Jeff Yost: Nebraskans turn hope into action

Hope alone doesn’t go very far.

Hope alone assumes we need only to sit back and wait for good things to happen. That our communities are predestined to succeed merely because that’s the expectation. There’s also a hint of resignation, like everything is just outside our control. We hope because we cannot see ourselves making a difference.

But Nebraskans don’t like warming the bench.

At Nebraska Community Foundation, we embrace the phrase “active hope”—which functions both as a noun and a verb. In its noun form, it’s “proactive optimism for the future.” As a verb, it means “creating one’s own destiny.” With active hope we affirm our role in making our future, and we’ve needed a whole lot of active hope recently.

This has been a year of active hope for the NCF network. Though the past year was full of uncertainty and upheaval, resilient Nebraskans in every corner of our state summoned their active hope to further fuel a movement that is bettering our hometowns and making them more attractive and welcoming for the next generation.

But what does active hope look like, outside of the abstract?

Most recently, it looks like NCF’s annual training, where more than 200 dedicated volunteers convened in McCook to celebrate our network’s active hope. Participants traveled from across the state, representing communities from Kimball to Nebraska City and everywhere in between. They left Red Willow County renewed, reinvigorated and refocused on turning their active hope into new community accomplishments.

But McCook is most certainly not alone in manifesting active hope.

In Boone County, active hope looks like Boone Beginnings Childcare and Family Development Center in Albion. The center, funded in part through dedicated efforts by Boone County Foundation Fund volunteers, will allow 80 children an opportunity to gain a head start on their education. Local donors contributed more than 80% of the project’s $3.9 million fundraising goal, signaling their active hope that the center will achieve its stated mission of raising the social and economic tide of Boone County through the long-term benefits of high-quality early childhood education.

It looks like the communities of Nebraska City and Thayer County, where residents understand the power of invitation. Both communities hosted live, free performances of The Dream Switch, giving residents an opportunity to experience firsthand the story of a young Nebraskan who ventures out into the wider world only to discover her Greater Nebraska hometown already possesses the vibrant spirit and amenities she desires in a community.

Active hope is the newfound perspective of 19 young Nebraskans who returned home this summer to participate in the Hometown Interns programs—an increase from 13 interns in 2020. Like last year, 2021’s interns wore multiple hats in their communities, assisting with marketing, data analysis, asset mapping, and much more. These varied experiences opened their eyes to the intricacies of community development, where multiple stakeholders meld their collective hope and turn it into meaningful action for tomorrow. In an end-of-summer survey, most interns expressed a newfound appreciation for the dedication local leaders and volunteers displayed, as well as the overall camaraderie among those working to improve their place. In other words, they found it easy to spot the active hope fueling their hometowns.

Network accomplishments in the last fiscal year (July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021) were remarkable. NCF affiliated funds received $55 million in gifts with 39 affiliated funds receiving contributions of $100,000 or more. Total assets in the NCF network now exceed $247 million—triple the amount just 10 years ago. Endowed assets now total $159 million, four times what they were 10 years ago. Community unrestricted endowments now total $67 million, a huge increase from $11 million in 2012. Seventeen community-based affiliated funds now have grantmaking capacity from their unrestricted endowment of at least $50,000 per year.

The NCF network helps Nebraskans dream bigger about what is possible. For those who have been part of this journey for a while, thank you for all you do to build a Greater Nebraska. Your investments of time, talent and treasure are creating a brighter future. For those just learning about or joining our movement, we’re so glad you are here. Together a Greater Nebraska!

Though the past year was full of uncertainty and upheaval, resilient Nebraskans in every corner of our state summoned their active hope to further fuel a movement that is bettering our hometowns and making them more attractive and welcoming for the next generation.

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