BY JON VANDERFORD
A library can really enhance a small town. And, a fund started by a Nebraska woman is helping support those local libraries.
Stephanie Rodenborg enjoys bringing her 4-year-old son Jasper and her 2-year-old daughter Malin to the Ravenna Public Library. They come here at least a couple of times a week. “We enjoy the time. It allows us to read different books,” Rodenborg said. “It allows them to have imaginative play. Our son Jasper is just starting pre-school now, but he learned definite skills here that are helping him in school.”
This new $1.4 million library officially opened in August of 2018. The community worked together to make it a reality, but local leaders also utilized grant money. One grant came from the Shirley Kreutz-Bennett donor-advised fund. “We approached other foundations also, but they definitely came through and donated $20,000 toward us,” Library Director Joy Kyhn said. The children’s library is now dedicated in honor of the Kreutz-Bennett donor-advised fund. The fund was established by Shirley Kreutz-Bennett. “She was a lifelong educator, and she was also a world traveler,” Nebraska Community Foundation communication specialist Reggi Carlson said. “She wanted to provide people a world of information just like she had through her travels. And she decided that by investing in libraries, she could do that.”
When Shirley died, she made a gift to the Nebraska Community Foundation to set up an endowment that would benefit libraries. “According to her wishes, every year, a fund advisory committee made up of her nieces and nephews makes grants and receives applications from libraries and communities where there are fewer than 3,000 people,” Carlson said. Jane Stone is a niece of Shirley Kreutz-Bennett, and she is involved with reviewing the applications for the grant money. “Every year we give out about $80,000, so there are plenty of funds available for people and their projects,” Stone said. Jane says her aunt would be happy that small town libraries are getting assistance. “I think probably why Aunt Shirley focused on rural communities is because she was a farm girl herself,” Stone said. “She was a 1941 graduate of Harvard High School, and our family farms still to this day between Harvard and Giltner Nebraska, so I think that is where her heart is.”
There are a number of requirements for libraries to be eligible for the grants. “There is a requirement that libraries need to provide one-to-one local funding in order to get the matching grants,” Carlson said.
But once the grant money is secured, local libraries are finding plenty ways to use they money. “We have three different areas that we do grant funding in,” Stone said. “One is toward accreditation, one is for enhancement grants, and one is for facilities grants.”
The Ravenna Public Library is being used in a number of ways. “We are an after school bus drop-off location, so the school bus brings kids to our doorstep every single day after school. We do programming three days a week for those kids, we have book clubs for the adults, and we have Pintrest nights,” Kyhn said. For people like Stephanie Rodenborg, she’s just glad the Shirley Kreutz-Bennett donor advised fund played a role in building a library in Ravenna, where her kids can start the journey of learning.
Local libraries are being encouraged to apply for the grant money. There is an initial deadline coming up of October 1st. To apply, or to get more information, go to the Nebraska Community Foundation web page at nebraskahometown.org.