Kurt Mantonya is the newly established Community Vitality Educator stationed in David City. His role is with the University of Nebraska Extension. He will be working with communities in Butler, Polk, York, Merrick and Hamilton counties. He answered questions about his career and his new job for The Banner-Press.
Q: What is the job about, mainly, and what is your territory that you will serve.
A: I have what is called an Accountability Region that encompasses Butler, Seward, Polk, York, Merrick and Hamiliton counties plus other areas as deemed necessary. My role is varied. I will be working with communities in the Accountability Region to help them define priorities for community betterment and leadership. I am currently getting to know the communities by visiting various areas each week.
Q: What can a community vitality educator do for the community?
A: I am really good at listening to the needs of a community and helping to find resources to answer specific questions. My work is grassroots in nature. I would like to resurrect LeadershipPlenty, a leadership development curriculum that was used in Butler County a few years ago. I want to help strengthen leadership skills for adults and young people in communities to help create a sustainable future.
Q: What are the main priorities that you’ll be working on as you get to know the communities?
A: Getting to know the communities. I have a big region! I have been to Bellwood, Surprise and Rising City. I will be doing some asset mapping exercises in order to see what we have to build on. I take an Appreciative Inquiry approach to community building. That is, discovering what has worked in a community, draw out the lessons of success, dreaming about a preferred future, designing the pathway to get there and delivering results.
There is a lot of material that has been developed through Extension that I would like to bring to the region. These include Marketing HomeTown America, Entrpreneurial Communities Activation Process (ECAP) among others.
Q: Are there other areas where a CVI has been put in to action and made a difference for the future of the community. Where did the idea originate?
A: Marketing HomeTown America as referenced above helps a community become focused about recruiting new residents to a community. Not to say that communities in this Accountability Region are not working on this already but MHA can bring in more ideas and action plans. MHA was pilot tested in Neligh and Kimball and has grown to additional communities in Nebraska as well as South Dakota.
Q: If there were 3 or 5 things that citizens could do to improve the place where they live, what would you recommend.
A: Invest in youth, they are the future. Involve them in community leadership, encourage them to help better the community through projects they define. Yes, we want to them to go to college, trade school, join the military, see the world. But when its time for them to start a family or start a new business, then encourage them to come back home.
Q: Will your job bring other opportunities with your activities, such as funding? Can communities contribute to the cost of running your office and the work that you do?
A: That would be fantastic! Any community support would be greatly appreciated.
Q: Is there a time frame that you are following to get initiatives into action.
A: As I am still learning the region, I still plan to have programming going by late second quarter or early third quarter.
Q: How much local participation will be needed for the CVI office. Will you have an assistant or collaborate with local groups, such as the chamber, schools, hospital board, city councils, county board, etc?
A: I love collaboration and as time goes on and I get to meet more folks, I will be reaching out to them in order to help with programs, planning projects, etc.
Q: Tells us about yourself.
A: I hail from a small town in Southeast Kansas, West Mineral, population of around 250. I did my undergraduate at Kansas State University majoring in Sociology. After graduating, I returned to Southeast Kansas for a short period of time, then moved west. I got a job as a substitute teacher at a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school on the Navajo reservation in Lukachukai, Arizona. This turned into a full time teaching job, then librarian. I was also a coach and the athletic director. I met my wife Becky who was doing her student teaching in Aneth, Utah on the same reservation. We then moved to Aztec, New Mexico where she taught in the Farmington public school system and I worked as an archaeologist and museum educator at a Chacoan Outlier in Bloomfield, New Mexico. This site called Salmon Ruins is part of the greater Chaco landscape of archaeological sites that include Pueblo Bonito and other great houses found in the national park about 40 miles south.
We decided to pursue graduate school and looked at options across the country. We also wanted to get closer to family. Becky was originally from suburban Detroit so the University of Nebraska-Lincoln seemed like a good option at the time. We moved to Lincoln in 1997. Prior to becoming a CVI educator, I oversaw the Americorps and VISTA programs for the city of Lincoln. For the past 12 years though I was the senior associate at the Heartland Center for Leadership Development in Lincoln. My work there has focused on rural and community development, people attraction efforts for small towns and creating leadership development curriculum.