Howells Looks to Young People to Shape its Vision for the Future

A walking trail, a new swimming pool, expanded learning opportunities and new housing for all income levels — these are just a few of the promising ideas contributed by a group of young people living in Howells during a recent community visioning session.

Each participant was personally invited to attend and have their ideas heard by the Howells Community Fund, an ambitious group with a mission to “create a lasting impact by inspiring the generosity of our community: past, present, and future.”

As an affiliated fund of Nebraska Community Foundation, the Howells Community Fund (as well as the other 250 communities in the foundation network) are encouraged to take full advantage of an extensive menu of services including marketing and communications, financial management, fundraising support and community development and leadership training. That’s in addition to facilitation of community gatherings and meetings, just like the visioning sessions recently held here.

Visioning sessions are held with the goal of generating and discussing new ideas to build a stronger community. No idea is too big or too crazy.

Perhaps most importantly, these meetings help local affiliated fund volunteers get a pulse on the dreams and priorities of their fellow community members. Ultimately, it can help them determine how to spend the payout on their community unrestricted endowment, an account that has seen significant growth in the five years Howells has been affiliated with the Nebraska Community Foundation (NCF).

The Howells Community Fund hosted two sessions on September 5 — the first with about 25 area high schoolers; the second, an evening session comprised of nearly 80 people in their 20s through 40s.

Kristine Gale, a NCF affiliated fund coordinator and visioning facilitator, opened the evening session by congratulating attendees. In her two years with the foundation, she said it was the best turnout of young people she had ever seen.

Other non-Howells residents in attendance couldn’t help but notice the abundance of young people choosing to start and grow their families in Howells.

The Howells Community Fund wisely offered free child care in an effort to eliminate a potential barrier to young parents participating in the session. A handful of expectant mothers were also in attendance — as were a good many little ones who bounced on knees and slept in car seats throughout the hour and a half meeting.

“We have a boom right now,” said Jordan Brabec, one of the many young people who calls Howells home.

Both an educator and father, Brabec’s passionate interest in the future of Howells is easily justified. It’s just one of the reasons he serves on the Howells Community Fund advisory committee.

Originally from Leigh, Brabec is a newcomer to Howells. Like so many young people featured in this series of stories in partnership with the Norfolk Daily News, Brabec said his choice to relocate stemmed from a personal invitation.

Several years ago, a Howells school board member who knew his father reached out to him about an opening for an agriculture education teacher. Brabec, who was living and student teaching in Norfolk at the time, said he agreed to an interview, mostly for the experience. About halfway through, he realized he really wanted the job.

Luckily, he landed it.

Today Brabec serves as both the agriculture education teacher and FFA advisor for Howells-Dodge Consolidated. His role at the high school also landed Brabec in a key role at the youth visioning session just a few weeks ago. Prior to it, Brabec said educators surveyed Howells-Dodge students about the future of their community.

One question (and the answer) really stood out to him.

“Have adults ever asked your views on what would make this community a better place to live for teens?”

“Eighty-seven percent said no,” Brabec said.

So this month’s visioning session revealed that when it comes to the future, Howells youngest residents are full of great ideas.

More childcare and housing, improvements to infrastructure, assisted living facilities, expanded downtown businesses, new and improved entertainment and recreational offerings rose to the top of the list as high schoolers discussed their hopes and dreams for the future.

Surprising to many, including members of the Howells Community Fund Advisory Committee, these same dreams were shared by many of the adults who attended the evening visioning session.

“It’s great to see what dreams the younger members of our community have and how consistent they are,” said Melissa Grovijohn, who attended the evening gathering.

Howells’ community visioning sessions accomplished exactly what they were intended to do. Another session is being scheduled after harvest to ensure all members of the community have an opportunity to have their ideas heard.

Then, members of the Howells Community Fund Advisory Committee will be charged with rallying the financial and human capital required to pull them off.

What’s Jordan Brabec’s dream for the future of Howells?

“I want to be one of those communities that people drive through and wish they lived there,” he said. “We’re almost there.”

No doubt with the enthusiasm and optimism shared by so many young people in Howells coupled with the support of the Howells Community Fund, that dream will soon be realized.

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