Governor Laura Kelly Announces 12 “Rural Champions” Leading Local Community Efforts

TOPEKA – Governor Laura Kelly today announced the 12 grant recipients of the Rural by Choice Champions Program (Rural Champions) that launched earlier this year in collaboration with the Patterson Family Foundation. The selected Rural Champions will be a part of a statewide network of grassroots individuals tackling critical projects in their respective communities.

“I created the Office of Rural Prosperity in 2019 to bring attention to the needs of rural communities across Kansas,” Governor Kelly said. “By finding local solutions to local challenges, the Rural Champions program exemplifies the mission of the Office and all that rural Kansas can achieve.”

Inspired by a Kansas Sampler Foundation program, the Office of Rural Prosperity created the Rural Champions program as a way for rural communities to move the needle in areas where a lack of capital or other resources hinders progress. The Rural Champion program provides a one-year stipend to communities and pairs them with a team that will provide training and resources to accomplish a critical community project.

“The Rural Champions program provides a new resource for rural communities that are looking for new ways to prosper,” Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of Commerce David Toland said. “These champions will work to resolve issues that have previously been a barrier to their community’s success.”

The 2022 Rural by Choice Champions include:

  • City of Harper, Harper County – Housing Champion
  • City of Kingman, Kingman County – Child care Champion
  • Clay County – Child care Champion
  • Community Foundation for Independence, Montgomery County – Trails and Wellness Champion
  • Dodge City, Ford County – Child care Champion
  • Graham County – Economic Development and Entrepreneurship Champion
  • Junction City, Geary County –Entrepreneurship Champion
  • Lincoln County – Placemaking and Workforce Champion
  • Linn County – Housing Champion
  • Morton County – Mental Health Champion
  • Oberlin Unified School District 294, Decatur County – Child care Champion
  • Wallace County – Community Development Champion  

“We received many outstanding applications – making the selection of 12 communities very competitive,” Director of the Office of Rural Prosperity Trisha Purdon said. “We are excited to work with these communities over the next year in building replicable processes that can be shared with communities across the state.”

Rural Champions will work with the Office of Rural Prosperity throughout the project completion. At the completion of the projects, information will be compiled in the form of guidebooks that will be made available to support additional communities. More information on the Rural Champions program is available at

Derek Nester
Derek Nester
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2020 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.

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