Jeff Yost: All dreams are welcome here

By Jeff Yost

It goes without saying that 2020 is a year we will never forget. It was a year of change, challenge and pivots. Some things slowed down. Others stopped altogether.

Despite considerable hardship, the Nebraska Community Foundation network’s resolve to build a Greater Nebraska proved impervious to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid efforts to flatten the curve, neighbors stepped up to help those in need. Goals were met. Grants were made. Work got done.

Total assets now exceed $180 million. Over $37 million was granted and disbursed last year. Since 1994, $393 million has been reinvested by the NCF network in Nebraska hometowns. All unbelievable accomplishments in an unprecedented year.

Most importantly, our network of ambitious Nebraskans—now 1,500 strong—never stopped dreaming.

This year, an important milestone was reached: $50 million in community unrestricted endowments. Payout from those endowments has proved critical to responding to unforeseen circumstances and inspiring change that otherwise may not occur. Of the 78 community-based affiliated funds building unrestricted endowments, 44 are now generating at least $10,000 in annual payout. That’s money that can be used every year to experiment with new technologies or programs to enhance economic prosperity, education, health, and wellbeing in communities of all sizes.

Nebraska Community Foundation affiliated funds are now present in 270 communities and 82 of Nebraska’s 93 counties. Countless individuals devote their time, talent and treasure, and dozens share their energy and expertise as peer mentors. As our network grows, more communities realize their dreams.

Take Eustis, for example, where this spring the local affiliated fund celebrated the opening of a new indoor wellness center. Eustis Area Community Foundation Fund secured many generous gifts from local community members that were essential to completing the project, complete with a walking track, classrooms, cardio machines and weight room. Residents said the community center instilled a new sense of pride in the town of 372, along with a realization that even their wildest dreams were within reach.

In June 2019, one of the biggest community investments in NCF’s history was announced in Keith County—an over $8 million anonymous gift to the Keith County Foundation Fund unrestricted endowment. In just a couple of years, KCFF’s granting capacity will increase ten-fold, from $35,000 annually to over $400,000. It’s a huge responsibility and NCF is working closely with local volunteers to make the most of this transformative opportunity.

Networkwide, affiliated fund leaders joined forces this year to bridge the learning gap as schools moved to at-home and remote platforms. More than $1.2 million went to 51 schools across the state as communities awarded grants to purchase equipment and services necessary to make remote learning feasible for all Nebraskans. Many communities are also investing in providing behavioral health care to students, staff and families as they navigate the perils of life during COVID-19.

Multiple communities offered 13 young Nebraskans an opportunity to chase their dreams this summer though NCF’s Hometown Interns program. Their assignments covered numerous disciplines and spanned the state from Nebraska City to Imperial. Many were very involved with mapping community assets, while some used their storytelling skills to spread their fund’s message. Others utilized their talents to aid local arts communities. In all instances, the students made considerable impacts on their affiliated funds and their hometowns, and volunteers learned that young Nebraskans care deeply about their communities and are awaiting an invitation to share their visions for the future.

For the past two decades, Nebraska Community Foundation has gathered ambitious Nebraskans from communities across the state under one roof to share ideas, learn from one another and work together. Normally, hundreds of local volunteers would attend the event, but the circumstances of 2020 encouraged NCF to envision a new type of annual celebration. Though we lament the loss of in-person connection, the virtual format of our newly imagined Dreams Welcome Week is ideal for inviting Nebraskans in every corner of the state to join the party.

Nov. 9-12, the NCF network will convene remotely for training, brainstorming and community-building, culminating in an hour-long livestream event featuring a lineup of speakers and videos guaranteed to inspire. Please visit us at NebraskaHometown.org to learn more about the event, which kicks off at 6:30 p.m. Central Time on Thursday, Nov. 12.

In a year as unpredictable and challenging as 2020, we’re asking all Nebraskans to bring their biggest passions and brightest ambitions to the table for Dreams Welcome Week. Our Greater Nebraska communities have almost everything they need to achieve their dreams. The only thing missing might be you. Join us.