As a child, I wanted to be a veterinarian or zoologist when I grew up. However, after taking a few particularly complex science and math courses, I realized it would be difficult to make that happen. But that caring nature did not go away, and in high school I became fascinated with public policy, which offered me a way to make a difference in people’s lives.
My mom still says it caught her off guard when she took me on my first college visit and on the registration form I recorded my prospective major as political science—but, looking back, she agrees it makes sense. When I was young, I liked to sit and listen to the adults discussing the news of the day or how adverse weather events in the forecast would impact farmers. Many significant historical and cultural events happened while I was growing up, but rather than tuning out the news that was always on, I began to pay attention. When I went to college, my focus was on international affairs, but as I traveled more and saw what life was like in big cities, my interests began to shift back home.
I grew up in Wahoo, Nebraska, and though neither of my parents were farmers, they both came from farming families. An aunt and uncle now live on and farm the same land that was settled by my paternal great-great-great-grandparents when they emigrated from Czechoslovakia. I spent many happy childhood days there running around with my cousins. Oftentimes we were put to work, but we still had ample time to play. We’d build forts in the windbreaks, pick apples, and find farm kittens to tame.
My maternal grandfather also greatly influenced my life. He was a World War II veteran, owned and operated Wahoo Concrete, and was an active member of his rural community, doing what he could to help people from all walks of life.
Both sets of grandparents were involved in advocacy to secure funding for their special needs family members at a time before such programs were common. After calling state senators and the governor, my paternal grandmother was successful in getting funding for a school for disabled children. The school, Villa Marie School in Waverly, Nebraska, still operates today.
A few years later, both of my grandfathers worked together to establish Region V Services in Wahoo. The organization supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in southeast Nebraska by providing jobs, activities, and assistance with housing and benefits.
Though I did not realize it at the time, these values guided my upbringing and instilled in me the idea to “be the change you want to see in the world.”
As I followed the breadcrumbs back through my family history and learned more, I realized the place I could make the biggest difference was the place I called home, and the many places like it that so often seem to be left out. It has always bothered me to hear people make comments that underestimate rural communities, and I am deeply grateful to have found a job that allows me to advocate for issues and policies that make these areas great places to live, work, and play.