By Ronda Graff, McCook Community Foundation Fund
Supporting and empowering our youth is a topic that should never far from the surface for our community.
From grants for youth programs to scholarships to youth organizations, young people are a priority for the McCook Community Foundation Fund. But for many years, there was something missing . . . making young people feel like they should return to our community and make an impact.
Beginning in 2014, McCook High School graduates received a full-sized mailbox to remind them of home. After three years, the gift switched to reusable mugs and glasses since they were a little easier to take to college than a legal-sized postal box. In an attempt to stay hip and relevant, MCFF gave out portable chargers to the Class of 2020, encouraging them to “Take the Power of McCook with You.”
While the gift may have changed, what remained the same over the years was the message given to the high school graduates: We want you to return to McCook.
When they receive their gift during graduation practice, the high school seniors are encouraged to stay in McCook or eventually return to their hometown. Former MHS grads who have made the conscious decision to return to their hometown share why they chose McCook as their home. Over and over, the speakers literally say: “We want you to return to McCook.”
And that is an important first step. People, especially young people, need to feel like they are wanted. It may seem obvious, but I’d like every parent, employer, community member to ask themselves, “Have I ever asked a young person to move back to McCook? Have I ever told a young person that I want you to move back home?”
That is an important start, but it’s the next step where we need to make improvements. While we may “say” we want young people to move back to McCook, what are we “doing” to encourage young people to move home and make them feel like they are making an impact?
Are we giving them the tools to start a business or become an entrepreneur? Are we encouraging them to get involved in local organizations? Are we giving them responsibilities in the community by letting them serve on boards and committees? Are we giving them authority to make decisions regarding funding sources?
I actually began this column the day after the election, when we had selected new local officials.
But I needed a couple weeks to let the “idea breathe.”
I want to give a personal shout-out to Dawson Brunswick, who is the same age as my oldest son. It takes a lot of courage to run for political office in the first place. It takes even more courage to run when one of the “knocks” against you is something you can’t even control—your age.
While no candidate is perfect, one thing that was said over and over was that he lacked experience or that he was too young. But ask yourself, how are our young people supposed to get experience if we don’t give them the opportunity to be involved? If we don’t give them the chance to make decisions? If we don’t invite them to serve on boards and committees?
An oft-repeated mantra of the Nebraska Community Foundation when it comes to welcoming new leaders (young or old) is “Don’t move out, move over.” This means that older people should continue to contribute to the organization with their wisdom and guidance, but they should be willing to give up their seat at the table for a younger – or different – voice.
Don Harpst is a great example of someone who is actively involved in the community. He quietly offers insight and guidance, but then sits back and lets the younger people make the decisions.
Of course, there aren’t many people older than Don who are still as active, so everyone is “young” to him.
If we want people to choose to move back to McCook, we must be willing to pay more than lip-service to the idea. We must be willing to entrust them with responsibilities. We must be willing to trust them to make the right decisions. We must be willing to move over and let them make an impact on our future.