Strengthening Democracy: EDGE Nebraska City

Intending to reduce poverty rates in Nebraska City by 2036, EDGE focuses on literacy, parent engagement, connecting students to the community, and relationship-building across Nebraska City.

Civic Nebraska’s annual Strengthening Democracy Awards recognize Nebraskans who embody the spirit of a more modern and robust democracy. Our 2024 honorees include educators, administrators, students, and everyday Nebraskans. We’ll officially honor the winners on June 27, but before then, here’s a chance to learn more about what makes them special. 

Civic Nebraska honors EDGE Nebraska City – represented by Stacie HigginsSue Little, and Teresa Albers – as the 2024 Champion of Learning for building literacy and enriching connections in its community. The Champion of Learning Award is awarded annually to Nebraskans who advance learning as an act of civic engagement.
In 2016, Higgins and a group of community members began discussing community trends, and EDGE Nebraska City – Engage, Discover, Grow, Embark – was born. Intending to reduce poverty rates in Nebraska City by 2036, EDGE focuses on literacy, parent engagement, connecting students to the community, and relationship-building across Nebraska City.
From left: Stacie Higgins, Sue Little, and Teresa Albers.
The program began with “Book Besties,” which focused on Pre-K through second grade. Students are given a book each month, and more than 50 volunteers – “Book Besties” – read the book in a school classroom. The program reaches 430 students monthly and awarded its 20,000th book in May. Albers coordinates the program for EDGE.
From there, EDGE has brought programs to Nebraska City that promote lifelong learning and community involvement, including:
›› EARLY EDGE gives a book and a QR code with bilingual literacy tools to each new baby at the local hospital;
›› At Kindergarten Roundup, each new kindergartner receives a backpack with literacy tools;
›› The “Super Citizens” program, coordinated by Little, focuses on third graders. Students learn about a historic person and meet a local “super citizen.” Then, as fourth graders, students take on a local service project and get a city library card;
›› EDGE’s newest program is “Money Managers,” which explains financial literacy to fifth-graders. The “Banking Buddies” work with students to learn how to “earn, save, spend, and share.”
Higgins recently told Flatwater Free Press that working at the intersection of lifelong learning and community engagement can break poverty cycles in the community.
“We cannot assume a book is going to take care of this,” she said. “You have to commit to the full process of here’s the book, here’s the relationship, here’s the next step.”
To sustain EDGE, organizers have inspired an army of volunteers. Many of them are retired teachers and current community activists, said Sara Crook of Nebraska City, who nominated EDGE.
While EDGE works toward reducing poverty, the program has already benefited students by fostering a love for reading – and for their community.
“I will know we’ve been successful when I run into a 25-year-old on the street and they can answer some simple questions like: ‘I graduated from high school, I can provide for my family … I’m actively engaged in my community and I’m still interested in learning,’” Higgins said.

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