KC Belitz: Welcome in Nebraska

Originally published in the Columbus Telegram

We all hope that the holiday season is a time when we feel most welcome. Welcomed by family and friends at holiday gatherings, welcoming home the kids from college . . .  being around “your people” with whom you most belong.

But . . .  the holidays should not be the only time we work hard to make our neighbors feel welcome. In fact, Nebraska’s reality is that welcoming and belonging is a year-round priority. As we consider those 80,000 open jobs in our state, it should be self-evident that we have reason to welcome newcomers to our community.

Today, in that spirit, I’d like to share some good news in this arena of welcoming. Nebraska Community Foundation surveyed students at the recent Nebraska Hispanic Latino Youth Summit in Columbus. 272 of those students returned the survey and of that group, 252 said they “feel welcome” in their hometown. 252 out of 272! That is good news!

In fact, it’s so good that we wanted to get a double-check from our youth survey partner, Dr. Jose Schafer at UNO’s Center for Public Affairs Research. While we all agree that this isn’t a scientific survey, she felt like the results are valid for what they are: a select group of students that are being engaged and engaging back by attending the summit. Because they are engaged, we would expect them to have a more positive view than if a large random sample of students was asked the same questions. So this group of students do legitimately feel welcome in their communities and there are lessons to be learned by all of us interested in welcoming more young people to our hometowns.

And that’s really the point! In engaging these students in the Summit, the organizers are doing the exact work we need to make more people feel welcome. It is also clear that this annual event is not the reason, or at least not the only reason, for this positive result on the survey. So congrats to the school systems, fellow students, neighbors and communities in these places that are doing the right things to make so many students feel welcome!

A related fact that may come as a surprise to you: the majority of Hispanic/Latino residents of Nebraska were born in Nebraska. As we’ve gone past that tipping point, it’s a reasonable assumption that many or most of the students at the Summit are native Nebraskans who grew up in their current hometown, which clearly also figures into those exciting results.

I want to make sure I’m not painting too limited a view of the welcoming and belonging work we all have to do in Nebraska. This is not limited to a particular racial or ethnic group, but rather it’s really a call to welcome people who are diverse in age, beliefs, hometowns, skill sets . . . I’d say in this way, we want an environment that suggests Nebraska really IS for everyone.

So, what might you do to make your hometown more welcoming? Obviously, this could be a very long list so today I’m going to provide you just one simple, fun idea. Our friend Craig started this idea, picking up my family’s tab at a restaurant a couple weeks ago. So, now when we eat out during the holidays, we’re doing the same: randomly buying the meal for someone else in the restaurant. The recipient knows someone in their town welcomes them, and I hope they’ll be inspired as we were to do the same. So buy a cup of coffee for someone behind you in line, pick up a tab for someone you don’t know at lunch . . .  you’ll find it brings both the recipients and your family joy and might start a chain reaction of welcoming!

Welcome home for the holidays in Greater Nebraska and all the best to you in the new year!

We want an environment that suggests Nebraska really IS for everyone.

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