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Natalie Elsberry


Natalie Elsberry always knew she’d work in the wedding industry.

She loved the pretty flowers, the unbridled spirit of joy and just knowing that it was someone’s special, longed-for day.

“I was a weird kid,” she said with a laugh. “I liked all that cliche stuff.”

At first she thought she’d be a wedding planner. She’d be the woman with the ideas, the keeper of the wedding secrets and surprises and she’d do it all with ease and a little wedding-day magic. But that was far from the reality of being an actual wedding planner.

Natalie helped a few of her cousins plan their weddings, and while improvising is her strong suit, the sheer number of details zapped any wedding-day bliss that she hoped to experience.

For a while she thought about opening a wedding reception hall. She had the plans ready to go and had even scoped out a spot for her idea to take shape, but the more she thought about the logistics the less she was convinced her idea would work.

So, she circled back to what she really loved about weddings – flowers.

Now, eight years later, I Bloom. is her wedding industry job. She’s not the wedding planner or the reception hall host, she’s the flower lady and it’s the perfect job for Natalie.

Her days involve getting shipments of flowers delivered to her house, helping clients envision flowers for their weddings, designing bouquets and talking with various local and wholesale flower vendors.

Last year she and her husband moved their family to a bigger house to accommodate her growing business. They needed a bigger basement for production and a 3-car garage to house her industrial-sized flower refrigerator.

This year alone, Natalie and her assistants worked 79 weddings, and next year she expects to do more. It’s crazy, and good and so much more than she expected when she started out.

Flowers have always been part of her life, mostly because they were a major part of her mother’s life. Natalie grew up in a little house with a huge yard where her mother expanded her flower collection a little each year. The running joke is that after all of Natalie’s siblings get married in her parents’ backyard, her mom will convert any leftover green space to flower beds.

Gardening was her mother’s therapy of sorts, it was where she felt most at home and could relax from the pressures of being a mom with seven kids. Natalie said she and her siblings were often out gardening alongside her mother, pulling weeds or just running around outside.

As she got older, Natalie realized school wasn’t her thing. She went to college on and off for a few years at UNL and SCC, taking any flower and business courses that were available to her.

In 2006 she got married in her parents’ flower-filled backyard. She designed the flowers for her own wedding, using a monochromatic palette and filling every inch with romantic bouquets and centerpieces.

For the next few years, Natalie worked various full time jobs while she booked wedding gigs on the side. Her work started to get noticed by more than just friends and family and in 2008 she officially launched I Bloom.

The first year in business, Natalie booked three weddings, the next year she did twelve and the number has only grown from there.

This year was a little rough, she said with a laugh. It wasn’t uncommon to have four weddings scheduled for a single weekend this past June.

But busy isn’t a bad thing, she said. It’s growth and it’s what she always hoped for when she started I Bloom., even if it’s not all what she expected.

She didn’t plan on growing her business to the point where her family needed to move. Or that she’d be on a first-name basis with the delivery men who show up on a weekly basis with shipments of flowers. She also didn’t anticipate the kind of growth that would necessitate juggling being a full-time mom and a business owner.

Her days are full of flowers and excited brides-to-be, but they’re also full of cleaning up kid-inspired messes, keeping her family fed and playing her fair share of dolls with her three girls. Natalie’s office is on the first floor or her house, where her kids can go back and forth between their mom and their toys, but she can still stay on top of emails, meetings and Pinterest inspiration boards.

This is her life, and even in the chaos of growing her business and her family, Natalie said these last few years have felt like her sweet spot.

It feels like she’s right where she’s supposed to be, like her story is finally starting to make sense, it’s more than she bargained for at times, but it’s also a whole lot more than just flowers and weddings.

Jill Morstad


Walking into her house, you wouldn’t know that Jill Morstad is the owner of two large Belgian Shepherds.

There was no barking, no jumping, no licking and the dogs were nowhere to be seen. It’s not that Jill doesn’t love her dogs or is compelled to keep her house in a perpetually manicured state, actually it’s the opposite – her dogs have boundaries, because she loves them.

This is a distinction that she’s careful to make, and it comes from her more than 30 years of teaching people to train their dogs. Offering classes at dog clubs, in private homes, animal shelters and vet clinics, Jill has a broad understanding of the communication between dogs and owners. But really, she said, her job is about listening to stories.

“Everybody’s pet is a story,” she said.

And while it might sound a little strange to talk about dog training in terms of stories, Jill said people have so many preconceptions about training and even owning a dog based on their personal experiences. Things like their childhood pet, a recently deceased animal or even a neighbor’s dog can color a story very quickly, she said, and that’s natural.

But her job is to hear those stories, understand their origin and articulate their impact. She does this with her clients, and she’s done this since she was an 8-year-old who owned her first dog.

Like a lot of kids, Jill started asking for a dog as soon as she could find the words. She was fascinated by the dog books at the school library, checking them out one by one and reading them cover to cover. These books brought the dog-owning experience to life for her until her family was given a dog by a family member who couldn’t care for it any more.

Little 8-year-old Jill and her dad took the dog to a local training class where the instructor was an AKC judge. It didn’t take long before Jill was immersed in the dog training world – connecting with local trainers, reading any training book she could get her hands on and researching local dog shows to attend. It suddenly became her whole world.

As she got older, Jill said she realized why she loved training so much. It was more than just shaping an animal or making it do what she wanted, it was about communication, about understanding the void between humans and dogs and figuring out how to bridge that gap. There was something highly natural, yet philosophical about the process and Jill loved that.

When she went off to college, she studied journalism because of her fascination with communication and went on to work at a small publishing company shortly after graduation. Within a year of graduating, Jill owned a dog and started training it for competitions. In her free time she traveled around the Midwest taking her dog to obedience competitions and connecting with other area trainers.

Eventually Jill moved to Missouri to pursue her graduate degree in folklore and language and then came to Lincoln in the early 90s to work on her PhD. She taught at UNL and is now an English and writing professor at Union College.

She often asks her students, “What would you read about or think about if it was left entirely up to you?”

For Jill, the answer to that question is dog training. It’s where her passion and purpose collide and it’s a way that she feels like she can train people in Lincoln to care well for their dogs to better individual homes, neighborhoods and the community as a whole.

Jill’s days are spent vacillating between teaching English, training dog owners, hosting a weekly radio show about dog ownership, preparing for dog shows and keeping up with her own dogs during her morning run.

Communication has been a consistent part of her story.

Her two jobs are centered on using communication to relay a message and create order. For dogs, this happens through verbal commands and non-verbal signals, and with her students, she’s realized that even with the perfectly chosen words, not even the English language can be articulated 100 percent accurately.

Whether it’s the way she’s introducing a concept to her college students or how she’s working with a dog and its owner, there’s a high level of intentionality in all of Jill’s work.

Her entire story has been one of learning and sharing. It’s been about more than just a love of animals or a love of words, but a union between these two seemingly separate disciplines.

Levi Nelson


Levi Nelson has lived his entire life in Lancaster County – and he has no plans of moving anytime soon.

It’s the place he grew up, where he learned, met his wife, works and is raising his kids. It’s also the place where his story has taken shape. In small bits and pieces Levi has learned what he likes, what he’s good at and why all of that matters.

He’s learned to be content, and that’s no small thing for a 28-year-old to claim.

Growing up, Levi said he was always tinkering with something tech-related. In high school it was programs like Photoshop and After Effects. He and his friends would goof around with the programs, until he realized he was actually pretty good at coming up with creative solutions. He’d never actually considered himself creative, because he couldn’t draw or paint, but the computer gave him the tools to express himself creatively.

Fast forward 5+ years and Levi is graduating from UNL with a Marketing degree and starting a job at Anderson Auto Group.

He described his job as being the one-man, in-house ad agency. Levi was responsible for anything under the marketing umbrella, including media buying, filming commercials and managing the budget. He learned a lot and really put his degree to work.

After leaving Anderson, he had a short stint as the Creative Director at Reliant Studios before doing freelance work full time.

Doing freelance work gave Levi the freedom to pursue projects that he loved. He built websites, shot videos and worked his creativity into every project he touched. He was constantly reading up on the latest gear and digging into more technical aspects of coding than ever before. The challenge of creating something useful was addictive and he loved finding the best solutions for his clients.

But as he did more work, his client list grew and the amount of work became overwhelming. Levi had a decision to make – he either needed to hire someone to help him or cut back on the number of projects he took on. He also had a third option – quit freelancing – which was exactly what he did.

Levi said he wanted to move out of advertising work and start building products, so he joined the best digital product company in town – Hudl.

He was launched into the world of product design where he was surrounded by experts and submerged in the startup scene. Soon he was one of the growing number of young people around town sporting a bright colored Hudl shirt and sneakers, and it was a perfect spot for him to grow in his skills.

Less than two years later, Levi took another risk with a new startup and joined the team at Travefy, a company that makes group and corporate travel simple.

It’s been a good move for him, and it’s made him appreciate the unique atmosphere that working in a startup brings. He’s part of a team that’s full of humble experts who are passionate about solving problems and maximizing their combined skills.

But Levi’s story isn’t just about work. It’s about doing things well.

Working at two local startups has made Levi think about starting his own business. He’s a self-described pessimist who sees problem after problem and he started to wonder if it was wrong for him to be solving ‘first world problems’ when there were bigger problems in the world. He’s consistently asking himself how to fix so many of the problems he sees.

But here’s the thing, Levi said he won’t be starting a company anytime soon.

He’s not lazy or lacking in ideas, but it’s just not the right time.

Levi said he’s seen how much time and energy it takes to get a company up and running. And for him, this is just the wrong season in his life.

Right now he’s working on being a trusted employee, an available husband and a good dad. That might sound simple or humble, but over the past few years Levi said he’s learned how to be content in where he’s at in life. He’s learned how to prioritize and not get ahead of himself.

He’s a guy who works hard and digs into his community. He invites his neighbors over, plays with his kids and also loves reading up on the latest coding techniques out there.

Just because he isn’t starting the next Hudl doesn’t mean his story is any less important. Levi gets that, and it shows.

His story is about living in the now, focusing on the present and doing what matters most in the simple and everyday moments.

Pat Leach


Some days, Pat Leach wishes she could just call in ‘sick.’ Not because she doesn’t like her job, but because she wants to finish the latest book that’s grabbed her attention.

It’s funny, she said, the thing that keeps her from reading most often is her job to help others read. Pat is the Director of Lincoln City Libraries. 

She’s worked at the Bennett Martin Public Library for most of the past 40 years, and it’s hard for her to imagine having a different job.

Her job at the library is to engage the community, encouraging reading, literacy and education and inviting everyone into the libraries across the city. It’s a job that fits Pat, because of her deep love of reading and her passion for sharing that love with others. 

But it’s also a job that nearly 10 years ago, she wasn’t sure she wanted anymore.

Here’s why.

After almost 30 years of working in the library, Pat had a thought one day, ‘Maybe I should be doing something different…’

It wasn’t that she didn’t like her job, or it didn’t fit her skills, actually, it did both. Pat just wanted to be sure she was in the right career, so, she called a career counselor.

Up to that point, the Bennett Martin Public Library had been Pat’s place. It was where she worked during college, the place she met her late husband and how she interacted with people from the community. She’d worked in various areas of the library system and had seen the library grow and change over the years.

But a question still lingered in her head, “Was there something else out there I should do?”

When Pat met with the career counselor, they talked about her strengths and weaknesses, her likes and dislikes, and worked to determine what career field might fit her best. At the end of the evaluation it came time to look at the list of potential career options.

Pat held her breath and looked at the list – at the top was ‘librarian.’

Go figure.

If she hadn’t been sure before, she was then, working in the library was the right place for Pat. She remembers the career counselor making a comment like, ‘Well, it looks like you landed in the right place from the start…’

It was true. Pat’s life wasn’t consumed with the library, but so much of her personal and careers passions worked perfectly together.

After meeting with the career counselor she felt confident that her job at the library wasn’t just an easy fit, it was the right fit. Since then, Pat has leaned in more and more to her role at the library.

In 2008, she became the Library Director, a job that oversees the workings of all the public libraries in Lincoln. She also hosts a weekly radio show on NET called ‘All About Books’ and frequently speaks at events and to students about the importance of reading and literature.

She lived a pretty “charmed” life, up until three years ago when her beloved husband, Jerry Johnston, was diagnosed with cancer. He died just seven weeks after the diagnosis.

Pat remembers people telling her how strong she was, saying they could never go through losing a spouse, but Pat didn’t think of herself as extraordinarily strong – she just did what she had to do. Something many people do every day in difficult circumstances.

She made it through the deep sadness and loss, and she values life more because of losing her husband. Pat doesn’t immediately talk about the loss of her husband because she doesn’t want that one moment to define her story.

To be honest, Pat said she isn’t sure what moment does define her story. Things like her childhood, her job at the library or even her husband are all part of it, but none of them seem to sum it all up. Maybe that’s just it.

Sometimes the best stories aren’t flashy or overly dramatic, they’re consistent and real.

Pat is kind and focused, determined and open-minded. Her story is about doing the next thing, being herself and enjoying each moment, no matter how big or small they may seem.

Nancy Teague


When Nancy Teague paints she comes to life. Her hand moves quickly, then slowly, intentionally and then spontaneously.

She smiles, steps back to get a better view and then moves back toward her painting.

Nancy is an abstract artist. She describes her work as emotional and free but also ordered and on-purpose.

But Nancy’s expressive abstracts are somewhat new to her – she’s only been painting in this style for three years – and yet her career as an artist started long before she ever painted an abstract.

Nancy’s style shifted to accommodate her physical and emotional changes over the past few years, and it’s a shift that’s impacted more than just her art.

Nancy said she never dreamed of being a ‘professional’ artist. Sure, she was an artistic kid who loved sketching, building and tinkering, but how could that ever be a career, she thought.

In college, Nancy graduated with a degree in education and found a job in Lincoln as an art teacher. She loved watching her students learn and create, it was the perfect fit for her.

But it was only after she quit teaching, due to budget cuts, that Nancy started to pursue her own art. She used her colors and technique to bring photographed images to life with light and texture. As a realism artist her paintings were exact, every stroke had a place and there was little room for error.  

Nancy would often drive to small towns and then walk around with her camera in-hand, looking for objects to photograph and then paint in her studio. She loved the way she could bring a painting to life with shading, layers and shadows, this was her art and she was proud of it.

Over time Nancy competed in nationally ranked art fairs. She won a few notable awards and her career seemed to be off and running.

But in the late ‘90s Nancy developed a tremor in her left hand – the hand she paints with. She could no longer write her name and even something as simple as drinking water became an annoyance. Her work as a realist painter was intricate, and working with a tremor was impossible.

So, she closed up shop. She sold her materials, packed up her canvases and gave up painting.

The next ten years of Nancy’s life were quiet but impactful. They were full of thinking and evaluating, figuring out what she believed, and why her beliefs mattered. It was also frustrating. Nancy taught herself how to write with her right hand and she felt like a first-grader as she practiced rows and rows of single letters. It was hard, but Nancy was managing.

In 2008 an artist friend encouraged Nancy to explore painting again. They discussed making prints of Nancy’s former work and that got Nancy thinking… ‘I wonder if I can paint at all…’

Late one night she picked up a paintbrush and started in – she was doing it. Her tremor was there but she was painting like she used to, and to her surprise she was noticing finer details than before. 

For the next five years, Nancy delighted in her realism painting and began to slowly experiment with painting styles beyond realism.

She said she felt like a child again, playing with paint, enjoying the fluid movement and testing out new methods. She found that she could paint with her left hand and right hand together, it didn’t matter, because there was so much less structure.

But something else was happening too. As Nancy shifted her art from realism to abstract, a similar shift happened inside of her, she said. 

She found joy, a deep, deep inner joy that suddenly spilled out onto her canvas.

It’s a joy that came from her long-time faith in God, and a new realization of different truths about God and her own identity and purpose. Nancy said it was this inner freedom that propelled her shift to abstract painting.

“It’s hard to not do something that brings you joy,” she said.

So that’s what she’s done.

Not many artists can switch from one style to another, but to Nancy, her shift was unexpected but intentional. It was an outpouring of what she longed to experience, while still factoring in her limitations.

Nancy’s story is about learning from her doing, and growing from her learning. It’s about finding joy in a place that seemed unwanted and but turned out to be more rewarding than she could have imagined.

Her story is about realizing that there’s more to her story than she ever expected, and that was the real surprise.

Justin Jones


When Justin and Jennifer Jones stepped off the plane in Nebraska for the first time, they were wearing shorts and sandals – it was March.

And while they were highly unprepared for the snowy weather, the southern-born couple came ready for a new adventure and lots of hard work.

They came to open Nebraska’s first Raising Cane’s restaurant.

That was 10 years ago. Today, Justin is the owner of five Raising Cane’s locations in Nebraska, but his story starts with a lot of self doubt and a complete lack of clarity.

Back in 1996 Justin was a college student at Louisiana State University who had no clue what to do.

But it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Justin put himself through college working construction jobs, fitting pipes, delivering home appliances and loading up 18-wheelers at night. He changed his major five or six times until he decided to graduate with a degree in general studies.

A few months before graduation, Justin attended a college fair. He wandered from booth to booth, talking with recruiters and asking about potential jobs. Then he saw the Raising Cane’s booth, so he marched up to the recruiter and asked, ‘So, how could I own one of these restaurants?’

It was a pretty bold question for a kid who had no direction, but after the recruiter told Justin more about the company’s values and goals, Justin submitted a job application and at the end of the month he was training for the position of store manager.

Honestly, Justin said, he took the job to give his resume a boost. He thought having ‘management’ on his list would be more impressive and lead to a better job down the road.

But not everyone understood his job choice. Justin had just spent seven years pursuing a college degree and he ended up in the food service industry? It became a bit of a joke, but Justin didn’t care.

He was quickly starting to see that his job at Raising Cane’s was more than just a resume booster. For the next three years, Justin helped manage, launch, grow and sustain both new and veteran restaurants in Louisiana. He traveled like crazy and slept in small increments. It was insane, but oddly normal to Justin.

For the first time in his life Justin said he felt like he was doing something that mattered. He was creating something new, helping his team succeed and enjoying every minute of the craziness.

And then in 2006, Justin got the call he’d been waiting for – a chance to run his own franchise.

That’s when he and his wife uprooted their lives and moved to Lincoln – a place with no family and nothing familiar, just Raising Cane’s.

The launch of their first location at 48th and R streets received an overwhelming amount of attention and support during the first few months of business, but things eventually slowed down. Justin remembers talking with Jennifer during their first Christmas in Nebraska about how they could really give back to the community, to show people that they weren’t just another restaurant in the community, but the community’s restaurant. 

In the coming months they instituted coat and food drives and began donating a part of their proceeds to Lincoln as a whole. People started to notice that not only was the food tasty and a quality product, but what Justin and Jennifer were doing was real.

It’s with this mindset that Justin has successfully opened a total of five Raising Cane’s locations in Nebraska.

These days, Justin doesn’t have to wear as many hats around the office as he used to. He’s no longer the accountant, IT guy, facilities manager, developer and store operator. He can delegate these roles to his team, he can look at the big picture and see what’s on the horizon for Raising Cane’s – he’s stepping back, but not stepping away.

Justin said it’s so strange to think back to being a clueless 18-year-old college freshman. He would have never dreamed of being a Raising Cane’s owner, or working his way up and making five locations his own…never.

But that’s just the point, he said. It’s what he often talks about when he speaks to college students. He reminds them to pursue what they love instead of a paycheck, because that’s where his story has shaped him the most.

Making $9/hour as a college grad wasn’t his plan, it wasn’t ideal, it was probably the worst plan he could have devised for himself, but it’s where his story came to life.

Some people might be bashful about being clueless or working at a fried chicken joint, but that’s not Justin. He’s proud of his story, he’s proud of his work and when he heads home at the end of the day, that’s what matters.

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