Certainly one of the very best parts of working for and with local funds in the Nebraska Community Foundation is the opportunity to watch volunteer community leaders in action. This week, I have the opportunity to do just that in Platte, Boone and Butler counties. I recently spent time with the Lakeview Education Foundation Fund, as well as in St. Edward and David City to meet with the Butler County Area Foundation Fund.
What is great about each of these instances is that the local volunteers took the lead in initiating these conversations. It’s one thing when those of us on the staff at NCF arrange a meeting or training, but it demonstrates another level of ownership when volunteers take that initiative. And it is that ownership, that sense of responsibility for our own destiny, that will drive success for these places in rural Nebraska. Sure it’s rewarding for those of us at NCF to help facilitate and support…but it’s still not our community, it’s a community that belongs to those who live, work, play, and sleep there.
In each of the cases this week, those “citizen-owners” took the lead in a conversation designed to help them create impact in their place. The Lakeview Fund spent time dreaming about what they might do in an even bigger way to impact future Lakeview students. The team in St. Edward is getting together to start down a path toward building a community center (that’s right, just a month after devastating floods they are thinking not about that, but about building for the future). The Butler County Fund decided it was time to have a very intentional discussion about how to create even more impact through their grant-making.
So in each case, these volunteers aren’t satisfied with the status quo or just doing things the simplest way they can. No, they are willing to put in the hard work and spend the energy to be true local leaders and leave a legacy in their place. That is why these three places and hundreds like them across the NCF network have a bright future. Not because they have some unique natural asset, more money, a four-lane highway, or more money than the next town over. What they have is human capital: great local leaders invested in their future!
I would suggest to you we have exactly that same asset all across Nebraska, east to west. In the past few weeks I’ve been able to sit in a regional training session with leaders from Palisade and another with folks from Wallace. Now I’d hazard a guess many of haven’t been to either town, or perhaps haven’t even heard of them. But leaders from both of these towns of 350 population (give-or-take) drove a distance and spent an evening becoming better community leaders. And as they sat in that session making an inventory of all their town’s assets, you could see the pride and confidence in their hometowns grow in them.
I would further suggest to you that the time is now for you to join that movement. If you want your hometown to prosper, there’s never been a more critical time for you to get off the sideline and become a “citizen-owner” of your place, too. The NCF network can provide you a platform from which to launch, but the initiative has to be yours…just as it is this week for three funds in our neighborhood. If you want to become part of something special, look me up … or better yet, look up the leaders from Butler County, St. Ed and Lakeview and ask them about their experience becoming engaged owners of the destiny of their place!
K.C. Belitz is the chief operating officer of the Nebraska Community Foundation.