Helping small towns dream big for 25 years

BY JON VANDERFORD

Former and current board members and staff recently gathered at the Nebraska Community Foundation headquarters to mark the organization’s 25th year.

Maxine Moul was the founding chair of the foundation. She remembers how NCF started small, but had a big vision to spur community development across the state. “In the early days we had one part time executive director, Don Macke, who was allowed by the Nebraska Rural Development Commission to spend up to a quarter of his time on the Nebraska Community Foundation, so that’s how we started,” Moul said. Moul says the foundation was one of only 2 or 3 in the nation at the time. She’s happy to say the Nebraska model allows for local communities to have control. 257 communities are now involved. “They are so engaged in building their own funds, and reinvesting them in things that will help their children, with early childhood care, to sports facilities, entrepreneurship and engaging their children to come back into their communities.”

Lynn Roper has been a part of the Nebraska Community Foundation for years. At the 25th anniversary gathering, she pointed out that more young people are showing interest in returning to rural Nebraska. “I think 34 counties now have a growing population of people between the ages of 35 and 45, and most of Nebraska doesn’t even realize it,” Roper said. “They think everything but Omaha and Lincoln are shrinking and that’s not the case at all.”

Those who attended the 25th anniversary celebration at the Nebraska Community Foundation headquarters say the affiliated funds are really making a difference for small communities including those in western Nebraska. “When I started with the Nebraska Community Foundation, my job was to create affiliated funds across central and western Nebraska,” NCF development coordinator Jana Jensen said. Jensen got involved with NCF in 2003. “We had a drought, we are ranchers, so that forced me to go back to work.” She became a development coordinator for Western Nebraska. Working from her home in Bingham, she quickly discovered how the Nebraska Community Foundation can impact small towns. She says that impact is still being seen even just recently. “We had a very large gift to the Keith County Foundation Fund to the tune of about 8 million dollars from an anonymous donor,” Jensen said. “That will change that community, or at least it has the ability to do so, and I think that in and of itself will help us spread the word about what the Nebraska Community Foundation can do to for hometowns.”

Some towns are now serving as a model for others. “One of my favorites is Shickley, 500 plus people, and they take their own experiences and go teach other communities how to do this. And the founders of the organization say, they expect the success of the Nebraska Community Foundation to continue as more rural Nebraskans discover afflilated funds as an important way to give back.

In just a few weeks, the Nebraska Community Foundation’s Annual Celebration will draw hundreds of people from across the state to gather, learn from one another, and look forward to the next 25 years.

That’s happening on November 14th in York.