Beth Roelfs

Beth Roelfs is a volunteer, former educator, and member of the Diller Community Foundation Fund in Diller. She participated in a panel discussion on social connection as a part of Civic Nebraska’s series highlighting priorities from the 2020 Civic Health Index.

The perception in small towns is that everyone knows everyone, but Beth Roelfs knows that in getting and keeping people connected, the job is never. Diller is a rural, mostly Ag-based community of 270 people in southeast Nebraska that is modeling the way on some important lessons about connection for towns big and small.

Collaborate among groups

Connection for Diller, and other rural communities, she says, is in large part about the synergy and connection among multiple civic, social, and governmental groups. Appointing people to be the “connectors” from one group to the next is an important part of the social infrastructure that builds synergy in the community. Beth says it’s also important to get in the habit of sharing information and connecting the dots where there may be a want or need that can be matched with a resource or shared interest. In short, be the connection you wish to see in your community. But she’s quick to note that one person can’t do it alone.

“We need to facilitate that mindset in others, so that it’s not just one or two people who do it naturally, but each individual realizing that they really do carry a powerful opportunity through their multiple affiliations.”


Beth says another important tool in creating a culture of connection is giving people a voice, listening, and being good stewards of the information that is shared. The Diller Community Foundation Fund has taken a lead in listening. “We want to give our community members the opportunity to be visionary, to dream. To think of what the best place could be that they would want to live and then have a voice to share that.”

Make connection easy

When potential connections have been identified, the Diller community then tries to make getting connected as easy as possible. For example, with the help of Nebraska Community Foundation staff, the Diller Community Foundation regularly reaches out to financial planners in the area to have them offer their clients the opportunity to make a planned gift to the community.

Making connections easy also helps Diller be inclusive. Connecting to some elderly residents over the phone instead of through email or including Spanish-speaking families through the translation of materials, and reaching people through their place of employment or school are examples of ways Diller makes the effort to make connections to all residents.

Focus on Youth

For Beth, there’s an unspoken expectation of connection she tries to bring to the community that she believes runs through the spirit of the town’s 124-year-old celebration. It’s a way of living.

“I do make a conscious effort to be the connector of the dots for people, but it is primarily through modeling and through the development of opportunities for young people to begin to instill that within them.”

As a former educator, Beth’s passion has been providing opportunities for youth, and the groups with which she’s involved in Diller, whether the church, the community foundation, or a park renovation, have made it a priority. The community foundation in particular has made youth a priority through leadership development, giving them a voice, and then organizing and planning opportunities for them to use the skills they’re learning through various projects and their youth philanthropy program.

In Diller, connection is something to be renewed each day, at each meeting, and with each upcoming generation. Beth and her community members are modeling the way together.

Why does Civic Health matter?

Strong Democracy
Our country’s system of governance relies on the civic knowledge and participation of the people to govern effectively. Through cultivating relationships with our neighbors and engaging in discourse and action on shared priorities, we cultivate the habits and mindsets central to sustaining a democratic society.

Health and Wellbeing
Increasing evidence suggests that civic health is at the heart of thriving communities and overall well-being. Time spent with friends, family, and neighbors make a living in a place meaningful, but is also linked to improved mental and physical health. Even seemingly small actions, such as having dinner as a household, giving a ride to a coworker, or organizing a block party, are civic actions that contribute to health and wellness, especially in times of need.

Economic Prosperity
Civically healthy communities position residents, neighborhoods, and towns for economic prosperity. Job seekers often find opportunities through social connections and entrepreneurs rely on their networks for mentorship and investment. Cities and towns that create a sense of belonging for all residents and come together to make smart investments in the community are better positioned to attract and retain a talented workforce. Representative power, inclusive engagement, and connections that bridge different groups within the community help ensure that development provides equitable access to opportunities for all people and all geographies.

Community Development
Civic health is important to completing community projects that increase quality of life and solve local problems. Whether it be building workforce housing in Stuart or renovating Gene Leahy Mall in downtown Omaha, successful efforts are powered from within by volunteers who rally around a common cause. Democratic involvement in these communities extends beyond managing differing opinions, but rather builds the capacity to work together and sustain action on important issues.

Nebraskans are eager to see upcoming generations form good civic habits and a care for the community around them. People across Nebraska work hard to provide opportunities for youth to be involved in community life because they believe it is an important facet of a person’s character and ultimately living a good life.