Four Aberdeen-area women have been selected to hone their skills as change-makers.

Bea Fischer-Smith and Heidi Hepola of Aberdeen, Julie Johnson of Mina and Tamie Nickelson of Frederick are four of 20 people who are part of this year’s South Dakota Change Network. The mission of the network is to welcome new populations and promote inclusivity, according to the network’s website.

Hepola works at Northern State University in the international programs department.

“I specifically want to improve community connections between different cultures,” Hepola said.

She was recently on the committee that arranged a meet-and-greet with some of Aberdeen’s Somali residents. Hepola looks forward to continuing or expanding those types of programs.

Participants had to apply to be considered for the program. The women will have two workshops in 2018 and 2019: One in the fall with the other network members, the second with local members in the spring.

Fischer-Smith, director of member services and events for the Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce, wants to focus on manifesting change.

“I thought it was such a cool opportunity — you’re learning about how to make change in community while opening up to new ideas,” Fischer-Smith said. “A lot of my personal goals (are) how do I learn how to make change. My hope is to learn how to empower others to instill change in the community because I’m only one person.”

Each woman must choose a champion or mentor, according to information from The Change Network. Hepola has chosen Ioana Hojda, a recruiter and adviser for Northern’s international program. Fischer-Smith has chosen Gail Ochs, director of the Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce. Nickelson has chosen Heidi Martilla-Losure, owner of Dakotafire Media. Johnson has not yet selected a champion.

“I know around Frederick and surrounding areas we’ve been discussing inclusiveness. Mostly it’s age-related issues — being able to do things in all age brackets,” Nickelson said.

She would like to see the city offer more programs for children, teens and young families. She also wants to help break down the somewhat invisible boundary between rural and town residents.

“There’s plethora of people from all different corners that aren’t being introduced. If we could become more world-minded than single culture-minded, that would be phenomenal. I have a lot to learn from a lot of different people,” Nickelson said.

Johnson is looking forward to expanding her own skills.

“I agreed to do it because I get involved in a lot of crazy (projects),” she said. “Especially in an election year when there will be a lot of transition going on. I’ve been privileged to be able to develop a lot of skills especially in my time in Pierre … making creative solutions in collaborative environments.”

Among other things, Johnson has worked as a lobbyist for the Aberdeen area during the legislative session.

The South Dakota Change Network, in its second year, gives grants and provides programs and other learning opportunities to up to 20 applicants annually. Change Networks across the country are sponsored by The Bush Foundation.

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