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Atwood teen wins LiveWell competition, money for school and state-wide recognition

Updated: Feb 27, 2020

As a panelist at the Governor’s Symposium, earlier this month in Wichita, Ashton earned recognition for his success gathering stories from residents in Rawlins County. Here, Rickford gives voice to local parents and youth which may bring about changes in early childhood education.

A grassroots competition throughout the five surrounding counties was spearheaded by LiveWell Northwest Kansas this summer, and 13-year old Ashton Rickford took home more than just a win for Atwood.

Not only did the young Citizen Journalist become the first in LiveWell’s regional competition to collect 100 stories from local residents regarding what it is like to live in northwest Kansas, but he collected the fourth highest number of stories throughout the entire state, reports the University of Kansas’ Center for Public Partnerships and Research (CPPR). For his win, LiveWell gave a $1,000 donation to the teen’s school district for educational resources. The contribution was presented to the Rawlins County School Board during their regular meeting in August.

Following his win, Ashton Rickford’s success garnered the interest from early childcare and health organizers and led him to participate in an interview with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The international organization observed by the United Nations provides a forum in which governments can work together to share experiences and seek solutions to common problems.

The stories collected by Ashton will be added to the thousands of other stories from all over the state gathered by KU’s CPPR. The program, known as the Our Tomorrows initiative, uses a story-based research tool called Sensemaker that the CPPR uses to examine patterns in the stories to gain new understanding of what families need to thrive – not just survive. The international economic development organization is currently studying the tool for its possible use in other countries and interviewed Ashton regarding his involvement in the project.

LiveWell’s executive director, Travis Rickford, explained that stories, patterns and data collected from the Sensemaking tool will have many implications—internationally, regionally and even locally.

“The Sensemaking platform will help us better understand how families in northwest Kansas are thriving and can acknowledge some barriers that people encounter,” he says. “We hope to utilize data collected from the tool to better understand the needs of our residents in northwest Kansas and the steps they can take to make stronger, more thriving communities.”

Dr. Randy Watson, the Kansas Commissioner of Education, gave Citizen Journalist Ashton Rickford, 13, congratulations for winning the "Our Tomorrows" storytelling initiative facilitated by KU's Center for Public Partnerships and Research.

In addition to his interview with the international organization, Ashton was also asked by the Executive Director of Kansas Children’s Cabinet to serve on a panel at the Governor’s Symposium on early childhood education, which he did on Tuesday, Oct. 8, in Wichita, along with staff from LiveWell.

“(By gathering stories) I’ve learned that some families are hanging on by a thread and need more support,” admitted Ashton. “I like the project and its goals because I think it will improve the quality of life in Kansas.”

The symposium allowed LiveWell staff to connect with leaders in early childhood to strengthen infrastructure throughout northwest Kansas and to improve the economic future of Kansas’ rural communities.

“Investments in early childhood is arguably a basic foundation for economic development,” said Rickford. “We congratulate Ashton’s involvement as a representative of our community and for his role as a panelist during one of the symposium breakout sessions. He was able to showcase his work in Rawlins County and represent northwest Kansas as a youth leader.”

Residents can still submit stories to the Our Tomorrows initiative, says Rickford. People can share an anonymous story about personal experiences as a resident of northwest Kansas by going to The website also provides information regarding LiveWell Northwest Kansas and other initiatives the nonprofit organization is part of.


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