KC Belitz: Keeping youth in rural Nebraska

Originally published in the Columbus Telegram

After a weekend of graduations and Mother’s Day, I’m reminded that now is the time to invite young people to stay or return to their hometowns in greater Nebraska.

As I went to seven graduation parties last weekend, it stood out to me that these young people have a plan; and that those plans vary widely. But in every case, there’s no reason those future plans couldn’t include rural Nebraska! From a future in livestock, to nursing and teaching, to criminal justice and physical therapy . . . we have a spot for all these in Greater Nebraska.

In fact, the need remains compelling. We all know there are ongoing workforce shortages in Nebraska which are hindering our opportunity to grow in critical fields like teaching, construction, medical, manufacturing, accounting, child care, senior care . . .  and the list goes on.

These are lost economic opportunities, but they are really even more than that if you think about what happens if we don’t have enough nurses or teachers in our hometowns!

Mother’s Day ties directly to this conversation because high school students responding to the Nebraska Community Foundation youth survey consistently put “proximity to family” in their top three factors in deciding where they will live as adults. The fact that these moms are here gives us a hook to keep these members of the Centennial generation around . . .  and the moms I know wouldn’t mind that at all!

If you don’t think an invitation can make a difference, we now have growing evidence from NCF’s Hometown Interns that it can! There are several of those young people now working in the state and others with that intention, and they absolutely credit the feeling of being wanted by their hometowns as part of their decision.

Many affiliated funds in the Nebraska Community Foundation network are doing the work to remind graduates they have a place here. Shickley Community Foundation Fund gives graduates “welcome back” mailboxes; Axtell Community Fund invites seniors back with nice pens and wireless phone chargers; Imperial Community Foundation Fund gives them local Chamber Bucks that they can only use when they return home, either for a visit or for good; and Pender-Thurston Education and Community Fund gives seniors a metal cut-out of Nebraska inscribed with a “There’s No Place Like Home” message. These are just a few examples!

So, as you attend graduation celebrations, be intentional about inviting these graduates home. Let’s make sure no Nebraska high school graduate leaves town without knowing we want them here. In fact, I think we should collectively make it our goal that nobody graduates from a Nebraska high school without multiple adults making them welcome and wanted in their hometown!

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