Passion for rural entrepreneurs leads to award for REAP 2017 Friend of the Year

Seven years ago, when Sara Bennett began working for Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC), she had no idea that her passion for serving rural entrepreneurs would lead to winning an award.

Because of her dedication, Sara has been chosen as the Center for Rural Affairs’ Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP) 2017 Friend of the Year. She was recognized at an award ceremony on March 9 in Red Cloud, Nebraska.

The Friend of the Year Award is presented annually to an individual, organization, or institution that provides invaluable service to entrepreneurs by assisting Center staff in offering technical assistance, business training, loans, and networking across rural Nebraska.

Working for NBDC was how Sara first crossed paths with the Center. She says the two organizations work collaboratively to serve entrepreneurs.

“My experience working with the staff members of the Center for Rural Affairs has been nothing short of terrific,” she said. “The folks involved with REAP have such a heart and passion for helping small business owners. I’m encouraged by their willingness to help others succeed.”

Through her work with NBDC, Sara collaborates with businesses across the state to start, grow, and transition. She and her colleagues work with companies on critical areas such as financial management, business development, and operations management.

“Sara seeks out REAP for trainings and assistance for her clients, as well as financing, when she sees a need,” said Griselda Rendon, Latino loan specialist with the Center for Rural Affairs. “She is also a great resource to our businesses and assists them with such items as preparing for Small Business Administration Guaranteed Loan applications, market research, and helping them understand industry standards for their particular business.”

According to Rendon, Sara provides a “much-needed service to our aging business owners in Nebraska.” She assists area entrepreneurs, including REAP clients, with succession planning and valuation. Sara also helped implement the Grand Island Small Business Resource Team, a group of area business resources, to better assist entrepreneurs and business owners in the area.

Sara estimates that she’s referred at least 50 clients to REAP over the years, the majority for technical assistance and financing.

“Working with the REAP folks has been a pleasure,” she said. “Small business really is what drives the economy – in rural communities and all across the nation – it is very important. The REAP staff are phenomenal people who want to see small business owners be successful. It is a true joy seeing them go on to their journey. I appreciate the partnership and support from REAP.”

Rendon says Sara has been a huge asset.

“She is an outstanding referral source,” she said. “Sara makes herself available if questions come up, and is always willing to assist and provide additional resources to meet our clients’ needs.”

Sara says she’s very grateful to be named Friend of the Year.

“I am so honored to receive the REAP Friend of the Year award,” she said. “I enjoy working with small businesses in rural Nebraska and forming partnerships with area agencies to ensure the success of rural economies. What makes this award extra special is it is the ‘Friend of the Year,’ and I indeed have come to consider REAP staff members as friends."

Feature photo: Monica Braun (left), former Center for Rural Affairs' Women's Business Center director, presents Sara Bennett (right) the Friend of the Year award at an award ceremony on March 9 in Red Cloud. | Photo by Rhea Landholm