The Center for Rural Affairs has chosen Aida Olivas, of Hastings, Neb., to receive its 2016 Bob Steffen Pioneer Award. She was recognized at an award ceremony on March 10 in York, Neb.
The Bob Steffen Pioneer Award is bestowed by the Center for Rural Affairs each year to a person or persons who work with the Center to make extraordinary contributions in building community engagement within their own communities. People who receive this award provide a model for innovation, stewardship or community development.
“Aida’s main goal in her community is to make sure everyone has what they need and knows how to access the services they require,” said Kathie Starkweather, Center for Rural Affairs’ Farm and Community program director. “She goes above and beyond to be a resource for migrant workers and new Americans on everything from where to get water and food to how to open a business.”
Olivas serves on the migrant staff of Head Start in Hastings, a position created to respond to the needs of migrant farm worker families. She recently ran for Hastings’ Board of Education. She was unsuccessful but will continue to pursue elected office.
“Aida is a model for effectively bringing communities together, especially those with large populations of culturally diverse residents,” said Jordan Feyerherm, community organizer, who works closely with Olivas. “She is an undeniable asset in promoting our cross-cultural work in Hastings.”
Olivas knows firsthand the difficulties of making a new community home. She arrived in Hastings from Mexico more than 20 years ago with two young children, and worked to overcome the challenges of learning the language and navigating the culture.
“Because of her experiences, she is committed to helping others overcome the challenges she faced in becoming a new American in rural Nebraska: finding a sense of belonging, learning the language, accessing services, and making connections across cultures,” Feyerherm said.
With Olivas’ help, a team of community leaders was formed in Hastings to promote the values of intercultural understanding and inclusion. The team regularly meets to encourage inclusive practices, identify existing barriers to inclusion, and promote easy and straightforward access to city services and programs.
“This is all done to help people achieve their full potential and strengthen their community, together,” Feyerherm said.
Feyerherm joined the Center for Rural Affairs staff more than a year ago, and has worked with Olivas almost the entire time.
“Aida has been a great person to work with. Without her, I don’t think we would have been nearly as effective as we have been,” he said. “She takes time out of her day to introduce me to the people in the community. We can’t do any work, especially the work we do, if we don’t know the community.”
When accepting the award, Olivas thanked the Center.
“Thank you so much for everything you work for,” she said.