Santee community members learn small business skills through virtual creative design project

Small Towns

Lizzie Swalley contributed to this blog.

Residents of Santee, Nebraska, were offered a unique opportunity in December 2020 that not only provided some holiday cheer to those who participated, it served as a potential small business venture as well.

The Center for Rural Affairs executed a project designed to help the Santee community create interior/holiday designs with floral arrangements. To ensure safety during COVID-19, the project demonstration was held virtually, and showcased how to make low-cost, do-it-yourself Christmas greenery centerpieces.

“Our intention of the program was to help community members explore other avenues for creativity,” said Lizzie Swalley, community foods associate with the Center. “Our hope was that members would see this as a possibility to bring in another part-time income, on their own time.”

The virtual demonstration video took 12 minutes to watch and it explained how to decorate and fill containers for the centerpieces, what supplies to use, and how to find free cedar or pine clippings.

“Finding the pine clippings for free or at a low-cost item to make the centerpieces was beneficial for making a profit,” said Lizzie. “It was up to the participant to watch the video, complete their creation, and post a picture [on social media] before the holiday. This ensured time to enjoy it for Christmas or as a holiday gift to a friend or relative.”

In the demonstration video, Center staff discussed opportunities to create different themes with the containers and encouraged viewers to change out the supplies from Christmas items to Valentine’s Day, Easter, and even birthday decorations.

“Now that members have an idea, they are able to run free with creations,” Lizzie said. “With the workshop being presented virtually, it was more convenient for community members to participate on their own time. Because of this, we had one of our largest participation sizes ever, than what we even had for in-person workshops. We were also able to safely deliver the kits and receive feedback, all while following COVID-19 safety regulations.”

Overall, Center staff felt the project was a success, though Lizzie hopes to hold future workshops in person, if safety protocols allow it.

“I think everything went fairly well, especially since this was a first, hosting a virtual workshop that provided supplies,” she said. “It was a new learning experience for us as presenters, because it’s easier to explain a hands-on project in person, especially when needing to utilize or share tools, like a hot glue gun or tree shears.”

And, members of the community benefited from the project as well.

“They learned a new skill with tools they can use, and maybe they will teach one of their friends or family members,” said Lizzie. “My favorite part was receiving the interest in the project—any time residents take initiative is great for empowerment within the community.”

Participants’ creations

Community members were asked to view a demonstration video online and complete a survey linked at the end of the video. From there, they were able to get a personal kit to create their own Christmas greenery centerpiece. Each kit was delivered to the doorsteps of the 32 community members who participated.

“I got involved in this project because my daughters wanted to make a centerpiece. We had fun, and my favorite part was making the centerpiece with them. We kept it in our home to enjoy during the holiday season.” - Tara Runnels

Santee greenery project


Santee greenery project

“Being home so much during 2020 was a very stressful and unique experience. I took part in this project because I was looking for something to occupy my mind, and this seemed like a great way to do that. Learning this skill was something I really enjoyed—it was a great coping skill and helped me redirect my mind off of stress. My favorite part was seeing the end product, how beautiful it was and knowing I made it. I hope to make one for my mom and myself during the next holiday season, and I hope the Center continues these classes—it’s a great way to get people moving their hands and refocusing their minds.” - Carrie Rouillard


"The main reason I participated in the Christmas centerpiece project was because I was looking for new coping tools and activities for my own healing journey. I admit, I am not a crafty person, I don't have live or fake plants in my home, but this was an easy, do-it-yourself, live greenery centerpiece that doesn't need a lot of care. And, I desperately needed something productive to do in my down time. I enjoyed participating because it allowed me to be still with myself in a productive, positive manner, and creating this little Christmas centerpiece was fun, easy, and turned out beautiful." - Jenny Cole

Santee greenery project