Q&A with Nancy Petitto, Director of Civic Health Programs

On June 1, Nancy Petitto will assume the role of Director of Civic Health Programs at Civic Nebraska.

We’re pleased to announce that Nancy Petitto, who has directed Collective Impact Lincoln on behalf of Civic Nebraska for the last three-plus years, has been promoted to a new role in our organization – director of civic health programs. Nancy will supervise all of Civic Nebraska’s efforts in civic health across the state, which help build vibrant, engaged, unified communities. She begins the new endeavor on June 1. We sat down with Nancy recently to get her thoughts on Nebraska’s civic health, community-building, and why she believes Civic Nebraska’s civic health work is so important right now.

Nancy Petitto

CIVIC NEBRASKA: First of all, congratulations on the promotion. You’re certainly familiar with the work and goals of our Civic Health Programs, having managed the Collective Impact Lincoln partnership since early 2018. What would you say is the one thing that work has done to prepare you for a larger role in promoting the state’s civic health?

NANCY PETITTO: Thank you! I am so excited to lead our civic health programs locally and across the state. Collective Impact Lincoln embodies civic health work and has concentrated on building social connectedness, confidence in institutions, community engagement, and political involvement in our focus neighborhoods over the last four years. My understanding of this work and seeing the impact and success at the neighborhood level have prepared me for this larger role in addressing our state’s overall civic health.

CN: To some, “civic health” is a confusing term. How would you define it, and why is it important – especially here, especially now? 

NP: I see civic health happening so often throughout our communities. Civic health is a way to measure how well we participate in them – and what steps we need to take to affect change. Civic health is the conversation you have with your neighbors about planning a neighborhood potluck. It’s participating in litter cleanup. It’s attending a monthly community meeting. Civic health is knowing who your local representatives are, and how to speak up on an issue that matters to you and your neighbors. We need to ensure that our communities are informed, involved in making decisions, and meaningfully engaged in affecting positive change. This is the foundation for our work at Civic Nebraska. We ensure Nebraska has strong, civically healthy communities.

CN: Nebraska has big cities and small towns, all with different interests, characters, and issues. But as the old saying goes, we’re all more alike than we are different. To that end, what does a civically healthy community look like in your mind’s eye, regardless of size or geography?

NP: It’s true – in some ways, we are all more alike than we are different. I’ve learned this from working in our six focus neighborhoods through Collective Impact Lincoln. Each neighborhood has its own assets and its own goals. Yet often, they align across communities. A civically healthy community is engaged and invested in making progress toward common goals. It’s people coming together, educating each other on issues and solutions to build vibrant and inclusive communities. And sharing the skills and resources that make each community strong and unique.

CN: We kicked off 2021 with the release of the Nebraska Civic Health Index, an in-depth report on our state’s social connectedness, community engagement, confidence in institutions, and political involvement. What’s your main takeaway from those numbers? How do Civic Nebraska and our partners use the Index as a blueprint for civic health going forward?

NP: We still have a lot of work to do around civic health. Like the Index showed, Nebraska needs improvement in spending time with people of different backgrounds, participation in voting, engagement among all geographies and demographics, and in discussing politics. The Index also suggests that Nebraska is a leader in spending time with neighbors, family, and friends, volunteering and working with neighbors to make a positive impact and voting in local elections. So, we have an opportunity to take the positive examples of civic health and to apply them in areas that might need more guidance.

So many people are already doing this kind of work and don’t realize it. Or, they might not know how they can expand it throughout their community. Civic Nebraska and our partners can guide civic health work – not only based on the Index, but through conversations with resident leaders, community members, and community stakeholders. This is the time for us to listen and to build roadmaps to strong civic health together.

CN: Our Civic Health Programs staff live across Nebraska – from Scottsbluff to Nebraska City, from Wayne to Potter, meeting people where they live. So, how many miles do you plan to put on your car in the coming year?

NP: Daniel Bennett, our rural civic health program manager, has made incredible inroads across Nebraska and building out our civic health initiatives. I’m eager to see what’s happening across the state and to start building relationships to understand the needs and goals in our rural communities. I’ll be setting up an appointment soon with my mechanic to make sure my Subaru is ready for some serious road trips across the state.

From left: Nancy, Frankie, Murphy, and Scott.

CN: This is a big job. We know you’re also involved with other nonprofit organizations that connect people to power (like GirlPowR). And we know you like to stay active. What do you do in your downtime? Or do you have any?

NP: I do have a few other things that keep me busy outside of my work at Civic Nebraska! Mostly spending time with my husband, Scott, and taking our two dogs, Frankie and Murphy, on walks to Antelope Park. My favorite weekends include winding down on the back patio with drinks from our favorite local breweries.

CN: Well, we know that democracy is prosocial, of course. And also that Nebraska has a lot of great brewpubs across the map of the state. See you out there! And, again – congratulations. You’re going to be a great director of civic health.

NP: Thanks again. I can’t wait. See you out there!

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