Residents around Cody in Cherry County have been making the 76-mile roundtrip to Valentine for the past 15 years to purchase groceries. It isn't a trip you would make every day. But now, thanks to forward-looking community leaders and teachers and students at Cody-Kilgore High School, Circle C Market is open and ready to serve the grocery needs of local residents.
Located along Highway 20 on railroad right-of-way land owned by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Circle C Market officially opened for business last May, and it is operated primarily by the students.
"Cody is a wonderful example of the educational system willing to think outside the box and support this type of entrepreneurship and the students to do something innovative," says Kathie Starkweather, director of the Rural Opportunities and Stewardship Program with the Center for Rural Affairs based in Lyons. "The students are learning all aspects of running a small business," she says. "They are learning marketing, finances, business planning, inventory, customer service and all the things necessary for small business owners to succeed."
Full-time school staff members and students operate the grocery store during school days as part of course work, including a leadership class. Students are paid to work at the store during non-school hours and on weekends.
What started out as an idea for an FFA project by a student developed during a brainstorming session between teachers and expanded from there. Starkweather says the project has inspired community pride and support. "It offers a place for folks to gather and creates jobs in the community," she says. "It allows dollars to be spent locally and thus strengthens Cody's economy."
A student steering committee known as Cowboy G.R.I.T.--growing, revitalizing, investing and teamwork--formed with help from teachers, Stacey Adamson and Tracee Ford. The Center for Rural Affairs, teachers, town officials and the local school board supported the effort from the beginning, helping students apply for grants and providing technical advice to bring the project to completion.
"Many bumps in the road appeared, and while folks were discouraged from time to time, they never quit," Starkweather says. "The persistence of the teachers, students and community was incredible and inspiring." Now, the store has inspired other student entrepreneurial projects and products which are being marketed there.
You can learn more from others involved in the Circle C Market project by reading an upcoming print article in Nebraska Farmer or by visiting Cody's village website at http://villageofcody.com.