Originally published in the Columbus Telegram
You are likely familiar with the posters of Uncle Sam pointing a finger at the viewer, inspiring wartime commitment to a singular purpose. While not at war in a literal sense, Nebraska certainly faces a challenge in attracting people and until we meet that challenge it will continue to cause us real economic harm. Today, young Nebraskans and people of all ages elsewhere need to hear the message loud and clear: “Nebraska Wants You.”
At Nebraska Community Foundation, we’re finding that young people are receptive to that message. I’ve talked before (and will again) about the exciting data we’re getting from Nebraska Youth Surveys. But today, let’s focus on NCF’s Hometown Intern program.
The program launched four years ago, bringing Nebraska college students home for a summer internship in their hometown. This year’s group of interns is our largest yet at 23 and includes six returning to the program from last year. These interns are in communities across the state, including Columbus, Bennet, Diller, Wayne, Keith County, Cuming County, Hebron, Deshler, McCook, Crofton, Norfolk, Butler County, Red Cloud, Chester, Howells and Nemaha County.
First off, I want to share an opportunity for you to hear directly from the interns themselves! This Wednesday at noon, NCF is hosting a Lunch ‘n Learn titled “Lessons from Interns,” in which Hometown Interns will not only share what they did this summer, but more importantly what we should all learn from them if we want to attract and keep our young people in our state. Anyone can register at this link: nebcommfound.org/events/.
What you’ll hear is that numerous Hometown Interns have stated their intent to return home as adults, in part because of this experience in their hometown. The key question for any community is “why?” What was it about the experience that changed the future path of these young people and turned their direction toward home? Those are answers every Nebraska community needs to find!
Based on interns’ feedback and youth survey results, we can deduce a couple common elements: they’ve been invited, and they’ve been engaged. Simply put, no Nebraska students should go off to college without being told their hometown needs them to come back.
On the engagement piece, Asset-Based Community Development research has learned that people belong by having their gifts received and appreciated. In layman’s terms, people feel like they belong when they’re asked to contribute to something larger than themselves.
I think it’s that second piece that really takes us from telling young adults they belong in Nebraska to them feeling it. And that is clearly the key to being successful.
I would submit there’s nothing more important to Nebraska’s future than this work. That means “we want you” to get engaged. Come to the Lunch ‘n Learn Wednesday for some insight from our “target market.” See if your community has done a recent youth survey. And contact a local NCF affiliated fund and find out how you can support or get involved in the people attraction work happening in your hometown.