Jeff Yost: Hometown Internships show students Nebraska’s opportunities

Show, don’t tell.

You probably heard those words from an English teacher at some point in your life. The rule reminds writers to not just tell readers what’s happening but show them through evocative language. Instead of saying “Nebraska has a lot to see,” say “In Nebraska, you can hike through sun-dappled woods along the Missouri River, wander through an otherworldly landscape of strange rock formations or stand beneath cascading sheets of water at Smith Falls after a long day floating on an innertube.”

This principle applies perfectly to Nebraska Community Foundation’s community-building work. We get our best results by showing our neighbors what’s possible, not simply telling them how abstract plans result in real-world success. Why only tell them about the benefits of early childhood care when we could show them those benefits in action at Albion’s Boone Beginnings or Red Cloud’s Valley Child Development Center? This is the philosophy we must adopt as we tackle people attraction efforts, particularly among young Nebraskans.

We must expend energy toward not just telling young Nebraskans they are welcome but showing them. Hometown Internships are such a fantastic way to do this because these students become embedded in their communities in ways they haven’t before and may never have without this opportunity.

When we launched our Hometown Internships program four years ago, we hoped connecting college students with NCF affiliated funds in their hometowns for a summer of community-building would inspire a newfound appreciation for Nebraska. Inspiration struck far beyond our expectations.

This year’s group of interns is our largest yet at 23 and includes six college students returning to the program from 2021. This is a wonderful and welcome surprise. Last summer, these young adults’ minds opened to the possibilities inherent in Greater Nebraska—of building a life among passionate residents eager to achieve excellence. These interns are in communities across the state, including Bennet, Diller, Wayne, Keith County, Cuming County, Hebron, Deshler, Columbus, McCook, Crofton, Norfolk, Butler County, Red Cloud, Chester, Howells and Nemaha County.

Numerous interns have stated their intent to return home beyond an internship, bringing the knowledge and skills they gained in college, their entrepreneurial dreams and a reinvigorated love of their community. Among them is Paige Kniep, who served as Deshler Community Fund’s Hometown Intern in 2021 and returned this year. She said the experience was among many factors that inspired her to make the choice to return to Thayer County after college and start a business in her hometown. Essential to this decision was the power of invitation. Kniep told us the people of Deshler, and especially her intern coordinator, helped her understand the viability of a future in the community of just under 800 residents.

She’s not the only one. Emily Morrow of O’Neill was recently hired as West Holt Medical Services’ Marketing Director. Hayley Denner of Diller will begin a teaching and coaching job in St. Edward in the fall. Austin Truex will further deepen his Norfolk roots through a Lead for America fellowship—an AmeriCorps program aimed at revitalizing small towns. Numerous others are declaring their intentions to return to Greater Nebraska after college, some crediting their Hometown Internship as a major contributing factor to their decision.

At NCF, we love to tout the advantages of telecommuting and remote work when it comes to people attraction efforts. In the 21stcentury economy, people can live and work just about anywhere they want. Therefore, the community economic development question is no longer one of jobs, it’s “why here?” Why should I live, work and raise my family in this community?

We don’t want to just tell young adults they belong—we want them to feel it at their cores. We want young Nebraskans to walk down main street, past storefronts and the post office and city hall and feel ownership in their communities. They must feel like they are part of the grand effort toward excellence.

Contact your local NCF affiliated fund (find a list at www.NebraskaHometown.org) and find out how you can support or get involved in the people attraction work happening in your hometown. Learn whether your community does anything for graduates—if not, suggest something! Finally, and perhaps most importantly, extend an invitation to the young people in your life. It just might make all the difference in their decision to return someday.

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