Non-traditional scholarships impact lives in Nebraska City

Nestled on a hill overlooking Highway 75 less than two miles west of the Missouri River lies a beacon of hope for those seeking relief in Nebraska City.

CHI Health St. Mary’s is one of few centers in the region offering focused ultrasound thalamotomy—a noninvasive treatment for essential tremor. The disorder causes involuntary shaking in the hands, arms, legs, or even voice, which can make it difficult to write, tie shoelaces, use a phone, or accomplish any number of everyday tasks. Roughly 10 million Americans live with the disorder, according to the International Essential Tremor Foundation.

Nebraska City scholarship recipient Ashlee Miller and her family.

For those who have tried medication without success, or who are reluctant to go under the knife, focused ultrasound offers an alternative. Like its name implies, the procedure uses ultrasound to target the portion of the thalamus responsible for the disorder. The treatment creates a small lesion on a portion of deep brain tissue, which can effectively reduce and control patients’ tremors.

Ashlee Miller, nurse practitioner at St. Mary’s, feels fortunate to witness firsthand the procedure’s impact on patients’ wellbeing. She works alongside neurosurgeons and assists in helping patients successfully complete the treatment.

“Just the fact we can do that in a rural community is great,” Miller said. “I feel so fortunate to be able to help, because it really changes lives.”

The Nebraska City native credits Nebraska City Community Foundation Fund (NCCFF) for allowing her to grow her career. Twenty years ago, NCCFF awarded its first non-traditional scholarships with a hope of enriching community wellbeing through its mission to invest in people. Between July 2005 and Aug. 2021, it awarded 78 scholarships to 60 students—many of whom now serve the community as teachers, nurses, therapists, and more.

Obtaining a post-secondary degree opens doors. Annual earnings increase, poverty decreases, and employment is higher, to name a few benefits mentioned in a 2015 study published by the University of Maine. Beyond individual betterment, higher education brings a bevy of societal benefits, including lower crime rates, higher rates of charitable giving, increased civic engagement, and an overall boost in trust among neighbors.

Miller can attest to the life-changing power of higher education. After graduating from Lourdes Central Catholic, Miller started working as a nurse’s aide and continued doing so during breaks from Clarkson College in Omaha. After graduating, she began working as a nurse focusing primarily on patient and employer education. Through it all, she kept the idea of returning to school in the back of her mind.

She received a scholarship in 2016 after learning of the opportunity through hospital administration.

“Everybody knows that student loans in health care can be very daunting,” she said. “I tried paying out of pocket as much as I could.”

She had a family support system as well. Her husband helped her carve out time to study, and family members watched their children when both parents were busy.

“I think everything helped,” Miller said. “Everybody played a role in supporting me. My hospital was supportive of me advancing my degree. It all led to my success.”

For Miller, obtaining her APRN opened doors to even more rewarding work. Alongside her duties at the Neurological Institute, she works closely with local employers and employees in an occupational medicine role. She feels closer to Nebraska City than ever before.

“It’s nice to work with people from our community,” she said. “I think it helps them feel better when a familiar face is working with them. When you work in that capacity you really have to be a dual advocate for the patient and the employer. First and foremost, you have to help the patient get well, but you have to keep in mind what is safest for the employer. It’s treating two entities.”

Kristin Olmstead, another recipient, plans to transform her 2020 scholarship into an opportunity to further her impact in the community. After 10 years at the Nebraska Center for the Education of Children who are Blind or Visually Impaired, her experiences with students and staff inspired her to continue her education and become a teacher.

Originally from Atlantic, Iowa, Kristin received her GED in 2001 and then got an associate degree in Psychology from Iowa Western Community College. She moved to Nebraska City in 2009 and a year later took a job at the center. She is now a student at Peru State College majoring in K-12 Special Education.

“I am honored to receive the NCCFF scholarship, and it will help me continue fulfilling my dreams of higher education,” she said. “I encourage others to apply for the scholarship and use it to give back to the great community of Nebraska City.”

Twenty years ago, NCCFF set out to change lives in their city, with hopes of creating a ripple effect. A major component of the Fund’s mission is to invest in the community through investing in its people. If Miller and her fellow scholarship recipients are any indicator, the Fund has more than achieved its goal.

“The Fund is made up of some really caring compassionate people that truly just want to help the community,” Miller said. “They want to see it grow. They want to see it flourish. They want to see people have a chance to use their talents.”

To learn more about Nebraska City Community Foundation Fund and its non-traditional scholarship program, visit their website at www.nebraskacitycommunityfoundation.org.

“The Fund is made up of some really caring compassionate people that truly just want to help the community. They want to see it grow. They want to see it flourish. They want to see people have a chance to use their talents.”

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