Building civic health the Civic Nebraska way

Nancy Petitto on why civic health is vital to defend and sustain a modern and robust democracy. 

 Nancy Petitto is Civic Nebraska’s senior director of programs. From 2018-21, she managed the Collective Impact Lincoln partnership; since 2021 Nancy has served as Civic Nebraska’s director of civic health. In her new senior role, her first duty is to select her successor as the leader of Civic Nebraska’s Civic Health Programs. Here are Nancy’s thoughts on what makes civic health vital to defending and sustaining a modern and robust democracy.

What is civic health? 

Civic health is the degree to which citizens participate in their communities, from local and state governance to interactions with friends and neighbors. Our Civic Health Program strengthens our state’s civic fabric with training and programming for towns, cities, neighborhoods, and citizens. We support people to be connected, informed, and engaged in their communities and our state. When we are more connected to one another and to institutions, we are better positioned to solve problems.

What does civic health look like? 

Civic health is the conversation you have with your neighbors about planning a neighborhood potluck. It’s participating in a 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.
A civically healthy community is engaged and invested in making progress toward common goals. It’s people coming together, and 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.

What is this position?

The Director of Civic Health Programs is one of three program heads at Civic Nebraska. This director provides support to our incredible civic health team and program initiatives, including the Capitol Experience Day program, Collective Impact Lincoln, the Rural Civic Health Program, and civil discourse, to name a few. Civic health is the foundation of our work at Civic Nebraska, so it’s working to ensure it’s a part of all three of our organization’s programs.
Some days, that means I’m working with a team member to figure out the best path forward on a project, meeting with a community partner, building civil discourse curriculum to present to a group like the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, or meeting with a funder to make sure we can continue this work alongside our neighbors. It’s providing support and direction to the program, building and maintaining partnerships locally and nationally, and finding ways to connect our neighbors to new opportunities to build civic health in their communities.

My new role

I started my journey at Civic Nebraska almost six years ago as the Collective Impact Lincoln program manager. For three-plus years, I had the honor to work on this incredible initiative. I learned so much through the Community Builder Workshops we facilitated, supporting community organizers, and hearing from residents about what they wanted to accomplish in their neighborhoods. When I moved into the role of director of civic health programs, I was ready to bring together this very diverse program and find ways to connect and align across our work.
I also had the challenge of explaining what civic health is and its importance across our state. Almost three years later, we have a strong, dedicated team that is connecting with residents and neighbors in rural and urban communities.
Serving as the Civic Health Programs director has prepared me for this new role as the senior director of programs. I’ve always approached the work of democracy-building from a civic health perspective and I’m eager to take what I’ve learned and provide that support across all of our programs.

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