NCF program helps youth consider a hometown future

Originally published on 10/11’s Pure Nebraska Program

Nebraska Community Foundation’s Hometown Internship Program is changing the way young people feel about the Greater Nebraska communities they grew up in and for many, helping them envision a future there.

A Nebraska Community Foundation Hometown Intern is a current college student who has completed at least one year of schooling and lives at home for the summer. The program is available to the over 270 Greater Nebraska communities affiliated with the NCF network and caters to the specific skill set of the student and the needs of their community. Local community projects have included activities such as helping with the summer reading program at the library, event planning, storytelling, marketing, social media content creation and engagement, research on historic buildings, heritage tourism efforts, early childhood development, and much more.

In addition to these responsibilities, the intern will engage in “asset mapping” or discovering and documenting the assets and abundance of their homeplace. Students are compensated for their work through a combination of funding from local Nebraska Community Foundation affiliated funds and an anonymous NCF donor.

The program started in 2019 with just one intern. In spite of the pandemic the following year, it attracted 13 interns in 2020. By 2021 that number had grown to 19, and in summer 2022 there were 23 Hometown Interns in 16 hometowns. Over the past four summers, Hometown Interns have served at least 26 Nebraska communities, with many places hosting interns several years in a row—in some cases, the same intern for multiple years.

Dakota Cherney is among those interns who have pursued multiple opportunities spanning several summers. He admits prior to the program, he had planned to leave his hometown of Chester for good in pursuance of opportunities in larger cities. At the conclusion of his first Hometown Internship however, he realized he had had a change of heart.

”I’ve got one year left of college at Kansas State University and then I plan on moving home and continuing the small business that I started last summer,” said Cherney. “It’s a creative agency to serve the Thayer County area. I bought a building in Chester on Main Street. It needs some work, but I’m hoping to have a place for my business to call home in the next five years.”

He’s not the only one. Several former interns have already returned home and started businesses—like Austin Truex of Norfolk who recently opened the community’s first escape room. Emily Morrow, who served as an intern in 2021, was hired as the Foundation and Marketing Director of West Holt Medical Services in Atkinson near her hometown of O’Neill. Hayley Denner of Diller also received an opportunity close to home and is teaching K-12 art in St. Edward. Many others have voiced their intentions to return after graduation.

Carley Bruning, executive director of Thayer County Economic Development, has supervised multiple interns including Cherney. She sees the program as a way to further her organization’s mission to help Thayer County “not just survive, but thrive.”

”We have these youth that are coming back with experience and degrees,” said Bruning. “It’s really just slowly but surely adding a little bit more soil around those roots so when it comes time to graduate, we’re their first choice, not their last.”

Nebraska Community Foundation is currently working to pair students with opportunities in their hometowns for the summer 2023. For more information, visit www.nebcommfound.org/hometowninternships.

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