One year ago, this column focused on another unprecedented event. Nebraskans all across the state suffered catastrophic losses as a result of the floods of March 2019. Dozens of Nebraska communities declared disaster. Thousands of homes were impacted. For small businesses, farms, ranches, and governmental services including schools, healthcare and basic infrastructure, the effects were profound —and in some communities, are still being felt.
March 2019 was unparalleled, but even those events couldn’t have prepared us for the extraordinary circumstances we face in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now that “community spread” (viral spread not connected to travel) has been confirmed in Nebraska, it is only a matter of time before coronavirus appears in every Nebraska hometown. Health experts are telling us that the most vulnerable, especially elders, are at especially high-risk from COVID-19. It is projected that five percent of all COVID-19 patients will need to be hospitalized. If that happens in a short period of time, our healthcare infrastructure will be overwhelmed and unable to help everyone who needs care. Prolonged school closures, along with the other dislocation and disruption, will put a strain on all of us.
In a 2015 doctoral dissertation for the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Kristin Watkins examined the history of the 1918 flu pandemic in selected smaller Nebraska communities (Wayne, Red Cloud, Anselmo, Valentine, Scottsbluff, and Gering) and surrounding rural areas. Watkins said, “It is clear that rural location did not provide protection from the virus.” One lesson, she concluded, was that rural communities should not be lulled into a false sense of security by their geographical isolation.
But panic is not productive. Altruism and action are the answers.
I said it in March 2019, and I’ll say it again: Nebraskans are amazing. The qualities and values that make us unique—love of community and concern for our neighbors—are precisely the principles that will help us navigate the chaos and fear that surround us. At Nebraska Community Foundation, we sum it up with these four words: “Together a Greater Nebraska.”
Community building, at its essence, is creating a culture of care, belonging and shared sacrifice. For years Nebraska Community Foundation has been encouraging the 1,500 community volunteers we work with to “build relationships before you need them.” Now is when those existing relationships can be beneficial to every one of us. Now is the time to activate our relationships and capacity to benefit every Nebraskan and every Nebraska hometown.
This pandemic is proof that community unrestricted endowments are a critical tool for Greater Nebraska hometowns. Flexible, locally controlled capital that can be used to address unanticipated challenges and opportunities that are guaranteed to arise. We are asking communities and volunteers in the NCF network to initiate conversations with local education, healthcare and public health leaders. How can local grantmaking help alleviate the pressures being felt as a result of COVID-19?
In our globally interconnected world, the likelihood of the COVID-19 virus impacting your community this year is almost assured. We hope that is not the case, but hope is not a plan. Please reach out if we can be of service in helping our Nebraska hometowns respond in these unprecedented times.
Together a Greater Nebraska.