Local funds help Sidney residents dream big

Originally published on 10/11’s Pure Nebraska Program

When Cabela’s sold to Bass Pro Shops in 2017, many wondered about Sidney’s future. It turns out that two local affiliated funds, and the sheer will of the people, are helping to keep the town alive and vibrant.

For decades, Cabela’s made it’s home in Sidney. “If you’ve heard anything about Sidney in the eastern side of the state, you’ve probably heard about Cabela’s being bought out by Bass Pro,” Nebraska Community Foundation Board Member Sarah Sinnett said. “It was pretty traumatic for our community to go through that. Cabela’s employed more than 2,000 people in a town of 6,000. So, a lot of people were looking for new jobs and opportunities at that time. We had to decide if we were going to move away, or pivot and make our community bigger and better.” Community members decided to stay and fight. ”I would say that started a movement for us to dream big,” Sinnett said. Now the community has much to be proud of. “We’ve had more than 100 new businesses launch since Cabela’s sold out in 2017,” Sinnett said. “Now, there’s really a rich environment of entrepreneurship here in this community.” Part of the growth can be traced back to the work of the Sidney Community Donor Advised Fund, which is affiliated with Nebraska Community Foundation. “The donor advised fund did significantly contribute to our local LB840 fund, which gives payroll grants to local employers,” Sinnett said. “They have also funded our E3 initiative, which has hired an entrepreneurial navigator, which is basically a one-on-one business coach for all new employers.” E3 stands for Energizing Entrepreneurial Ecosystems. It’s an initiative through NCF that’s playing a big role in Sidney. “Really the thought behind it is especially in rural communities, it’s exceedingly rare that a large employer is going to come in and employ 2,000 people again,” Sinnett said. “The E3 focus is on growing our own, and encouraging students to have skills to move back here one day, and also encouraging small business growth and local ownership within small employers.”

Another bright spot for Sidney is a new park, featuring an all inclusive playground. “A group of moms started a project called the Sidney Park Project,” Sinnett said. “This was created to completely revitalize our park, and build and all-inclusive playground which I can guarantee you is one of the best in the state.” The local donor advised fund helped helped with this, too. “They gave us a $200,000 challenge grant if the community raised the rest of it,” Sinnett said. “I didn’t think a park could make that big of an impact, but it says so much about our focus on families, and wanting people to be here.”

While the Sidney Community Donor-Advised fund has played a huge role in making the all-inclusive park a reality, there’s another fund in the community that’s now helping people make big progress. “In 2021, Jana Jensen and Dena Beck from Nebraska Community Foundation came out and we held a visioning session with people in the community,” Sidney And Greater Area fund chair Melissa Norgard said. That helped start the Sidney And Greater Area Fund. “We were fortunate to get our fund affiliated through Nebraska Community Foundation,” Norgard said. “We were really fortunate the Sidney Community Donor Advised Fund was generous enough to grant us $100,000 to get our fund going.” Now, the Sidney And Greater Area Fund is getting ready to mark its one-year anniversary. “In our first year, we’ve been able to grant to six different projects, and our next grant cycle is on April 1, so we are expecting to get some more applications to grant to additional projects this spring,” Norgard said.

The Sidney Community Donor-Advised Fund is also helping the Sidney And Greater Area Fund in another big way. “They have issued us a challenge grant, where if we raise $250,000 in the next two years with 200 donors and 7 planned gifts, they will grant us a million dollars,” Norgard said. “We really want to try and raise that money to build our endowment, and be able to bring even more great things to Sidney and the greater area.” With the work of two endowment funds through NCF, and the sheer will of the people in Sidney, this Cheyenne community is on the rise, and the sky is the limit for what can happen here. “The things that are going to keep pushing us forward are things like this,” Norgard said. “Amazing opportunities through donations, and help from Nebraska Community Foundation to support great projects. This will push us well into the future.”

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