Keya Paha County Volunteers Look Within for Home-Grown Challenge Grant

At first glance, Vance Baker and Linnea Steinhauser don’t seem to have a lot in common.

Baker is in his mid-90s. He’s a veteran, and retired. His demeanor is measured, his dialogue succinct.

Steinhauser is bubbly and exudes optimism. She’s 31 years old, a mother and wife. When she tells you she spent 2 1/2 years as a nanny in Alaska, you can see why. She’s exactly the kind of person parents would want around their kids.

But despite their differences, Baker and Steinhauser have a lot in common, too.

They are both returners to greater Nebraska, both serve on the Keya Paha County Foundation Fund Advisory Committee, and they are both passionate about the future of their hometown of Springview.

With just over 800 residents county-wide, Baker says Keya Paha County can be summed up in four words: “strictly corn and cows.” Though he’s quick to add, “Backed up by small business and community activities of all kinds.”

Talk with him a little longer and it becomes abundantly clear why he loves the place. “We’re just one big happy family,” he says.

It was family that brought Linnea Steinhauser back to Springview. She says that her own experiences growing up in a small community showed her that one day, she wanted to raise her own family in a town like Springview.

Her passion for Springview and Keya Paha County also came from her family’s propensity for volunteerism. From Junior Service Club and 4-H to their church, Steinhauser says, “We were always involved in something and I guess I haven’t ever known any different.”

Before serving on the Keya Paha County Foundation Fund Advisory Committee (FAC), Steinhauser was a beneficiary of a grant to the KBR Leadership Academy. The program, which provides leadership training for residents of Keya Paha, Brown and Rock counties, left a real impression on Steinhauser.

On the last day of the academy, members of the Keya Paha County Foundation Fund spoke to program graduates about their mission and efforts to build the community’s unrestricted endowment. They mentioned they had a meeting that evening.

While she admits “I had no idea what they were,” Steinhauser showed up. “And I haven’t stopped going to the meetings since,” she said.

Today, Baker and Steinhauser are part of the committee that determines how the payout from Keya Paha County’s unrestricted endowment is used. Beyond the KBR Leadership Academy, fund dollars have supported life-saving EMT and vehicle extrication training for local volunteers, improvements to the senior citizens center, and repairs and upgrades to the local ball field. And there’s a grant Steinhauser is particularly proud of that went toward purchasing new playground equipment for the park which is frequented by other young families returning to the area.

As part of the Nebraska Community Foundation (NCF) network of over 200 affiliated funds, the Keya Paha County Foundation Fund has been taking full advantage of NCF’s services, which include everything from marketing and communications, financial management, and fundraising support to community development and leadership training.

The training “gas really lit a fire,” Steinhauser said.

Recently, members of the Keya Paha County Foundation FAC decided that fire needed a little kindling.

Keya Paha watched as neighboring counties, including Brown and Rock, received challenge grants from outside entities — including an Omaha foundation that has made substantial investments in the future of rural communities across the state. Those opportunities were resulting in major increases to their community unrestricted endowments and grant-making capacity.

Baker said he and other FAC members were feeling “a little guilty” that Keya Paha County hadn’t yet received such a challenge. Fueled by their love of community — and maybe a little friendly competition — the eight members of the Fund Advisory Committee decided to issue a “home-grown” challenge to the people of Keya Paha County using their own personal funds. If community members contributed $100,000, they would match it with an impressive $50,000.

Members of the Fund Advisory Committee are just gaining steam as they begin to ask their friends and neighbors to contribute to the campaign.

They’re educating fellow community members about the benefits of building an endowment, asking them about their hopes and dreams for the future, and embodying the values that have become central to the fund’s work: progressive, collaborative, responsible, and most of all, persistent.

“I’ve always been told that you leave it a little better than you started with,” Steinhauser said. “I just want to do that for my kids.”

“Sometimes it takes a little pride in our community to make things happen,” Baker said. “One way or another, we’ll get the thing done.”

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