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Roll out the welcome mat!

CHERYL TEVIS 10/14/2013 @ 7:44pm Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

The high school musical is a highlight of the fall season in my farm community. Whether it’s Disco Inferno, Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, or High School Musical, it always seems to showcase emerging young talent. When the show is over, I always wonder what new talents the next crop of performers will bring to the stage.

You might look at school productions as dress rehearsals for the future of your rural community. After living here for almost three decades, I’ve seen good leaders assume center stage and make their exits. They’ve spearheaded big projects and fund-raisers, and assumed the mantle of leadership on school boards, farm co-ops, local businesses, 4-H clubs, and local churches.

When the curtain comes down on the last performance by these longtime community movers and shakers, do you worry about the next act? Will someone carry on what they’ve poured their hearts and souls into? Who will address pressing community needs and recognize overlooked assets?

Rural America is populated by communities that work tirelessly to restore historic opera houses and theatres, or to preserve their heritage in local museums. Farmers celebrate landmark barns by adding colorful barn quilts. How many communities sustain their focus on building and investing in the future?

Maintaining momentum after veteran leaders pass the baton rarely happens without a deliberate strategy of personal recruitment. In Nebraska, the Imperial Community Foundation Fund (ICFF) is aiming to attract young adults home.

Last spring, each graduating high school senior received a personalized mailbox and an invitation to return home someday.

“I hope that this gesture plants a seed in the kids’ minds,” says Dillon Harchelroad, the 27-year-old vice chair of the ICFF.

Nebraska leaders have established Community Foundation Funds under the umbrella of the Nebraska Community Foundation (NCF) to build leadership, to engage young adults, and to support entrepreneurship.

Over the next 50 years in Nebraska, the NCF estimates that more than $600 billion in accumulated wealth will transfer from one generation to the next. Many of the heirs no longer live in the communities where this wealth was accumulated over several generations. The goal of these foundations is to tap this wealth through charitable gifts and endowed community funds, and to use it to grow and invest in their hometowns.

Here are five ways to invest in the youth in your community:

1. Grant nontraditional scholarships to help young adults who are working in the community to stay in the community.

2. Give recognition gifts to all high school graduates with an invitation to return.

3. Encourage participation and presentations at alumni events and community celebrations.

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