Our 2023 Strengthening Democracy Awards honorees are …

The 2023 Strengthening Democracy Awards honorees include educators, advocates, students, and everyday Nebraskans who demonstrate exceptional civic leadership and who embody Civic Nebraska’s vision of a collaborative, innovative society.

Civic Nebraska on April 13 will honor five Nebraskans who build a more modern and robust democracy in the Cornhusker State. Our 2023 Strengthening Democracy Awards honorees include educators, advocates, students, and everyday Nebraskans who demonstrate exceptional civic leadership and who embody Civic Nebraska’s vision of a collaborative, innovative society. 
“It takes dedication and commitment to strengthen our state’s civic life, and we are fortunate in our state to witness exemplary examples of such work,” said Adam Morfeld, Civic Nebraska’s executive director. “Democracy is built from the ground up, which means many everyday acts go unnoticed. That’s why Civic Nebraska lifts up these civic advocates: to celebrate their vigilance and persistence.”
Civic Nebraska’s 2023 Strengthening Democracy honorees are: 

Eric Garcia-Mendez

The Grand Islander shows relentless passion for his community through service, mentorship, and leadership. Garcia-Mendez led in the creation of Elevate, a leadership program for new Americans in the Grand Island area. When he saw how his community’s leadership did not always reflect the area’s diversity, Eric found solutions to better equip new American leaders for local leadership roles. He also initiated Young Professionals of Color, which supports emerging leaders of color, and the Welcoming Initiative, which aims to make Grand Island a more welcoming community for new Americans.

Rick Galusha

The Omahan brings together diverse opinions under the flag of civil discourse. Ten years ago, Galusha joined with friends to create the Free Speech Society, a forum dedicated to non-confrontational debate of shared issues. The Society has blossomed into a group of 530 engaged members that meet monthly to have respectful, insightful discussions that are often led by community leaders. A professor, Galusha also leads Bellevue U.’s American Vision and Values series, which engages young people in critical thinking about the issues that affect their future.

Cheyenne Hartshorn

The Lincolnite ardently practices and supports student-driven service learning and civic leadership in and out of the classroom. Hartshorn, an instructor at Lincoln Northeast High School, consulted in the development of what is now known as Capitol Experience Day, a Civic Nebraska flagship program that immerses students in Nebraska’s unique state government. Hartshorn has built on her students’ experiences to continue their engagement, leading to a number of in-school or after-school programs and clubs. 

Kendall Bartling

The Nebraska U. student inspires and organizes other young Nebraskans to participate in our democracy. Bartling was the student representative on the Grand Island Public School Board during his senior year of high school and became a deputy registrar so that he could register young voters in Hall County. As a student at Nebraska, Bartling has continued voter registration work on campus, which led him to become chairman of the Husker Vote Coalition, which also promotes civic engagement. Bartling is responsible for registering more than 1,000 young, first-time voters in Nebraska. 

Joseline Reyna

The Grand Islander is a steady organizer, reformer, and advocate for ballot access. Reyna, a DREAMer, actively supports productive immigration laws and reform. In her role at the YWCA in Grand Island, she has knocked hundreds of doors and called thousands of voters to encourage them to weigh in to make sure they have voice in who gets to make decisions about our collective future. At the state level, Reyna has fought against restrictive voter ID laws. Though she cannot vote because of her status, she ensures everyone who can vote is free of impediments at the ballot box and focuses on expanding pathways to citizenship and greater inclusion for DREAMers and others.

Celebrate with us on April 13.

Civic Nebraska will honor the winners at a special April 13 ceremony at the Livestock Exchange Ballroom in Omaha. Those interested in attending can purchase tickets here.
Strengthening Democracy Awards also will feature a keynote address from national voting rights activist and Nobel nominee Desmond Meade. Recognized by TIME as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World 2019 and a nominee for the 2023 Nobel Peace Prize, Meade led the successful passage of Amendment 4 in Florida. The grassroots initiative restored voting rights to over 1.4 million Floridians with past felony convictions and was the single largest expansion of voting rights in the country in half a century, bringing an end to 150 years of a Jim Crow-era law in Florida.

Related Articles

Voting rights restored! LB20 passes into law

Following the passage of LB20, which removes the extra two-year waiting period for Nebraskans who have completed a felony sentence to vote, Nebraska’s Voting Rights Restoration Coalition issued the following statement.

5 2 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


After School Programs

  • Sherman Elementary School

    5618 N 14th Ave.
    Omaha, NE 68110

  • Lewis and Clark Middle School

    6901 Burt St.
    Omaha, NE 68132

  • Lothrop Magnet Elementary

    3300 N. 22nd St.
    Omaha, NE 68110

  • Campbell Elementary School

    2200 Dodge St.
    Lincoln, NE 68521

  • Lincoln High School

    2229 J St.
    Lincoln, NE 68510

  • Lincoln Northeast High School

    2635 N. 63rd St.
    Lincoln, NE 68507