Jeff Yost: Interns focus fresh eyes on familiar surroundings

At Nebraska Community Foundation, we say change happens along the lines of relationships at the speed of trust. New ideas are great, but positive change that sticks happens person to person, friend to friend. Good ideas aren’t enough—trusting relationships are key to cultivating positive change.

The Hometown Interns program is our attempt to apply this logic to young people with options. This summer 19 college students are spending the summer in their Greater Nebraska hometowns, helping their local NCF affiliated fund identify the abundance, goodness and potential of their homeplace. Our 2021 Hometown Interns live in Albion, Callaway, Chester, Columbus, Deshler, Diller, Ewing, Guide Rock, Hebron, Johnson, McCook, Nebraska City, Norfolk, Ogallala, O’Neill, Red Cloud and Rosalie.

These college students have a unique perspective. Growing up there, they already know the community and its residents—many of them they have known their whole lives. Trusting relationships with numerous community members already exist. But these college students have just experienced a new, life-changing event: being away from home and attending college.

I remember my freshman year of college: what a learning curve! New friends, new independence, new responsibilities. I had to develop a deeper level of executive function to care for myself and pursue my education. Looking back, I believe I may have grown and matured more in that year than any other year of my life. And in talking with friends over the years, I know many have shared the same experience.

The Hometown Interns program is taking advantage of this unique moment to benefit both students and their communities. We’re asking these interns to use their new perspective to help us all see and appreciate the abundance and goodness that exists in Greater Nebraska.

We know people feel a sense of belonging when their gifts are received and appreciated. And we know we want young people to feel connected to their homeplaces, as that increases the likelihood they will choose their hometown as the place they live, work and raise their family.

To enhance this effort, NCF Hometown Interns use a process called “asset mapping” to identify and document all the assets in their hometown: people, families, programs, institutions, businesses, traditions, arts and culture. They use asset mapping to make the invisible visible and invite their fellow community members to share their gifts, talents, skills and passions.

Good news—it’s working. Many of our 2020 Hometown Interns reported seeing a different side of their hometown and having a greater realization of and appreciation for the adults who positively impacted their lives. Here are three quotes that illustrate this newfound sense of appreciation and opportunity:

  • “I know I will always be welcomed back to the area with enthusiasm and open arms.”
  • “The thing I appreciate most about my hometown is how supportive my community is to new ideas.”
  • “It feels amazing to be able to give back to the community that raised me.”

In 2021, we can live and work wherever we choose to live and work. The community economic development question is no longer one of jobs. The better question is: why here? Why do I want to live and work and raise my family in this community?

The pandemic dramatically sped up this transformation. We now have proof of concept for successfully working remotely and spending more quality time with family.

In Nebraska our number one community economic development priority should be people attraction. We should focus lots of attention on those who are already in community with us, along with those looking to join us. Hometown Interns are a powerful tool to help us grow deeper connections and the next generation of community leaders.

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