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Christina Hoyt


Hospitable, a strong introvert, art lover, horticulture fan and environmentalist?

Probably not a typical combination of attributes found on a job description.

Fortunately for the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum (NSA), Christina Hoyt happens to have it all.

As Executive Director of the NSA, Christina has to have her facts straight about plants. But it was the intersection of her personality and passions that made the job the right place to be.

At first glance, she is a shy, blonde woman, decked out in whatever gear is appropriate for the weather and task at hand. Today, it’s a pair of Sorel boots she recently purchased.

“I got a great deal on them when I was home for Christmas!”

Home was originally Minnesota, a place Christina remembers as one filled with all kinds of wildness. “I lived on the edge of everything. There were wetlands, prairie, lakes, forests. And my family always loved to be out in it. We went camping all the time.”

It was this engagement with the diversity and beauty in the outdoors that launched Christina onto a winding path eventually leading to Nebraska’s doorstep.

“When I started college in Iowa (at Cornell College), I was an Environmental Studies major. I loved art too, but my mom told me I needed to make money,” she said with a smile.

While the “science geek” in her loved her classes at Cornell, she felt something missing. The art element.

In the middle of her junior year, Christina decided to make a change and moved to Nebraska to join a group of friends she had met during a summer job in Colorado. She enrolled at UNL, changing her major to Horticulture and Landscape Design.

It wasn’t until an internship with the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum that she truly began to see her passions meld together.

What she discovered was an organization that was involved in education and in beautifying communities across the state through planning and planting green spaces.

“I wanted to address environmental challenges in my work and make a mark for myself, but found my thought-process shifting.”

The changes the NSA was effecting were real. And it wasn’t on the shoulders of one individual–it was hundreds of different people with different backgrounds, working together for the sake of beautifying the communities they lived in. In the process of this beautification, they were also doing great things: finding balance for the local ecosystem, learning how to sustain clean water, addressing pollinator decline–to name a few of the myriad of positive impacts.

Christina’s love for the environment and art were coming together and were blending with the realization of her passion for people.

While her perspective expanded, her skills and knowledge developed and Christina took on many jobs throughout the organization. Beginning as an intern, she filled a variety of roles before being hired as the Executive Director.

The unique thing about Christina is that she never talks about herself as it relates to the NSA. Instead, she always directs whoever is listening to the many people she teams up with.

“They wouldn’t tell you themselves, because they are too humble, but everyone I work with does great things,” she says. “One of the first elements I loved about this organization was the high level of grassroots support.”

She points out the reach of the organization, “We have 104 affiliate sites and 1100 members throughout the state. We have worked on green spaces in the middle of Omaha and spaces in the smallest community in the sandhills of northwest Nebraska. Our horticulturist grows native Nebraska plants in our greenhouses in Mead for communities and the public. And we have our Spring Affair plant sale coming up!”

When asked about a picture of her hanging high from ropes in Fontenelle Forest, she laughs, “And I’m scared of heights!” She describes the picture, noting an event the NSA participated in during an Earth Day celebration in Omaha just before the organization’s annual plant sale.

“Yeah, I normally like to go home after work and cook or read a good book. I’ve usually used up most of my energy at work.”

Yet Christina goes on to describe a meal she has shared with a neighbor or a good yoga class she has recently taken.

“I love plants,” she comments about her job, “but I love making our communities better even more.”

This is evident in every aspect of her life.

It is the rare individual that understands the connection between the land and the people living and caring for that space. Christina seems to have an innate grasp on the importance of this relationship because it is one she highly values for her own life and the lives of those she is closest to.

“I love that Nebraska isn’t just one place. It’s many places woven together. The challenge of this prairie state is that it’s generally difficult to grow things here, but that fact does not stop people from persisting.”

Christina Hoyt is doing her part to help weave beauty into these spaces.

Sometimes the things that make us who we are, lead us to the place we are supposed to be. For Christina, so many of the things that matter to her are right here, at the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum.

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.

Barbara Zach


Barbara Zach didn’t grow up in a music-saturated house.

Her parents didn’t have a favorite band or music genre that they played for her and her five siblings, and they also didn’t own a TV.

It’s not that her parents were opposed to music or entertainment, it just wasn’t something that was ever emphasized.

But the Zach house wasn’t quiet either, Barbara said. There were six kids running around at any given time and as they got older the noise only intensified.

Music filtered into the house via piano lessons and a Christian rock band that her four brothers started. It was loud and a little chaotic.

So, just how did Barbara end up as the Executive Director of Lincoln’s Symphony Orchestra? Now, that’s a good story.

Barbara said a future in music was never on her radar as a child. Sure, she was in choir during high school, but a career in music? No way.

She was a highly focused and driven child, which led her to be a math major when she attended UNL. She loved the precise nature of all things math-related – it just made sense to her. While in school, she auditioned for the choir as another way to get involved. Barbara said she was surprised at how much she loved the experience and enjoyed being part of a musical group.

It was during her choir experience that she heard a song that dramatically altered her trajectory – Bach’s St. John Passion. Her choir practiced and performed the 18th century piece and Barbara remembers being overwhelmed by the emotion behind the composition. It was a feeling that she’d never experienced, and one she didn’t want to ever lose.

She became a Bach addict, letting her math-geared brain obsess over the musical perfection of his work and getting lost in the beauty and intricacy of each of his compositions.

Up until this point, Barbara was convinced she’d graduate and work as a high-level math teacher. She was a calculus TA, but decided to also join the School of Music and double major in math and piano performance.

Shortly after graduating, a job at the Lincoln symphony opened up and she jumped at the chance to be a part of something music-related. The actual position was basically three jobs rolled into one, and for a high-achieving and focused person like Barbara, it was the perfect fit.

After being in a secluded piano practice room for the past few years of college, she was suddenly flung into the music community. She loved the way 70 unique musicians could come together and create music that highlighted their collective skills, merging their individual talents into something that was greater than any one musician.

A few years later the executive director position at the symphony opened up, and Barbara was ready to take on a new challenge. It’s a role that involves a great knowledge of music, but also a lot of community interaction.

Some days are filled with meetings and community collaboration, others are more logistical in nature, but no two days of work are the same. The days are full and the hours are long, but Barbara said she loves it all. She loves how music is such a big part of her life, how she gets the privilege of intimately knowing the Lincoln music community and that she can see the work of the musicians and donors come together in a way that celebrates and impacts the city.

But it’s not a job without stress, and while she shuts off her work email when she leaves the office, she can’t shut down her brain. She’ll wake up in the middle of the night thinking about an upcoming event or trying to solve a work-related problem, because running a nonprofit takes a certain amount of personal investment.

After being in this role for the past 12 years, Barbara has learned a thing or two about herself and her work.

She’s learned the importance of rest, how to take her job seriously, but also take time to recharge.

She’s come to understand the power of music, the way it can unify a community and a city.

And she’s started to understand how her own story plays into all of her work. Sure, she didn’t grow up with music, but she thinks maybe that’s why it is so special to her.

She came to music on her own, with no preconceived notions about what was ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ She found what she loved, what made her think and feel and she went after it.

She still thinks about that moment when she heard Bach’s St. John Passion for the first time and her whole world opened up. There’s something about that moment that Barbara said she carries with her now and always will.

Her story is about finding herself through music. It wasn’t where she expected to find her story, or where she thought she’d be investing in her community, but that element of surprise has made it all the more special.

Grant Peterson


Grant Peterson is a self-proclaimed do-it-yourself-er.

He’s watched hours of YouTube videos and web tutorials to help him on his latest projects, he’s sourced reclaimed wood from Craigslist like it’s his full-time job and a few years ago he started his own business.

But all of this is in addition to his day-job as a high school social studies teacher.

He is a 25-year-old with two distinct storylines.

Grant grew up in Lincoln and said some of his earliest memories are of doing house projects with his dad and grandfather. He loved watching them tinker with tools, and seeing a project go from start to finish.

In high school, he took his first wood shop class where he learned the basics of furniture making. When he went to college and moved into his first house, he had a choice to make about furniture – buy average furniture that will probably fall apart or make something that would last.

This question prompted Grant to make his first bedroom set. After his friends and family saw his work, he quickly received requests for other projects. He made bookshelves and coffee tables during school as a hobby, but also as a way to earn a little extra money.

It was during this season of going to school and making furniture that Grant had a sudden realization about his career path. He was attending Baylor University pursuing a degree in business when he realized the only reason he was a business major was for financial reasons.

He had grand plans of getting a great job post-graduation and taking home a substantial paycheck. It was a nice thought that promised a comfortable life, and while there was nothing wrong with wanting a comfortable life, he realized he’d be comfortable but bored.

So, Grant went to Plan B – teaching. His mom was a teacher and he’d seen the way she could value and impact students through her work, and he liked having that sense of purpose. His motivation quickly switched from monetary to relational as he realized the kind of impact he wanted to make with his career.

He transferred to UNL, where he finished up his degree and then moved to Lexington, Nebraska for his first teaching job.

It was here that he officially launched his custom-woodworking business – Amos Approved. His business and logo feature his golden retriever, Amos, who is Grant’s woodworking buddy and constant companion.

The name of this business actually wasn’t his idea, a friend thought it up, and Grant was a little hesitant to run with a concept involving his dog. However, the name stuck out to customers and pointed to the level of excellence that Grant puts into each of his projects.

He laughed about the fact that people often call him and ask about Amos before they even get around to their reason for calling Grant about a woodworking project.

Juggling the two jobs and passions has been a major learning curve, he said, there’s no handbook for how to run a business, be a woodworker and full-time teacher. However, Grant wouldn’t have it any other way.

Learning has been a consistent theme in his life – it’s what he loves about woodworking and it’s what he loves about teaching.

Woodworking takes a lot of patience and diligence and Grant said no project goes without a bump in the road. He’s learned various techniques from his grandpa and father. He’s also experienced the generosity of fellow craftsmen like his mentor and friend, BJ, who lent Grant tools and his expertise as he started his business.

Being a high school social studies teacher is a job that changes every day. It’s dependent on his students, the subject matter he’s teaching, the time of year and just the nature of high school.

This past year, Grant moved back to Lincoln and started teaching at East High School. He coached football this fall and is learning the rhythms of a new school.

He bought a house and is doing major renovations on it, with Amos carefully watching his every move.

Grant’s story isn’t what he imagined for himself when he started college. He’s figuring it out as he goes, learning from his mistakes and working to understand how to be confident and courageous as he teaches and builds his business.

These are lessons that can’t be taught via a YouTube video, it’s trial and error, but at the end of the day that kind of methodology is what makes Grant proud of his two storylines.

Brian Podwinski


Brian Podwinski pointed to an old stone wall in the basement of his brewery.

“That wall is probably about 116 years old,” he said, describing the history behind Robber’s Cave, the location of Blue Blood Brewing Company.

Five years ago, Brian could not have imagined standing in the basement of a historic brewery. After all, 10 years ago he was starting a government desk job and nearly 15 years ago he was putting on a Lincoln Police Department uniform for the first time.

“It’s been one crazy ride,” he said with a laugh, and you can tell by his face that he’s not kidding.

There’s a strong sense of pride and a fair share of exhaustion weaved in to Brian’s story. And while it’s not one he would have mapped out himself, it’s one he owns every day.

“Things happen for a reason, right?” he said with a shrug.

In college, Brian was on the path to medical school. He enrolled in biology and chemistry classes, but soon realized the medical field was not his calling. He took an interest in criminal justice and did an internship with the Lincoln Police Department before signing on as an officer in 2000.

Brian loved his job as a police officer. It was a great way to serve his community, and the camaraderie he built with his fellow officers was unlike anything he’d ever experienced before. Sure, the job was tough, he said, but he was proud of the work he was doing and thankful for a job he loved.

After just a few years on the force, Brian was badly injured during a training exercise. Over the next year, he had three shoulder surgeries and underwent physical therapy before retiring from the Department.

“Now what?” he thought.

Brian had gone from having a job he loved to questioning his next steps. He was angry, frustrated and confused about what to do next. He ended up working a government desk job for the next few years, buying himself some time to establish a plan.

It was during this season that Brian started experimenting with home brewing. He jokes that his desk job increased his alcohol consumption, but the truth is he was just spending more time making beer than drinking the mainstream brews.

Home brewing involved creativity and a certain amount of science, he said. The process fascinated him and the end result of his work was 110 percent worth the effort. He started to wonder if just maybe brewing beer could be his full-time gig.

After working a desk job, Brian said he loved the thought of running his own business. He also loved the idea of brewing beer every day… for a living. So, over the next year or so he spent his free time working up a business plan and perfecting his brewing methods.

And in December 2011 he opened Blue Blood Brewing Company.

From the start there was a lot of momentum behind the brewery. It had been a while since a local brewing company had opened in Lincoln, and people were anxious to see what Blue Blood had to offer.

His goal was two-fold  – start his own business and keep the ingredients and talent local. He wanted to give back to the community, which sounds cliche, he said, but it was true. Brian said he was tired of hearing the big players in the beer market boast about their local ties, but their actual community impact was minimal.

“I wanted the money to stay in town, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

Currently, Blue Blood employs 70 full-time and part-time employees. That number has jumped significantly over the past few years as Brian has grown his operation and moved to a new taproom and brewing facility located above Lincoln’s historic Robber’s Cave.

It’s a big responsibility to employ that many people, he said, and it’s an even bigger job to serve his employees well. He wants to run Blue Blood with the same kind of camaraderie that he felt when he was part of the police force. Sure, the experiences are vastly different, but at the end of the day, he does his best to make his employees feel like family.

Opening a local brewery seemed like a no-brainer for Brian. It merged his passion and his talent, but it was also risky. He’d never run a business, let alone a brewery, and figuring out how to brew larger batches and manage distribution methods were entirely new territory, but he was convinced he could make it work – and he has.

What’s interesting about Brian’s story is that he used his whole story, not just the good parts, to shape his future. He could have avoided his past as an officer and stayed angry about his injury, but he didn’t. He combined his love of brewing with his devotion to the police force and found a new story, maybe even a better one.

If Brian hadn’t been injured, he’d probably still be a police officer, but he also wouldn’t own and run a brewery. The fact is, there’s no way to judge which path is better, which one would have been easier or which one would have made Brian happier.

It’s just like he said, “Everything happens for a reason, right?”

Jillian Fellers


Jillian Fellers spent the morning steaming dresses after traveling to New York’s Bridal Fashion Week.

It’s easy to tell that Jillian is comfortable when she’s surrounded by her gowns. How could she not be? They’re elegant and romantic silhouettes made of imported lace and silk, sewn together in a detailed and yet gorgeously simplistic way.

It’s her work, her creation and something she never really expected to be doing. She’s the owner of Jillian Fellers Bridal, and having her name on the sign and her own branded business cards is still a bit of a shock to Jillian.

Like a lot of South Dakota country kids, Jillian said she grew up in 4-H. Her mom taught her the basics of sewing so she gravitated toward sewing projects, showing off her skills at county and state fairs.

In high school, Jillian helped the costume manager by sorting and fitting costumes for the drama performances, building on her basic skills before heading off to college at UNL. She wanted to work in the fashion industry and was confident that getting a textiles and design degree would help her do just that.

It was a big step. Jillian is the oldest child in her family and was the first to leave home, and pursuing a fashion degree seemed a little risky. She soaked up all she could in school, learning the finer points of fashion, sewing and design.

Jillian also met her husband while she was in college and the two got married while she finished up school. They lived downtown in a small condo where there was no room for her sewing materials, so she rented out a space to do custom sewing. She had an ad printed in the yellow pages and started taking orders for projects, the bulk of which ended up being prom, bridesmaids and bridal dresses.

Jillian was especially drawn to the intricate details of bridal gowns and loved getting to talk with brides about their ideal dresses. There was just something so special and personal about working on a custom design.

While things were going well for Jillian, she took a step back from her studio from 2008. She wanted to be a stay at home mom to her two young boys, but she also wanted to keep her hand in the fashion world.

She started an Etsy shop to sell some small accessories, but for the most part she was in full-time mommy mode. Jillian said she liked to work in a quick design over nap time or in the evenings when her boys were asleep, but the break was a good breather for her.

In 2012, a friend asked her if she’d ever consider showing a line of dresses as part of Omaha Fashion Week. Jillian hadn’t really considered ever doing this, but thought it might be worth a try. She spent the next six months designing dresses to show at the spring fashion week. It was thrilling to be back in the world of fashion again, but it was also a lot to take on all at once. Turing around 6-8 dresses in just a few months with two young boys was no small task. There was designing, ordering, fitting and styling that all needed to be done for the show.

But somehow it all worked out and Jillian watched her dresses walk the runway at Omaha Fashion Week. Six months later she was back for the fall fashion show with another set of dresses that she’d whipped up in record time.

From there, things moved forward slowly. Jillian moved her sewing machine from her living room table to the basement of her house and eventually she outgrew her basement and moved into a studio. She was contacted by stores from around the country and asked to do trunk shows and send out samples of her gowns. Jillian started selling online, doing collaborative photo shoots, receiving a lot of positive press and was mentioned on some notable wedding blogs.

The whole thing seemed a little unreal. After all, Jillian said, she’s just a one-woman shop. But now, she’s a one-woman shop that’s about to release her fourth collection of wedding dresses and start in on designs for her fifth.

It’s been quite the adventure, for both Jillian and her family. The whole work-life-balance thing is hard, she admitted, but she does her best. She tries to be present when she’s at home and keep work in her studio, but the reality is that’s not the way it always works out.

There are deadlines, missed birthdays and last minute trips that need to be made, but that’s part of running a small business. Her name might be the one associated with Jillian Fellers Bridal, but she has lots of people cheering her on behind the scenes, namely her husband and her two sons.

Jillian’s story is a lot like her dress designing process – it’s ever-changing. The early sketches and inspirations evolve with each step and most of the time the end product looks nothing like Jillian had intended – it’s even better.

Kat Scholl


Things have finally started to make sense for Kat Scholl.

Now, that doesn’t mean her life is perfect or that she has everything completely mapped out, but for the first time in a long time, she’s starting to understand her own journey.

During the day, Kat is a public information specialist at Lincoln Parks & Recreation. On the side, she and her husband raise bees. It may sound like the two jobs work together in perfect harmony, but that’s not always the way Kat has felt about her work life.

After growing up in a farmhouse in Seward, Nebraska, Kat went to Concordia University to get her degree in studio art. She’d always been creative and her parents encouraged this talent.

Kat grew up watching Bob Ross’s “The Joy of Painting” with her grandmother. Her parents gave her blank sheets of paper instead of defined coloring books to spur on her creativity, so pursuing an art degree seemed natural.

And yet, Kat felt like she needed a backup plan. Not only was art somewhat of a loose career path, but she is also blind in one eye. Kat feared losing her sight entirely, so she also got a massage therapy degree as a fallback career.

Kat said she struggled through college, wrestling with her beliefs, schoolwork and a lack of confidence in her own abilities. After she graduated, she job hopped for about 15 years, going from one position to the next. She felt unsettled and nothing felt like the ‘right’ job. It was during this time that she met her husband, Dustin.

The couple met online after Kat swore off the chaotic bar scene and Dustin was too shy to even consider meeting someone at a bar. Dustin sent the introductory message, Kat responded and the rest is history.

But shortly after they met, Dustin had a random idea.

“Hey, what if we took this beekeeper class?” he asked Kat one night, pointing to a list of classes offered at Southeast Community College.

“Are you serious? You’ve never mentioned anything about bees before…”

Dustin went on to explain how he’d always been interested in beekeeping and he’d hoped to someday make it his “old man” hobby.

“That’s cute,” Kat said with a laugh, and she moved on.

But Dustin kept at it. Leaving the class description in strategic places and dropping in a fact here or there about beekeeping, until Kat agreed to attend the first class.

Much like their dating experience, after one class, they were hooked. A year later they were harvesting their first batch of honey and planning their future honey business.

This was back in 2011, now, Kat and Dustin are the proud owners of K&D Honey Bees. This year they harvested nearly 400 pounds of honey and produced products like lip balm, lotion bars and hand cream with the beeswax.

Working as weekend beekeepers was a fun hobby, but Kat started to realize she loved it because of her family roots. She’d grown up in a family where stewardship of the land was important, and so had Dustin. Their families were both involved in efforts to care for the environment and educate others about habitat conservation.

In turn, much of Kat and Dustin’s bee work has a heavy educational emphasis. They invite customers out to watch them harvest honey, teach people what plants are helpful for bees and educate others on what role bees play in the environment.

This natural shift in thinking about her hobby also translated to her work life. Kat started doing some part-time work at Lincoln Parks & Recreation and eventually was offered a full-time position. Now her days are spent in area parks taking photos for their website and social media pages and helping people understand the role of the Department in the community.

She and Dustin have a few dozen hives out at her family farm in Seward. They dream about one day buying the house she grew up in, raising their kids in the country and maybe trying to make the bee thing a full-time gig, but for now, Kat’s thankful for where her story is at.

Her hobby and day job go hand-in-hand, and she’s excited about what’s next. She’s found a hobby, a way to help others and confidence in her work for the first time in a long time.

A writer of stories


Sharing your story with a someone can be challenging, humbling and even scary. Not with her. It’s more than just the frequent nods of approval and kind smile. She has a way of making you feel comfortable, both with yourself and your story.

Somehow you have the confidence that she’ll take the tangled web of facts and short stories and craft something articulate and beautiful. You can’t put your finger on exactly what it is, but you can tell she genuinely cares about you, values your story and has a sincere desire to tell it well.

Meet Asha (like Tasha without the “T”). Don’t worry if you mispronounce her name. She gets it.

If you were to take a quick glance at Asha’s story, it might seem pretty standard for a Nebraska girl. But look a little deeper and you’ll find that her story is more than you might have expected.

** Disclaimer : Asha did not write this story. You’ll get to enjoy her wonderful writing again next week, but this week you get to learn more about the writer herself. **

Although Asha herself lived most of her life in Omaha, her father was born and raised in India and her mother is from a small town west of Lincoln. Before meeting each other in the Philippines, her parents traveled and lived in other exotic places like India and Israel. But even after settling down in Nebraska, those distant cultures, food and people remained a significant part of their life.

Asha can remember being called upon as a child to help prep and serve home-cooked food to people visiting from around the world. There was always the expectation to stay around to hear stories and take part in conversations with their guests.

Visitors would share tales about dangerous travels, risky border crossings, strange foods and the difficulties of living abroad. Listening to and sharing stories was a big part of Asha’s childhood experience and when it came to writing them down, she was a natural.

Growing up, teachers would tell her that she had a talent for writing, but it wasn’t until a journalism class in high school that Asha began to see what her talent had to offer. When she showed an interest in writing, her parents encouraged her to get involved. Soon Asha found herself as the editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper.

She attended journalism camps, entered competitions and won awards. But as high school was drawing to a close, Asha had a decision to make. Would she study medical science like her two older siblings, or would she buck the trend and go on to study journalism? The decision might sound like a no brainer, but it was complicated.

Choosing a career in medicine would be the practical, responsible and slightly more acceptable decision. But the idea of experiencing adventure, travel and stories for herself… maybe that could be practical too? She told herself she would need a plan.

Asha purposed to find as many internships and real-world experiences during her college studies in order to land a job after graduation. She wanted to take things seriously and her “plan” somehow made the impractical choice more practical – giving her the confidence to say yes.

Asha took advantage of every opportunity for real-world practice in journalism. International trips and internships around the country were expected realities.

She was doing it. Asha was doing what she loved – traveling, experiencing diverse cultures, meeting new people and still maintaining a laser focus on her career.

Asha figured she was set. With her awards, recognition and experience, she wouldn’t have any problem landing a job and traveling the world. Everything seemed to be going as planned.

Then… life happened.

Asha met a guy – Michael. She fell in love and got married. They decided to settle down in Lincoln and the decision was a surprisingly easy one. They already had friends, family, favorite places to eat and a great community. Asha and Michael had grown attached to their city and knew Lincoln would be a great place to start a family.

The first step in settling down meant starting a career and shortly after being married, Asha landed her first real-world job. But it wasn’t what she expected. She went to work in advertising. That’s right… advertising.

Instead of traveling the world, Asha would be helping businesses find their message, writing copy for websites, video scripts and interviewing people on camera. Initially she was a bit out of her element, but it didn’t take long to get the hang of things and excel.

A short time later, she was approached with an offer. Asha was asked if she would be interested in helping start an advertising agency focused on storytelling. It sounded intriguing, even exciting. But it was definitely a risk. Did she really want to stay in advertising?

Eventually she said yes and agreed to come on board to help start StoryHook.

Fast forward to today. Responsible for almost 52 stories, Asha is the creator, writer and photographer for this wonderful series we call Stories Matter. She has been instrumental in building StoryHook and injecting well-crafted storytelling into the community. People from all over have read and loved the stories she writes each week.

Being in advertising wasn’t exactly part of the plan and if you were to ask high school Asha about her future self settling down in Lincoln and working in advertising… she might be a little disappointed that she isn’t the traveling journalist she maybe thought she would become.

Instead, high school Asha should be encouraged by the surprise of adventure. She married a loving husband, has a growing family, is surrounded by a supportive community and directly impacts the lives of people through her writing.

Asha’s story is one of tough decisions, unexpected outcomes and surprise blessings. She didn’t give up on her dreams. She found a better one. With people she loves.

Asha isn’t a great writer because of her childhood experiences, her travels, or her education – though those have uniquely shaped her into the writer and person she is today. No, Asha is a great writer because when she writes about you, you’re more than just a story. You’re a person, with immense value. To Asha, your story matters… because it’s yours.

Cinnamon Dokken


Cinnamon Dokken has never written a resume – she’s never needed one.

At the age of 22, Cinnamon and a college friend opened A Novel Idea Bookstore. What started out as collecting books turned into a business, and 25 years later the shop – dozing cats and all – is still thriving in downtown Lincoln.

“Let’s go sit in the poetry section,” said Cinnamon as she grabbed a small stool to sit on.

It was easy to tell she was in her element in the bookstore. The conversation flowed quickly as she waved at the occasional customer and looked relaxed and at home.

But owning a bookstore for 25 years has given Cinnamon a lot of perspective. She said she’s learned what decisions are worth stressing about and which ones she can make on a whim. It hasn’t been easy to build and maintain her shop, but it’s been a challenge that’s defined her story.

The bookstore’s first location was in a basement space near 16th and O streets. It had no heat, no air conditioning and they often blew the fuse with their electric teapot, space heater and stereo.

In the winter they gave out cups of hot tea to customers to keep their hands warm and when the lights went out they used flashlights to shop. It wasn’t ideal but it worked.

“When you’re used to being poor and tired and cold, it’s not a sacrifice to work a little harder and have a business,” said Cinnamon. “You just duck down and go.”

Cinnamon graduated from college in December of 1991 and the following year she found a new, bigger space for the bookstore – her current location on 14th street between O and P. Truth be told, Cinnamon said, they didn’t even have the first month’s rent in the bank when they got the space, so they hustled.

They sold books while moving into their new space and quickly got to work building new bookshelves and personalizing the shop. After hours, the shop became somewhat of a gathering place for the neighborhood. Bands would often crash there after playing a show at Duffy’s or small groups of friends would host late-night book talks over a bottle of wine.

Cinnamon watched as A Novel Idea developed its own culture and feel. Over the years the bookstore became a place for regulars, the curious college student or out of town visitors who wanted to find a local shop to peruse.

So much life has happened in the shop, both for the community and for Cinnamon. Her daughter, Isabel, was born shortly after the 10th anniversary of the shop and grew up stacking books and taking naps between the rows of shelves.

Starting a business was a risk, especially as Cinnamon acquired a mortgage and had children, but she was never afraid of being a small business owner. It’s a fearlessness that she attributes to her parents.

Cinnamon grew up in Pawnee City, Nebraska, watching her parents own and run their own businesses. Her mom owned a flower shop and her dad managed his own dental practice. The two of them were hard workers who were a big part of their small hometown.

“My dad always used the phrase, ‘It’s important to pay your civic rent.’ ” Cinnamon said. “In a small town there was a lot of opportunity to be involved, and that was part of life.”

While Lincoln is a different town than Pawnee City and owning a bookstore is a different business than a flower shop and dental practice, Cinnamon applies her father’s wisdom to her own work.

After 25 years, Cinnamon’s downtown bookshop is doing well. She’s seen more customers and sold more books this year than in years past – a surprising fact in the age of online sales and digital books.

But for Cinnamon this trend has only reinforced her love and commitment to the Lincoln community.

She’s spent her life building a business that’s served generations of readers, which she said is one of the greatest honors of her life.

“I want to set an example for my children that this is how you live life,” she said. “You celebrate and you contribute and you try to encourage the people around you to be their best selves.”

The way Cinnamon started her business was not glamorous. It took work – lots of work – but it’s also a work that she deeply enjoyed and was committed to. It’s work that’s defined her story and will continue to shape her future.

Erik Hustad & Gabe Lovelace


It started with a food truck.

Scratch that.

It really started with a conversation over a sandwich.

Erik Hustad and Gabe Lovelace grew up together. They’re first cousins, former band mates and friends. Now, they’re the co-owners of Honest Abe’s and Ground Up Kitchen.

Back to that sandwich… Erik graduated from culinary school in Seattle and worked in the restaurant business before moving back to Lincoln. He was itching to start his own thing and he had a few ideas.

This is where Gabe comes into the picture. Erik and his wife, Jess, would come over to Gabe and his wife, Emily’s, house to try out new recipes. This was a pretty common practice for the couples – it gave them an excuse to hang out and eat really good food.

That night, while experimenting with a new chicken salad sandwich recipe, Erik pitched his idea for a burger joint to Gabe. They talked about it briefly and then moved on to a different topic.

Gabe called Erik up a few days later saying something like… “Hey, were you serious about that burger idea? Because, I’d be up for it…”

Erik responded with a question… “What would you think about being my partner in some sort of restaurant?”

Gabe was all in.

“I was his third option,” Gabe said with a laugh, looking over at Erik.

“I didn’t even know he was interested! And he was the only one who said yes, quit his job and came to run this ridiculous food truck,” Erik said.

While Erik had the food know-how, Gabe had the love of food and a desire to find a new job. Gabe had started and quit college three times, worked in the healthcare industry, dabbled in music and had a long list of mediocre jobs.

So, the cousins started a food truck. While they talked about the burger idea, they quickly realized you can’t make good burgers very quickly in a food truck, so they ran with a sandwich and mac and cheese concept they called GUP Kitchen – ‘GUP’ was short for Ground Up.

They got a loan from the bank, spent nearly all of it on buying a truck and trailer and then opened up for business on what felt like a sub-zero temperature day in November 2011.

“I think my mom was our only customer that day,” Erik said with a laugh.

Within their first year of business, Erik and Gabe secured a brick and mortar shop near 70th and Vine streets where they launched Honest Abe’s, their burger concept, in August 2012.

The burger idea took off fast and the guys were a little surprised. They’d meant for Honest Abe’s to be a casual burger joint with a small, but specific menu and really good fries, but things seemed to balloon overnight.

Ten months later the duo opened Sebastian’s Table, a Midwest tapas-inspired restaurant.

They went from spitballing ideas over sandwiches to running three different restaurants in a matter of years. It was hard work and Erik and Gabe put in long hours those first few years because there was a lot at stake – they had wives, kids and mortgages. They dipped into their savings to try new things, take manageable risks and hire people they trusted.

Things were going well, but not every venture was a success. Eventually they shut down the GUP Kitchen food truck, they started and closed Sasquatch Cafe, Sasquatch Bakery and Como Se Taco. In the fall of 2015 they closed Sebastian’s Table.

“My all or nothing, dream big or go home mentality has played a factor in our successes and our failures,” Erik said. “And Gabe’s steadiness and conservative nature is the one of the reasons those successes didn’t crash…”

But it was through opening so many restaurants that Erik and Gabe learned what works and what doesn’t… and Honest Abe’s is what’s working really well, they said. It’s why they opened a second location downtown and why they’re thinking about expanding the brand even more.

It doesn’t mean they’re giving up on other restaurant ideas, not a chance, but they’ve learned a lot about how to run and maintain a restaurant in Lincoln.

As their business has grown, Erik and Gabe have learned how to step back, delegate and hire people they trust. They put a big emphasis on hiring the right group of people to create a culture that values people and the community.

They’ve also learned about themselves, how they work best together and what they’re not willing to sacrifice for their business.

These days, Erik said he gets to tuck his kids in at bedtime every night, and that’s not something he’s willing to compromise, and Gabe agrees.

The thing about Erik and Gabe is that they’re writing their own story. They’re not into industry standards or following strict guidelines. Instead, they’re propelled by their trust in each other and their belief in investing well in people.

Their collective story may have started with a band, a food truck and a conversation over a sandwich, but that’s not where this story ends.

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