Of floods and other transitions

April 10, 2019

In the spring of 2019 in Nebraska, it seems almost impossible to have a conversation about communities in Nebraska and their future without acknowledging the flood of mid-March. What happened March 13-14 and afterward has certainly altered that future for farmers, families, businesses, and whole communities.

In the aftermath of the natural disaster, we saw the predictable reaction from Nebraskans (and other Midwesterners): Steadfast commitment to getting to work cleaning up and helping our neighbors do the same. I’ve heard people who had a few feet of water in their basement recognize there were others who lost their home. I’ve heard people who lost their home talk about others who lost more than just a house but perhaps a farm or business, as well. I’ve heard others who lost their home and livelihood express their gratitude that they still have their health and lament others who weren’t so “lucky.”

Really, it’s extraordinary how many of us Nebraskans are “glass half-full” people in the face of such loss.

One of the things I’ve learned in my transition to a position at the Nebraska Community Foundation is that NCF gets to work with those people every day. Thankfully, it’s typically not a devastating natural disaster, but nonetheless, people across our state get up every day determined to improve their own lot and the lives of their neighbors.

I have been extremely proud to be associated with the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce for a couple of decades. In large part that’s because of those very qualities seen consistently in its members and volunteers; the Chamber gets to work with dedicated professionals who work hard for themselves and for their community.

What I can tell you now with a wider perspective is that the Columbus region isn’t alone in this. There really are extraordinary Nebraskans at work in communities small and large across our state. Just as we see here, they are working to build great businesses, schools, farms, families and ultimately, communities.

Having said that, I do believe Columbus is ahead of the curve on collaboration. The broad coalitions that exist here between local government, business and education don’t work everywhere. In fact, there are places where those entities have no relationship at all…or even worse are adversaries. So the leaders in this region should be rightfully proud of the work they do stitching together institutions and people to get good work accomplished. That is a strength that can be the foundation for continued progress in this region.

I hope (and intend) to see the NCF community-based funds in our region become a growing part of that progress. The Columbus Area Future Fund, Butler County Area Foundation Fund, Boone County Foundation Fund, Howells Community Fund, Norfolk Area Community Foundation Fund…these all represent human and financial resources that will play an increasing role in creating a bright future in this place.

I say that because, after 25 years, Nebraska will reap the harvest sown by this engaged network of community builders. By sharing what they’ve learned, NCF’s volunteer network is making all of us better at developing communities through philanthropy. The good work they’ve done is inspiring people to give back in significant ways to their hometowns. And as government resources become more limited, I believe philanthropy will step into that gap and provide a competitive advantage in those places where people invest in each other and their place.

And yes, we see a clear example of that in recovery efforts after the flood. Charitable assets are being mobilized through individual gifts of cleaning supplies to major financial campaigns. But I’m here to tell you that generosity exists every day in Nebraska, not just this month. As we leverage that generosity to benefit our hometowns, we have the opportunity to quite literally change the future of greater Nebraska. It’s exciting work, I’m lucky to be part of it, and I look forward to sharing more with you about what’s happening in our corner of the state.

K.C. Belitz is the chief operating officer of the Nebraska Community Foundation.