Toasting to hometown success

Nebraska Community Foundation’s recent visit to Keith County marked a major milestone that called for celebration. By the end of 2020, affiliated funds in Howells, Columbus, Imperial, Keith County and Stuart had each met an ambitious $500,000 fundraising goal. Their success means each will receive a $250,000 match for a grand total of $750,000 to grow their community unrestricted endowments—an achievement that will undoubtedly result in transformational change in each of these remarkable Greater Nebraska hometowns.

The grant opportunity came to be known as “Building Community Capacity” among members of the NCF network. Between 2012 and 2020, thirteen communities partook in the challenge. Round one included McCook, Nebraska City, Norfolk, and Shickley. Round two communities were Brown County, Pender-Thurston, Plattsmouth, and Valley County. And Columbus, Stuart, Imperial, Howells, and Keith County represented the third and final round of challengers.

On August 25–26, volunteer members from each round three fund advisory committee convened in Keith County for one final peer learning session. Typically, participating communities convene numerous times over the course of their five-year campaigns, however the pandemic prevented many of those gatherings from occurring. Needless to say, volunteers and NCF staff were equally excited to have the opportunity to meet last week and network, trade stories, share lessons learned, and toast to their success.

Attendees also enjoyed an unforgettable tour of the Keith County community including visits to historic landmarks and local points of pride like the Kathleen Lute Public Library, Kenfield Petrified Wood Gallery, Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse, the Mansion on the Hill, and Wild West Soap Box Derby – where NCF Affiliated Fund Development Coordinators Steve Brewster and Jana Jensen couldn’t resist trying their own luck in a race down the iconic track.

Throughout their time together, volunteers were asked to share the benefits of participating in the Building Community Capacity challenge. Surprisingly, “money” was rarely (if ever) the answer. Instead, volunteers talked about what the experience taught them about themselves, their neighbors, and their communities.

“I wasn’t asking for money. I was asking people to invest in the future of Imperial,” said Lori Pankonin.

“The dreams have gotten bigger and more possible,” said Kathy Heard of Howells. “It used to be ‘we can fix this.’ Now it’s ‘we can do this.’”

At the conclusion of the Building Community Capacity challenge, the communities of Howells, Columbus, Imperial, Keith County, and Stuart have together raised over $18.7 million to benefit their unrestricted endowments. Already they have reinvested $7 million in their communities for the future. Now that’s something to celebrate.

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