Omaha World-Herald Editorial: Nebraska communities take action against the virus

Originally published by the Omaha World-Herald.

Across Nebraska, communities are taking action in creative, energetic ways to help fellow residents in need in the wake of the virus crisis. These inspiring examples of community spirit reflect one of Nebraska’s great strengths that will help it move forward through this period of challenge.

Consider the examples set by Nebraska community foundations, which draw on local financial donations to meet residents’ needs. These local institutions, some of which are decades old, are important sources of community vision and vitality across the state.

In southwest Nebraska, the Imperial Community Foundation Fund recently established a new grant to buy webcams for residents in a local assisted living facility. As a result, even though access to the center is necessarily restricted due to the virus, these seniors can still connect with family members.

Such contact—enabling a senior to see a grandchild’s smile or a son and daughter’s expressions of love—is invaluable. This project is a stellar example of Nebraska community vision at its best.

One of the state’s most dynamic and forward-looking community foundations is in Shickley, in Fillmore County. When the coronavirus forced local schools to switch to virtual learning, teachers and students made the transition without great difficulty—because students were already using Macbooks and Chromebooks paid for by the Shickley Community Foundation.

“When challenges arise, our generous network of 1,500 volunteers responds,” says Jeff Yost, president and CEO of the Nebraska Community Foundation. The values demonstrated by the state’s community foundations—“love of community and concern for our neighbors”—are “precisely the principles that will help us navigate the chaos and fear that surround us.”

In every corner of the state, community foundations are responding to the current emergency by serving a variety of roles, Yost says: “communication and resource hubs, conveners and connectors, leaders, funders, fundraisers, and importantly, fountains of positivity and community spirit, something we all desperately need right now.”

These local foundations are legally authorized to provide funding for a wide range of institutions, including schools, health care organizations, food banks and other nonprofit service organizations.

In Saline County, for example, the Friend Area Fund reached out early during this crisis to the local school superintendent and principals about what was needed most urgently. Providing breakfast and lunch to students quickly emerged as a top priority. The Friend Area Fund responded by using its unrestricted endowment fund to make a grant for that need.

“This is precisely the type of unanticipated community need that unrestricted endowments are designed for,” Yost says.

In the wake of the current emergency, the community foundation for the Norfolk area has suspended its normal granting cycle and shifted its funding to meet virus-related needs. The foundations for Seward County and McCook have established specific COVID-19 accounts for donations and community action. The fundraising response in McCook has been especially notable: Local donations already total $125,000 even though fundraising began only recently.

Sometimes the positive work by local foundations goes beyond dollars spent, to envisioning how to strengthen a community’s spirit of fellowship and mutual support. Nebraska City has been a standout in this regard: At the encouragement of the local community foundation, on evenings at 7 p.m., residents step outside their front door or drive down Central Avenue honking, waving and clapping to demonstrate community pride and gratitude to local medical providers, community leaders and service workers.

Nebraska faces an enormous challenge right now, no question. But we also have something quite valuable to be thankful for: a powerful community spirit. The inspiring examples are all around us.