Norfolk woman still helping to build communities
For 14 years, Kara Weander-Gaster helped improve the quality of life in Nebraska by directing activities at the Norfolk Arts Center.
The Norfolk woman is wearing a new hat these days, but she’s still actively involved in making life better for others.
About a month ago, Weander-Gaster became an affiliated fund coordinator for the Nebraska Community Foundation. She’ll focus her efforts on communities in eastern Nebraska.
She replaced Anders Olson, who left to pursue his master’s degree at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Weander-Gaster, who is a Wayne native, was drawn to the opportunity because she “loves what the Nebraska Community Foundation does” and “has a passion for rural Nebraska and small communities,” she said.
In her new position, she’s looking forward to “empowering local people” by giving them the resources they need to visualize their future and define and accomplish their goals, she said.
Although Weander-Gaster is still living in Norfolk with her husband, David, and their two daughters, she’ll be traveling to towns and villages all over eastern Nebraska. There she’ll listen to citizens talk about their needs and help them formulate and implement a plan for satisfying them.
Often the conversation starts with “what do we want our community to look like,” Weander-Gaster said.
Such was the case during a recent visit to a town where area farmers, business people, the local economic development director and others met to try to answer that question, Weander-Gaster said.
From there, Weander-Gaster can help them with visioning and strategic planning.
At times, communities need help organizing a drive to raise money for a particular item, such as a swimming pool, splash pad or improvements to a school.
In that case, Weander-Gaster can help train volunteers on what to do and say when they meet with potential donors.
“We’re helping empower the local people,” she said.
In addition, organizations and communities that are raising money for a project can set up an affiliated fund with the foundation where donations can be collected and managed.
When established, the funds acquire tax-exempt status, which is normally important to donors.
By its involvement, the foundation “encourages local philanthropy” and helps communities thrive.
While some people believe small towns are dying, Weander-Gaster would argue the opposite.
In fact, she said many people appreciate what small towns have to offer and want their children to experience small-town life. She used the village of Lewiston as an example.
The Pawnee County community is part of a consolidated school system that recently added a preschool program and now has two busloads of students from Beatrice attending.
Although Weander-Gaster is excited about her new position, she was not unhappy at the Norfolk Arts Center.
“I was in no way looking for a job,” she said. “When Anders stepped away, a number of people suggested (the job) was a good match for my skills, and I decided to throw my hat in the ring.”
The decision was made easier by the fact that she was familiar with the organization after having served on the Norfolk Area Community Foundation Fund Advisory Committee, she said. Plus, the arts center utilized the foundation’s resources at times.
Weander-Gaster said she’ll miss some aspects of her work at the arts center — such as working with artists and organizing programs — but she sees a similarity between her former and current positions.
“We’re trying to strengthen the experiences people have and help them have fulfilled lives,” she said.