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Leadership Williston welcomes class of 2021
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Leadership Williston kicked off its 2021 program this week, bringing in a new group of future leaders and entrepreneurs from the community.

Meeting at the NDSU Research Extension Center, the 13 participants spent the introductory day going over the basics of the program, as well as planting the seeds of their community project, perhaps the most well-known aspect of the Leadership Williston program. Leadership Williston was developed by the Williston Area Chamber of Commerce’s Partners in Education and Leadership Committee “To Train and Empower Williston’s Future Leaders.”

During the eight-month program, participants take part in hands-on workshops led by community members, gaining knowledge on topics such as leadership skills, ethics, public speaking, county and city government, agriculture, law enforcement, tourism and Economic Development.

While taking part in the program, participants are tasked with creating a community enhancement project; something that will be a benefit to the community and help enrich the quality of life for its residents. Many notable projects have come out of the program over the years, including Marketplace for Kids, the Spring Lake Park Dog Park, the Boom Crawl and the Women in Leadership Expo.

After introductions, Leadership Williston Project Liaison Debbie Richter met with the class, discussing some of their project ideas. Richter said hearing the variety of new ideas that come out of the program every year is always something she looks forward to. This year’s project ideas run the gamut from youth fitness and investment programs, to athletic facility improvements and film festivals.

“Meeting with the new group of Leadership Williston participants on day one of the program is always exciting,” Richter told the Williston Herald. “The Community Enhancement Project ideas they presented were amazing; our community can expect great things from this class. The Chamber has been doing an exceptional job of connecting participants with professionals in the Williston community for years and it always results in positive outcomes for everyone.”

The class was given an introduction to City and County government, courtesy of City of Williston Administrator David Tuan, and Williams County Communications and Research Analyst Lindsey Harriman. Participants received a crash course in the intricacies of economic development thanks to Barb Peterson, marketing and business development coordinator for Williston Economic Development. The day rounded out with an introduction to public speaking with Helen Askim, bringing many participants out of their comfort zones and into the spotlight.

Overall, individuals praised the program’s first day, and said they looked forward to the next session.

“It went very well, it blew my expectations,” participant Jesse Chavez said. “It was very informative, and I’m excited to do my project. It’s going to be something to give back to the community, and listening to everyone else’s ideas really got my brain rocking.”

Some participants have only recently arrived in Williston, and see the program as on opportunity to become closer to the community they’ve become a part of.

“I’m very new to the area; just moved here in September, so I’m excited to meet people in the community and just get more involved,” Kay Atteberry explained. “There’s so many different perspectives and good ideas in the class, and it seems like a motivated group of individuals. It’s nice to be a part of it, because these people will be the next major stakeholders and leaders in our community.”

Chamber of Commerce Membership and Engagement Manager Rochelle Villa takes over the reigns as program coordinator for 2021, and said she is excited for what the new class will bring.

“We have a really great group of participants this year.” Villa said. “I think it’s going to be a really good year for Leadership Williston. We had a lot of really great project ideas today, and we’re excited to see how those pan out over the next few months, and hopefully they can create projects that are sustainable and help to enhance the Williston community.”

Getting people the help they need during COVID-19
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Nearly a year into a global pandemic, there have been innumerable admonitions for people to watch out for their mental health, but many don’t include a crucial step — how to get help.

A Grand Forks-based mental health treatment service is using a federal grant awarded this summer to both help those affected by COVID-19 and connect them with other resources. Agassiz Associates has created a program called COVID CARE targeted toward any adult in North Dakota who has been affected by COVID-19 and has concerns about their mental health and substance use. Health insurance is not required to access services.

Heidi Jensen, co-owner of Agassiz Associates, explained to the Williston Herald that part of the goal is to expand access to telehealth mental health services. Agassiz Associates moved entirely to telehealth in March 2020, in response to the pandemic.

But there is more to it than simply telehealth treatment.

“Let’s connect you with services in the area,” Jensen said.

Jana Theisen, COVID care manager for Agassiz Associates, said people have spent the last year struggling to survive, dealing with isolation, stress and financial problems. Many of them aren’t aware that help is out there or might not think they are eligible for treatment.

That’s led to fewer people using the services than she’d hoped.

“We know that there’s people out there that need to access the services,” Theisen told the Williston Herald.

The COVID CARE effort provides a list of services, including:

case management

mental health treatment

substance use disorder treatments

help applying for health insurance

help getting connected to available resources

someone to talk with regarding your questions about available resources and services during COVID-19

That last part has required a lot of work, but has generated a lot of response. Theisen said she has been in contact with all of the Human Services zones in the state, as well as the state’s Division of Behavioral Health to develop a list of the resources and services available. A Facebook page for behavioral health providers has also shown the potential of the program.

“I’m amazed at the response,” Theisen said.

By addressing both treatment for urgent problems and connecting people with the resources they need for the future, it sets people up for success. After all, stress and financial uncertainty were problems for many before the pandemic hit. The extra stress just worsens things.

“It’s difficult to think straight,” Jensen said.

ND airports report more than 40,000 passengers for January, 57% less than 2020
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The North Dakota Aeronautics Commission reported that while 2021 got off to a promising start, airline boardings are still significantly down from the previous year.

The state’s eight commercial service airports posted a total of 42,238 airline passenger boardings for January, a 57 percent decline in passengers from the same month last year, which was still pre-pandemic.

“The negative impacts that COVID-19 has had on airline passenger demand is continuing into 2021.” stated Kyle Wanner, Executive Director of the NDAC. “It is however, encouraging to see COVID-19 cases in North Dakota and throughout the country trending lower which can have a direct impact on an individual’s decision to travel. We also remain optimistic that further passenger growth will occur as Spring approaches and penned up travel demand may help to jumpstart the recovery.”

At Williston Basin International Airport, Director Anthony Dudas told the Williston Herald that numbers are steadily beginning to increase, especially as COVID numbers in the region continue to fall. XWA reported 2,008 boardings for January 2021, a drop from the 6,714 reported in 2020. Those numbers are again pre-pandemic, and Dudas is cautiously hopeful that they will continue to increase into the spring and summer months.

“We’re seeing pretty solid passenger numbers on our two flights per day that United is operating to Denver,” Dudas explained. “We’re filling those planes more than 70 percent full each day, which is really fantastic considering what many other airports and airlines are seeing across the country.”

Dudas added that with that information, XWA hopes to see an increase in service from United Airlines in the coming months. Dudas added that Delta Airlines, who suspended service in 2020 due to the pandemic, has not announced any plans to resume operations as of yet.

“We’re continuing conversations with them, and we hope to have more information at some point in the future.” He advised.

Even as vaccinations in the state increase and COVID numbers fall, Dudas said there is still a significant impact on the airline industry due to virus numbers in other locations. With increased vaccinations across the country, Dudas added that the hope is that travel can begin to resume regularly once again.

“Air travel across the country is still down more than 50 percent and many days more than 60 percent than what is was pre-COVID,” he explained. “There’s definitely a reservation in general in my opinion, of people willing or able to travel, but I’m optimistic that we’re going to see more growth as we move in to the spring.”

District 7 makes plan for opening, starts hiring process
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With slightly more than four months before the newly reorganized district opens, administrators and board members for Williston Basin School District No. 007 are trying to make sure they’re ready.

Jeffrey Thake, superintendent for Williston Public School District No. 1 and for District 7, on Wednesday, Feb. 17, told the District 7 board he had asked administrators to outline everything that needed to happen in their area before June 30, then start to prioritize that list.

The goal is to have a list of tasks and deadlines ready by the middle of next month.

“Beginning March 15, our operation transition plan is going to be created and we’re going to outline all the tasks that need to be completed between now and June 30,” Thake told the board.

Along with the preparation to open the doors at the new district, administrators are working to start long-term plans. Thake said work on long-range financial and facilities plans is scheduled to start April 1, with both finishing up by Jan. 1.

One goal is to create a deferred maintenance plan to help fix problems with aging facilities districtwide. That would include a recommendation on how much to allocate each year for those projects.

“We are starting the process of getting this in place,” Thake said.

He told board members that work on a strategic plan for the new district was scheduled to kick off Sept. 1, and also finish up by Jan. 1.

Thake said the boards of both District 1 and Willims County School District No. 8 were going to vote soon on approving a consulting contract for Jeff Schatz, a former superintendent for both Fargo and West Fargo school districts. Schatz was one of the people who led a study of public education in Williams County in 2019 and 2020.

Thake also spoke about the meeting of the personnel committee, which worked on determining what positions would be needed in the new district.

The reorganization plan committed the district to maintaining approximately the same number of positions as exist in both District 1 and District 8.

Board member John Kasmer said he hoped the work of the committee would end some rumors.

“I just think it’s important that we’re proactive rather than reactive, and I think we’re headed in the right direction,” he said.

He urged people to be patient.

“I think people just have to wait and see we are doing the right thing and we want to do the right thing for everybody concerned,” he said.

The board took steps toward hiring staff for District 7 on Wednesday. Members unanimously approved a letter recommending the hiring of non-licensed staff for next year and also appointed three members to negotiate with teachers.

Kyle Renner, Thomas Kalil, Heather Wheeler were selected for the Negotiations Committee. The board also put out a call for any education association that represents teachers to come forward for the negotiations process.

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COVID-19 vaccination by the numbers
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Doses received statewide: 191,125

Doses administered statewide: 177,618

Residents who have gotten at least one dose: 107,448

Statewide rate for one dose: 14.7%

Statewide rate for two doses: 7.8%

Williams County rate for one dose: 9.2%

Williams County rate for two doses: 4.5%

Divide County rate for one dose: 17.6%

Divide County rate for two doses: 12.8%

McKenzie County rate for one dose: 10.6%

McKenzie County rate for two doses: 4.5%

Mountrail County rate for one dose: 20.2%

Mountrail County rate for two doses: 4.9%