The Nebraska Community Foundation peer learning network doesn’t just reside within Nebraska’s borders, it extends to leaders in communities across the country and around the world who are doing extraordinary things in their places.
Most recently, in early September, over two dozen ambitious Nebraskans hailing from hometowns across the NCF network, boarded an Iowa and Minnesota-bound tour bus to learn about the assets and opportunities available to neighboring community builders and the innovative ways they are capitalizing on them.
The tour group included volunteers and NCF staff members from communities including: Bennet, Bertrand, Columbus, Howells, Imperial, Lincoln, McCook, Minden, Norfolk, Ogallala, Omaha, Paxton, Red Cloud, and Stuart. Many of the volunteers are currently working to meet transformative challenge grants to build their community unrestricted endowments.
The bus tour began in Winterset, Iowa where local leaders talked about heritage tourism and placemaking. In Manchester, the group met a contingent from the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque and set out on field trips to visit affiliates in Allamakee, Clayton, Delaware, and Jones Counties. There, tour participants had the opportunity to interact with and observe programs focusing on rural art, youth engagement, inclusiveness, childcare, energy sustainability, reconnecting people with what they love most about their hometown, and ending stigmas around brain health.
The multi-day tour culminated with a visit to Austin, Minnesota, just 15 miles north of the Iowa border. Austin community builders proudly shared their community welcoming plan with their Nebraska visitors which is designed to welcome new residents, and particularly new Americans, to their community.
Herve Idjidina, the executive director of Austin’s Welcome Center, told his own inspiring story of coming to Austin from Benin, a small French-speaking country in West Africa, through a lottery program so that his children could receive a quality education and enjoy access to job opportunities.
The last stop of the tour was Mason City, Iowa where Mayor Bill Schickel and City Manager Aaron Burnett explained their unique community development strategy. “Art is economic development in Mason City,” said Schickel.
Members of the Nebraska Community Foundation network remarked on what a positive and enlightening experience the tour was. When asked what they will take back to their own NCF affiliated funds, one said “A better, sharper, more well-rounded thought process regarding community development.”
“Embrace what we are and make the most of it. Get people to buy-in to being our best selves as a community. Be innovative while staying true to yourself,” said another.
Peer learning is integral to the Nebraska Community Foundation approach. The next major, state-wide peer learning gathering will occur on Nov. 14 in York, Neb. at NCF’s Annual Celebration. Learn more and register here.