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Rosina Paolini


Rosina Paolini doesn’t always keep a weed whacker in her trunk, but she probably should. That, and bug spray.

On an average week, Rosina and her husband, Karl, spend upwards of 8-10 hours in Wilderness Park. Some of the time they’re hiking, but a lot of the time they’re clearing the trails to help the city keep up with the big task of maintaining the park.

She doesn’t spend this amount of time in the park because she’s paid or even asked to do it, she does it because she loves the park. It’s become who she is in a way that’s hard for her to describe but easy to understand because of the way she talks about the park… or rather, the way she can’t stop talking about the park.

Wilderness Park feels like home to Rosina for a lot of reasons, but it’s not where her story starts.

Rosina was born in Algeria, a country in northern Africa. She said her birth parents were most likely killed in The Algerian War, which plagued the area and left children to fend for themselves. As a baby, Rosina was placed in a foster home where she was adopted by American missionaries.

They hadn’t planned on adopting from Algeria, but once they saw how malnourished and small Rosina was they knew that they could either adopt her or leave her to die. After her adoption, she and her parents spent 6 years in Algeria before moving to Lincoln.

In many senses, her childhood was just as ‘typical’ as any other Nebraska-native. She went to school, rode her bike and played outside. She had a childhood friend who frequented Wilderness Park with her family and introduced Rosina to the trails, wildflowers and animals of the park. It quickly became the girls’ playground as they hiked, learned to spot rare birds and tell imaginative stories.

As Rosina grew up, the park served as the backdrop for her life. It’s where she could go when she needed a quiet space, a place to run, catch up with friends, bike, think and breathe.

When Rosina got to high school she quickly got bored of her classes. Her lack of direction, coupled with her rebellion and general teenage angst led her to drop out.

Eventually she earned her GED and realized that what she really wanted to do was be a physical therapist. She’d always loved learning about how the body worked and enjoyed people, so it seemed like a natural fit.

Rosina majored in psychology and biology and graduated as a physical therapy assistant. Now, she works at a skilled nursing facility in Lincoln where she spends a lot of her time interacting with the residents. She loves the way her work allows her to connect with others in a way that’s meaningful and genuine. It’s allowed her to use her skills in a way that’s helpful to others and rewarding in its own right.

This kind of connection is much of what she loves about Wilderness Park too. The connection between the runners, bikers and explorers, the connection to the land, animals and plant species and the connection to herself.

When budgets were cut and Rosina and many others started to notice a lack of maintenance in the park, she and her husband stepped up. Their philosophy was ‘If we don’t do it, who will?’ and what started out as a volunteer effort to enhance the park has become supplemental over the last 10 years.

It’s hard work — especially for someone who is almost 57, Rosina said with a laugh — but it’ also something she’s not planning on stopping anytime soon.

When Rosina walks along the trails, she’s confident in where she’s going because she’s been on the trail hundreds of times and because she feels like the park is hers. It’s a place where she’s invested. A place she feels responsible for maintaining, protecting, promoting and sharing with the community.

It’s a place she’d be lost without.

Rosina said she’s not quite sure how she grew to love the park so much. Maybe it’s because she grew up here. Her best days start with a 6a.m. run in the park and her most memorable weekends consist of meeting old and new families while she and her husband clear brush from the trails. It’s where she finds her sense of place and purpose in the chaos of a busy world.

Rosina said it’s hard to figure out where her story ends and the Wilderness Park story starts. There’s something about the park that makes her come to life in a way that few other things do. It’s a place she feels settled, free and at home.

She wears a bracelet that has a single phrase on it – ‘Live what you love.’ In many ways that’s what Rosina’s story has been about – finding what she loves and living it out every day. She’s motivated by more than goodwill or a sense of pride in her work, it’s about living out love… the best way she knows how.

Andrea Faas


These days, Andrea Faas doesn’t get out of the office much. She has emails to answer, phone calls to make, programs to coordinate and a whole stack of paperwork she needs to tackle.

It’s funny, she said, because her work is to encourage people to do the exact opposite of what she does all day.

But when she does get a chance to escape her work, Andrea leaves her office and walks.

Her office is located on a wildlife preserve that’s surrounded by native grasses, nearly 9 miles of trails, Nebraska wildlife and a pond.

It’s in this kind of setting where Andrea said she can breathe deepest and just be. Nature has always been a place where she’s found comfort, freedom and strength – it’s personal for Andrea and has been a strong theme in her story for as long as she can remember.

As a kid, Andrea was digging in her backyard, poking at bugs and splashing around in the creek behind her house. Her childhood was about discovery and adventure, and so much of that shaped her desire to learn more.

When she was 12 years old, she and a friend biked across the state of Iowa. It was exhilarating and challenging, and she remembers thinking, “I did that?! I can do anything!”

It was an empowering moment for a young girl, and Andrea said she knew then that she could take on new challenges, have adventures and survive to tell about them.

In high school, a school counselor encouraged Andrea to do some volunteer work. Andrea saw an opportunity at Fontenelle Forest in Omaha where she was tasked with caring for mice. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was her first step toward a career.

Andrea moved up from caring for mice to feeding them to snakes and then helping out with summer camps. When it came time for college she tried out UNL and UNO before transferring to the University of Minnesota.

During school Andrea chose to study abroad in Ecuador for a year, adding yet another level of adventure to her experiences. She lived with a host family, worked at a biological research station, learned with researchers from around the world and worked with local farmers.

Andrea said she remembers trying to soak up as much information as she could about the culture and the natural resources in her new home.

When she returned to school after studying abroad, Andrea knew she needed a hands-on job after she graduated. She was offered a position at Fontenelle Forest and eagerly jumped in to work.

But Andrea was always on the lookout for her next adventure. After a few years in Omaha she packed her bags and drove out to California to work at a few schools in and around Yosemite. It was an amazing opportunity with gorgeous scenery and so much to learn and teach.

People would often ask where she was from and when she said Nebraska they’d say, “What’s in Nebraska?!??!”

Sure, Andrea thought, Nebraska didn’t have the ocean or mountains, but there was something about the expansive plains and awe-inspiring Nebraska sunsets that she missed in California. Plus, she missed her family, so after a two years she made the trek back home.

Andrea took a job with Nebraska Game and Parks and logged thousands of miles across the state. She saw places and people, natural sites and one-of-a-kind species that all contributed to the beauty of Nebraska.

She also put down some roots of her own, getting married and then having two children. Her family moved to Lincoln when she heard about a job opening at the Pioneers Park Nature Center, and a few years later she was named the Center’s Coordinator.

This has been Andrea’s first ‘office’ job. It’s different than working in the field, and yet, it’s her position that encourages people to get out and explore. It’s a job that’s less about the building she’s in and more about the land and environment that surrounds her building, and that’s what she loves.

Andrea said a lot of kids love the outdoors, but they often grow out of it as adults. For her, it just stuck. It’s been a consistent and familiar theme in her life, and it’s also an appreciation she hopes to instill in her children and anyone who visits the Nature Center.

“You don’t have to understand everything you see here,” she said. “You just have to get out and experience it.”

That’s why Andrea gets out of the office whenever she can to walk. Whether it’s a 30-minute hike or just a few minutes taking deep breathes, nature is where Andrea feels the most like herself. It’s her therapy, her friend and her story – and now, it’s what she shares with her community.

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