Jeff Yost: Sharing Nebraska success with pride

 

One of the best parts of my role at Nebraska Community Foundation is listening to our NCF affiliated fund volunteers speak about their communities with pride. These local leaders invest so much time, treasure and talent into their hometowns and often go unsung. So, when an opportunity arises to showcase their success, we rarely turn it down.

Such was the case in September, when a group of 17 visitors from Canada toured Nebraska to witness the progress small towns can make when residents are encouraged to bring their talents to the table and create something special. Over the course of four short days, our guests crossed the state east to west and visited communities where committed volunteers have built places brimming with pride.

The travelers represented the Gros Morne Institute for Sustainable Tourism (GMIST), a non-governmental organization located in Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador. The cohort visited Nebraska to learn from NCF volunteers, focused on supporting quality, sustainable tourism experiences across Canada through implementing strong community development principles. Specifically, they were interested in seeing places where asset-based community development (ABCD) led to completely reimagining the status quo.

At Nebraska Community Foundation, we live and breathe ABCD. It’s the philosophy from which our organization humbly sprouted nearly 30 years ago, and its framework guides our mission to this day. It focuses on identifying local abundance instead of scarcity, then strengthening those existing assets instead of endlessly fixating on needs. Through this lens, ABCD calls upon its practitioners to invite their neighbors and friends to collaborate and co-create, ultimately fabricating mechanisms of progress that are community-led and community-owned.

Before deciding to visit Nebraska, GMIST sought guidance from ABCD scholars and proponents around the world. They reached out to experts in North America, Europe and Australia to narrow down where they should go to learn more about ABCD. All of these ABCD contacts kept pointing them to Nebraska and Nebraska Community Foundation. What a tremendous endorsement for our network!

The bus tour took our guests (and NCF staff, board members, and volunteers) to Shickley, Red Cloud, McCook, Ogallala, Halsey, Taylor, Ord and Albion. In that kaleidoscopic array of Nebraska hometowns, they witnessed everything that makes our network unique among community foundations. They toured state-of-the-art early childhood education centers; heritage tourism landmarks; vibrant local businesses; historic main streets; community buildings and event centers; and superb restaurants. At every stop, local volunteers and leaders beamed with pride when describing their community’s success. Their love for their places was palpable, as was their excitement and optimism for the future. You could see that enthusiasm transfer to the Canadian visitors, the inspiration illuminating their eyes like lightbulbs materializing over their heads.

Jonathan Foster, GMIST’s executive director, said the tour helped his group understand they also have what they need in their own communities to build a more resilient future.

“We’re the ones who are going to be our own saviors,” Foster said. “We’re the ones who are going to commit. We’re going to help our community. We’re going to do what is needed.”

Those are inspiring words, inspired by Nebraskans. Also inspiring is this GMIST mantra: a great place to live is a great place to visit. I couldn’t agree more! This is a sea change in the world of tourism, which is notoriously extractive and seldom benefits residents as much as we’d like to see. Together, organizations such as Nebraska Community Foundation and GMIST are working to change how we view and practice tourism and economic development. By focusing on quality-of-life improvements for residents, we create magnetic places—and those places become communities people want to visit for themselves. Our NCF affiliated funds understand that.

I’m immensely proud of our network’s accomplishments and even more proud of the volunteers who made them happen. Their energy is the fuel that’s brought Nebraska Community Foundation terrific success, and it’s those dedicated Nebraskans who will lead our state into its next era of prosperity.

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