I want to share a little inspiration with you today. One of the advantages for our funds and our communities of affiliation with Nebraska Community Foundation is gaining access to a wider perspective. That applies to the technical expertise from other volunteers and NCF staff, but it also means a wider perspective from beyond Nebraska’s borders.

Recently 14 Nebraskans attended a gathering in Washington D.C. hosted by the Weave project of the Aspen Institute. New York Times columnist David Brooks leads the Weave project. His goal is to tackle the social isolation that is rampant in America today and is creating division, mental health issues, and significant social roadblocks.

We were invited after Brooks was in Nebraska in March to see how the NCF network is weaving people together. He was impressed enough to include our state in this event, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago.

The conversation in D.C. was a unique opportunity to connect Nebraska communities to others doing work that is similar to what we do here but in some wildly different circumstances. For example, I had a conversation with a couple of young guys who are doing housing development in D.C. It was striking how similar the affordable housing discussion is in rural Nebraska and our nation’s capital. And yet, the reasons and the realities couldn’t be more different.

The event was a reminder that we are sheltered to some degree in Nebraska. While none of us are naïve enough to think that Nebraska doesn’t have poverty, hunger, or discrimination, it was eye-opening to hear the stories we heard. Yes, we do have those problems here, but it was clear that not everybody has the “social fabric” that Nebraskans enjoy. That gives us a competitive advantage in meeting those challenges. And I think it’s fair to say that there is also a “Nebraska character” that gives us a head start on making things better for ourselves and our neighbors.

My first takeaway from the experience was gratitude. Grateful to do community development here. Grateful to live here. Grateful to raise my child here. But here’s the thing: gratitude comes with responsibility. We can’t just say, “Aren’t we lucky?” and call it good. No, with the privileges given to us by our parents, our neighbors and our state come the obligation to pay it forward.

And today, as you are reading this, there are people across our state doing just that. Volunteers like Rick with the Columbus Area Future Fund, Diane at the Butler County Area Foundation Fund and Kurt in the Butler County Foundation Fund…and people like them in 250 other towns. They are paying it forward in our counties, giving their time and energy to build a better future for your kids and grandkids.

That’s the magic of community development when done well. People turning gratitude into a sense of positive responsibility…that makes someone else grateful…that makes them want to do their part…and so on.

The perspective that these 14 Nebraskans brought back from D.C. will be a step in that direction, I promise you.

K.C. Belitz is the chief operating officer of the Nebraska Community Foundation.

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