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Five Under 35: highlighting the good in Great Falls

Five Under 35 2021
Five Under 35: Jessi Oeleis
Tony Forster
Michelia Rivera-Acosta
Anna Christofferson
Beth Branam and her father Terry
Posted at 8:37 AM, Apr 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-27 16:59:29-04

GREAT FALLS — Last week, we introduced you to this year’s class of Five Under 35. Jessi Oeleis, Anna Christofferson, Beth Branam, Tony Forster, and Michelia Rivera-Acosta were chosen out of 75 nominations from viewers.

The Five Under 35 initiative not only recognizes these outstanding young adults for their attitude and actions, but it also serves as a platform for community conversation. Every year, Five Under 35 program creator Shannon Newth asks each honoree two questions:

  1. What does Great Falls have going for it?
  2. How can Great Falls improve?

Now, Shannon is sharing more of her conversations with this year’s honorees as they answer those questions.

“I was like, Malmstrom? Is that Germany? And then when I saw the cougar at the airport I was like bring me back, I don’t know what this is and then I saw the snow was like why…why would you put me here? And to be honest it’s been a blessing,” Staff Sergeant Michelia Rivera-Acosta recalled about first arriving in Great Falls when she was assigned to Malmstrom Air Force Base.

“When I was in high school everybody ‘I can’t wait to get out of Great Falls, can’t wait to get out of here’ and I just always felt that why, why such a negative attitude towards Great Falls,” questioned Jessi Oeleis.

“I like Great Falls. I like the amenities around here,” said Anna Christofferson.

“You do see a lot of people helping out each other and that to me is the biggest positive of Great Falls,” said Tony Forster.

“I’ve seen a lot of development in Great Falls just from my perspective and I think even if you take one example of the downtown area,” Beth Branam explained.

“Great Falls has a lot of younger people that are either choosing to stay here or coming back here and that is really fun to see because not only are they choosing to be here but also really having an active role in our community,” explained Oeleis.

“The need all over town is absolutely mind boggling to someone like me who..I didn’t’ struggle to have food when I grew up. I didn’t realize so many people did. That the need was so much,” Christofferson explained.

“I think there is a lot to do in Great Falls. I think you just got to kind of go out and look for it. You can go hiking, fishing, hunting you know there’s a lot of stuff out there that you can do in Great Falls and I think I’m just gonna kind of find your own way,” Forster explained.

“I think the way that we could improve is to really support our local events and when there are people trying so hard to make this a better community, to really try to be involved,” Oeleis said.

“I think that it is amazing, like for instance like we have ramen spot now, we have pho, we had a Jamaican restaurant. Having businesses like that is going to bring more people to come to Great Falls and then people feel like at home,” explained Rivera-Acosta.

“If the commission would try to make it a little easier and more enticing for new business is to come it would definitely help Great Falls,” Christofferson explained.

“Just continue to be open to new developments or things that we’ve not had before. I know that when new things come about there’s a lot of questions, a lot of worry sometimes but I think just keeping an open mind about it and then if it’s right for Great Falls, considering it,” Branam said.

“We are so lucky to live where we live,” Oeleis said.

“There’s a lot to be grateful for and there’s really a lot out there. You have to be willing to see it and you have to take that time. You’re not gonna see it in your house you have to get out there,” said Branam.

“Keep pushing forward and continue this legacy and continue honoring people of all of all cultures,” encouraged Rivera-Acosta.

“This is great place to live and I love it,” Forster said.