Everyday there are individuals and organizations who find unique ways to reach out, serve and advocate for the best interests of children. Each year, Voices for Children chooses to highlight four such individuals and organizations at our annual Spotlight Gala. We are proud to announce the Circle C Market as our 2015 Youth Award recipient for showing what can be achieved when youth and the community work towards a common goal.
The people of Cody, Nebraska faced a problem. For 15 years, the nearest grocery store was more than 30 minutes away, and for the Sandhills town of 156 people, it was doubtful that they could attract a regional or national retailer to set up shop.
It was to this backdrop that the community members capitalized on the region’s strong entrepreneurial spirit to envision a student-run full service grocery store. The store would serve many purposes in the community; a central grocery store that wasn’t an hour round trip away; a place for hard-working students to learn business skills; and with its location just off Nebraska Highway 20, a notable place for people driving through to stop, bringing more commerce into Cody.
As the store came together, the Growing, Revitalizing, Investing, and Teamwork (GRIT) Steering Committee was formed to help get the market off the ground. GRIT secured funding for the project, and the land which was acquired through a long-term lease from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
The student-first nature of the Circle C Market begins with the building itself. A straw-bale building was chosen for its environmental friendliness and the degree of student involvement it allowed during construction. Students of the Cody-Kilgore school district broke apart 1,300 pound bales of straw into square bales that now form the insulation of the building and were heavily involved in other aspects of construction.
The first groceries arrived on March 22, 2013 and since then, Circle C has been a tremendous success. Students work the grocery store during the day as part of course work, and are compensated for work outside of school hours. In addition to typical items found at a grocery store, students sell their own products. For example, one of the students owns chickens, and sells fresh eggs, another is a jewelry artist, another sells metal sculptures and one young woman sells her home-baked banana bread that almost flies off the shelf.
I recently had the opportunity to visit this unique little town, tour its grocery store and meet the students and teachers that all make this possible. I knew that these kids run the grocery store, but what I didn’t realize was that they run everything. From stocking the shelves, ordering inventory, paying the bills, balancing the accounts, working the cash register and even making home deliveries to those in the community who are home bound. Their dedication and commitment towards a common goal is inspiring.
While in Cody, it was clear that the Circle C Market is not only having a positive impact on the community, but also on the students, themselves. There are countless stories of youth who were shy and lacked confidence when initially getting involved in the project. Now, these same kids are leaders in the store, helping their peers and teaching new students who want to be involved. What a difference a simple idea can make when brought to life by a committed group of citizens.
The Circle C Market is a special partnership between youth and adults in Cody. If either side let the other down, the market would have quickly flamed out, or remained one of many ideas that never left the drawing board. The determination showed by the youth of Cody is best summed up by Cody Village Board Chairman, John Johnson, “With our youth today, I expect the conquering of the impossible. I’ve seen it, if you empower these youth, they’ll rise to the occasion.”