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Cohort of leaders: RDI program gives grants to Othello institutions

Staff Writer | April 17, 2024 1:30 AM

OTHELLO — Rural Development Initiatives wrapped up its six-month-long Rural Community Leadership Program in Othello on Thursday evening with a final session for the leadership cohort at the Othello Senior Center and the presentation of $5,000 in grants from the cohort to various community institutions.

The $5,000 was distributed between the Greater Othello Chamber of Commerce, the Old Hotel Art Gallery, the Lighthouse Community Center and the Othello Senior Center. The event was hosted by RDI’s Leadership Services Business Manager Christine Gilmore and Regional Program Manager Marci Miller.

“We started this program by saying, ‘What does Othello need? What's missing?'” Gilmore said. “It became (clear) so quickly in the group what was so important to this cohort, specifically around investing in community connectivity and investing in community space. So, we've come to the point where it's how we're going to invest those dollars.”

The leadership program falls under the umbrella of Elevate Othello, a coalition of organizations working to develop programs in Othello funded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Placemaking Innovation Challenge.

Gilmore said RDI hopes to offer the leadership program to a second cohort and more in the future to build a pipeline of leaders and groups for Othello. Miller also emphasized that the Othello community was immediately enthusiastic about the Elevate Othello partnership.  

Chamber of Commerce Manager Jackie Wilhelm then spoke during the event, outlining what the chamber plans to do with the grant money from the leadership program. 

“This money is going to help me find technology support in order to launch the website that I've been working on, and that'll be a place where the community and people who are visiting Othello can visit and see everything that we have to offer,” Wilhelm said. “We also plan to establish a community calendar where people can hop on and see what's going on, not just for the chamber but for other organizations in our community as well.”

Old Hotel’s Director Samantha Copas also explained what the art gallery will do with the grant money.

“Part of our mission at the Old Hotel Art Gallery is to further the arts and art education, and it's been a bit of a tradition in Othello for kids to go to art programs, mostly in the summer. Due to some damage to the building, that was not possible in the last few years,” Copas said. “I've been working on doing more art classes, not just in the summer, but year-round. Right now, they're kind of sporadic, but eventually, I'd like to get a full program for the entire year. These funds are going to go towards helping me with that.”

Lighthouse Community Center Program Director Angela Kudsk spoke on behalf of the organization.

“What we are looking forward to with the Lighthouse is truly making it available for the community,” Kudsk said. “So what we'll use these specific funds for is geared more towards after-school activities.”

The Othello Senior Center also received some of the funding, which Othello Food Bank Director Jose Garza, who is involved in the senior center, said would be used toward building upkeep and funding senior center activities. Miller said the senior center also received $2,000 from the Elevate Othello coalition to start a regular bingo night. 

In a previous interview, Garza said the Othello Food Bank also received funding. 

“We asked for about $1,200, and that is going to go to putting a community garden at, I think the Cedar Apartments,” Garza said. “So that's going to be a garden that's just for the residents in that building, so that way they have access to fresh food.”

After Thursday’s ceremony, the leadership cohort had their final session. Garza, a cohort member, reflected on the program and its successes.

“It's really good, because it's so hard to get community members in one spot, and with the cohort, we were able to do that,” Garza said. “So now what they're hoping is the people that were in this first (cohort) will be more engaged on the second one as leaders and support the second one, but then we as well have come together and said, ‘Well, we're not going to stop here.’ We want to meet up once a month and continue on with the cohort.”

Gabriel Davis may be reached at

    Greater Othello Chamber of Commerce Manager Jackie Wilhelm, left, accepts a grant award from Rural Development Initiatives Leadership Services Business Manager Christine Gilmore as part of the Rural Community Leadership Program.
    RDI’s Christine Gilmore, right, who led the Rural Community Leadership Program in Othello, presents a grant to Old Hotel Art Gallery Director Samantha Copas, left, who said the funds would be used to hold more art classes.
    Lighthouse Community Center Program Director Angela Kudsk, left, Rural Development Initiatives Leadership Services Business Manager Christine Gilmore, middle, and Othello Bethel Assembly of God Senior Pastor Samuel Garza, right, pose with a grant award for the community center, which is funded and operated by Bethel Assembly of God.