan for vaccine distribution. The link is accessed from a red bar across the top of the health department’s homepage found at www.southheartlandhealth.org.

The neighboring Two Rivers Public Health Department, which serves Kearney, Franklin and Harlan counties in Tribland, and the Public Health Solutions Health Department, which serves the Tribland counties of Fillmore and Thayer, have installed similar sign-up mechanisms on their websites: www.trphd.org and www.phsneb.org, respectively.

During a news conference Tuesday morning at the state Capitol in Lincoln, Gov. Pete Ricketts said Nebraskans could expect to see changes to the state’s Vaccination Plan, probably next week, to reflect the changing federal guidance on prioritizing senior citizens 65 and older as opposed to 75 and older.

Until such changes are announced, he said, seniors should resist the urge to contact local health department officials, who are laboring under a heavy workload already.

“Stay tuned,” Ricketts said. “You will see we will be making some changes with regard to 65 and older, but PLEASE do not call your local public health departments.”

In addition to older Nebraskans, Phase 1B eventually will bring vaccinations for several different categories of essential workers including law enforcement personnel, firefighters and other non-EMS emergency responders; utility and sanitation personnel; corrections staff workers and employees at homeless shelters; educators and school support personnel; child care providers; mortuary workers and coroners; grocery store workers; food and agriculture workers including in meatpacking plants and other food processing factories and grain elevators; truck drivers; railroad employees; gas station employees; postal workers; and public transit employees such as bus drivers and airline and airport workers.

The state Vaccination Plan currently divides those workers into three priority tiers, labeled tiers 2 through 4 to follow the senior citizens in tier 1.

Tier 2 includes emergency dispatchers; federal, state and local law enforcement personnel; fire service personnel; adult/child welfare workers; homeless shelter and corrections staff; teachers and support staff in public and private schools, including in higher education; and licensed day care providers.

Tier 3 includes funeral home workers and coroners, grocery workers, and food and agriculture industry workers.

Tier 4 includes transportation workers, gas station personnel, postal workers and public transit employees.

Currently, only the senior citizens are able to sign up to express interest in vaccinations on the South Heartland website. Bever said the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is working to stand up a database of its own, where the essential workers eventually will be able to put their names on the vaccination list.

For this week, Bever said, vaccinations for Phase 1A health care workers continue. That group includes people who work with the developmentally disabled, professionals who work in the behavioral health field, and workers in home health, dentistry and optometry offices, school nurses, public health workers, and employees in many other health care settings.

Bever said eligible health workers could schedule through the health department to get their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine at clinics scheduled in Nuckolls and Clay counties on Wednesday and in Adams County on Thursday.

The general population of senior citizens will follow, with details to be announced.

“Everyone in each phase can be vaccinated as soon as there are enough vaccines available in our district,” Bever said.

In the intervening weeks and months, she said, all district constituents should do their part to thwart further community spread of the virus, avoiding crowds, close contact with non-household members and confined, poorly ventilated spaces.

“We will need to use ALL the tools we have, including the vaccine, to help stop the pandemic,” Bever said.

In other COVID-19 news, Bever reported 53 new positive cases of the viral infection had been recorded in the four-county area for Friday through Monday. The new cases included 36 in Adams County, eight each in Clay and Nuckolls counties, and one in Webster County.

Since March 18, a running total of 3,978 positive cases have been recorded among South Heartland residents, with 3,610 of those cases now classified as recovered. The district’s death toll related to the virus stands at 49.

The district’s test positivity rate for Jan. 3-9 was 14% — down from 15% for the previous week. The test positivity rate is the percentage of COVID-19 tests administered in a given week that come back from the laboratory positive.

The positivity rate for last week by county was 15% in Adams, 12.4% in Clay, 15.3% in Nuckolls, and 9.8% in Webster.

In the Two Rivers health district west of South Heartland, Tribland county case tallies for Thursday through Sunday were three in Franklin County, three in Harlan County and two in Kearney County, the health department there reported. The Two Rivers district also includes Buffalo, Phelps, Dawson and Gosper counties.

Meanwhile, the Public Health Solutions Health District recorded 17 new cases in Thayer County and 14 new cases in Fillmore County for the seven-day period that ended Jan. 6. That district also includes Jefferson, Saline and Gage counties.

As of Friday, the PHS district health department was awaiting receipt of death certificates for three Thayer County residents and one Fillmore County resident whose recent deaths reportedly were related to COVID-19, the health department said.

A total of 12 deaths in Fillmore County and seven deaths in Thayer County already have been officially attributed to the viral infection over the past several months. The official death certificate is considered the final word concerning the cause of a person’s death.

United Way at 92% of annual campaign goal

The United Way of South Central Nebraska still needs $44,000 in public support to reach its annual campaign goal.

More than 45 programs in Adams, Clay, Webster and Nuckolls counties depend on donations made to the United Way of South Central Nebraska, which has offices in Hastings. Programs that support and empower youth, provide food for the hungry, assist individuals and families in crisis situations, provide after-school activities for students, and deliver warm meals to the elderly are among those that improve area communities with United Way support.

According to a news release sent on Tuesday, the United Way currently is reporting pledges totaling $506,000, representing 92% of the overall community goal of $550,000 for the 2021 campaign.

Many individuals and organizations are doing their part to ensure the programs and services continue for people in need throughout the four-county area.

“The communities in south central Nebraska have been so generous as we have worked toward our goal,” Jodi Graves, executive director of United Way of South Central Nebraska, said in the Tuesday news release. “But we still have a gap of $44,000 to overcome. Because of COVID-19, the need this year is greater than anything we have seen before. United Way, as well as our nonprofit partner agencies, have taken a double hit with a loss of revenue due to canceled fundraisers as well as an increased demand for services. Falling short of our $550,000 goal would greatly impact those served by United Way funding in our community.”

To give to the campaign, stop by the United Way office at 301 S. Burlington Ave., call 402-461-8412 or pledge online at www.unitedwayscne.org.