Dreams inspire dreams in Leigh and Columbus

“If Howells can do it, we can do it.”

A little friendly competition fueled the establishment of the Leigh Legacy Fund, but its 15 active, enthusiastic [and young] members have kept the momentum building. Formerly the Leigh Area Foundation, LLF affiliated with Nebraska Community Foundation in 2020. Already local volunteers have had tremendous success in raising awareness of their cause, engaging young people, making high impact grants, and building an endowment.

On February 23, NCF board and staff had an opportunity to witness the excitement, energy, and enthusiasm building in Leigh firsthand. Representatives from the Fund, school, Community Club, Investment Club, village board, and volunteer fire department were all on hand to talk about the many ways they are working together to improve their community. Leigh’s Youth Advisory Committee—a group of dedicated high school students—were also present to talk about their dreams for Leigh and the ways they are contributing to the community. Among their member duties is attendance at various community meetings throughout the year—whether with the Leigh Legacy Fund, village board, or other group of their choosing. Justine Fischer, a local teacher and member of the Fund Advisory Committee, says the practice is helping her students see the important role they play in Leigh and helping them envision a future there.

“Seventy-four percent of Leigh High School students said they either plan to return or could see themselves returning in the future,” said Fischer.

Next, NCF board and staff made their way 30 miles southwest to the City of Power and Progress. Though Columbus’ population (24,028) exceeds Leigh’s (407) by a factor of 59, the communities share many qualities—a strong commitment to collaboration, steadfast get-it-done attitude, and a keen focus on building for the future. In fact, several years ago, Columbus’ NCF affiliated fund changed its name to Columbus Area Future Fund (CAFF) to demonstrate its focus on building an unrestricted endowment, engaging youth, and improving life for future generations.

Collaboration has been critical to the success in Columbus, whether it’s meeting a lofty challenge grant goal or working to build numerous Quality of Life Centers to improve the community. NCF board and staff’s recent visit afforded an opportunity to witness the resulting progress. As part of the Quality of Life Centers initiative, Columbus has already completed a new STEM Academy, YMCA facility, and East Central District Health Department building—all state-of-the-art in their own right.

The final phase will include the completion of a library which will be housed in a beautiful new downtown space—along with City Hall, a coffee shop, and a new children’s museum—that is sure to attract families from miles around.

When CAFF was approached to contribute $25,000 to the museum project, Fund Advisory Committee members agreed—the new facility epitomized what the fund was there to do. They doubled the ask and have pledged $50,000 to the cause.

“We want to do the kind of grantmaking our donors entrusted us to do,” said Dee Hanson of the Columbus Area Future Fund Advisory Committee.

Another similarity among volunteers in Leigh and Columbus is that they are deeply engaged in the Nebraska Community Foundation network. They regularly attend NCF trainings, peer learning sessions, take advantage of funding opportunities available to the network, and are always willing to share their expertise and experiences with other affiliated funds as peer mentors—something they are called upon to do often.

“If we can help another fund in the way Howells has helped us, we’d sure like to do that,” said Fischer. “That’s the great thing about NCF.”

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