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Roll out the welcome mat!
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.
4. Advertise job opportunities in high school alumni
5. Invest in community projects and programs that appeal to
Farmers find unique ways to contribute
Bryan Rentschler, Atkinson, Nebraska, has made
tax-deductible gifts of grain to West Holt Medical Services. The Brown County
Community Foundation Fund organizes a Cattlemen Challenge. Yearling steers and
cull cows are donated, with a five-year goal of a $500,000 endowment.
Many rural Americans live in communities with shuttered
schools. Trumbull, Nebraska, population 200, redeveloped its school into a
community center. The town recently celebrated its 125th anniversary and used
the school as a hub for activities.
Social media also can play a role. Many small communities no
longer have a hometown newspaper. Some are using websites to reconnect past and
present residents. A Facebook page can promote good things going on in your
One community has launched a contest on YouTube, where
contestants create videos promoting town activities and traditions. The video
with the most hits will win a cash prize.
In Iowa, the Clearfield Lions Club has earned money for 49
years by running a transport shuttle at the Iowa State Fair. The profits have
funded play equipment, a walking trail, swimming lessons, library books,
Christmas lights, July fireworks, and more.
What if the Lions Club runs out of gas?
Is it time for your community to lay the groundwork for an ongoing
source of seed money? To learn more, visit nebcommfound.org.
Ask your high school seniors what it takes to make your town
a good place to live. It isn’t always the siren call of the city that keeps
them from returning. As a community, make sure you roll out the welcome mat!