On Friday, Feb. 7, we officially opened the doors of our new Greater Nebraska Headquarters at 203 N. Locust St. in Grand Island. The office is Civic Nebraska’s third brick-and-mortar HQ, joining our Omaha and Lincoln locations. We welcomed more than 60 people for some food, a few drinks, and plenty of engaging conversation about the who, what, when, where, and why of Civic Nebraska.
It was a great kickoff to our service in Central Nebraska. We were thrilled to see the enthusiasm for our organization, and we were happy to discuss in detail what we’ll be working on from the Greater Nebraska HQ. Reflecting on the evening, we thought it might be helpful to compile the most frequently asked questions from the event. Thanks again for a great evening, Grand Island!
What does Civic Nebraska do?
We’re glad you asked! The short answer is that we create a more modern and robust democracy for all Nebraskans, with an emphasis on all. The longer answer is that we carry out this mission in three main ways. First, our Youth Civic Leadership programs serve more than 1,500 students a day through our school-based before- and after-school programs and outside-of-school service-learning clubs. Introducing youth to civic engagement early on allows them to more easily develop critical thinking, civic leadership, and civil discourse skills. Engaged, informed citizens must be able to evaluate situations and then act for positive change. Students who can think critically about, and make meaning of, societal issues are better able to navigate their individual environments – and succeed in them.
Second, our Civic Health Program connects, organizes, and activates neighbors and communities across the state. Civic health is the will and ability within a community to work together to tackle mutual problems. It’s the degree to which we Nebraskans talk to our neighbors, are active in community groups, vote, talk about politics, and act to further civic interests. And it’s vital to our democracy, which is why our Civic Health Program works constantly to strengthen it – house by house, block by block, community by community.
Finally, we offer nonpartisan Voting Rights Initiatives, because voting is our most cherished democratic right. Without it, there is no prospect for change, no method to hold our leaders accountable, no real way for our values and vision to be represented in our institutions. Further, this most basic right is never guaranteed – so it must be championed, defended, and exercised to the fullest. We fight for elections to be fair, modern, and accessible; we work to defeat proposed policies that threaten the right to vote; and we advocate for measures that protect our rights.
Do you favor “one side” or the other?
No. Advocating for stronger and active civic life in our state is not a partisan issue, and when we talk about democratic strength and participation, we mean small-d democratic. Our organization’s makeup also reflects our philosophy: We are Democrats, Republicans, and independents. Our board of directors also reflects this political diversity, with members on many different points of the political spectrum. We take the nonpartisan aspect of our mission very seriously and reflect that in our work.
Are you all from Omaha and Lincoln?
We have staff from Lincoln and Omaha, of course, but we’re from all over the state. We come from farms outside Nebraska City, cities like Hastings, small towns like Raymond and even a tiny village on the Omaha Indian Reservation in northeast Nebraska. We have staff who live or have lived in all corners of Nebraska. Our different experiences and our mix of urban and rural backgrounds make us a stronger organization.
Who’s going to be working in the new office?
To start, Margaret Marsh, our Greater Nebraska voting rights field organizer, will be here when she’s not out in our communities working with Nebraskans. Margaret lives in Hastings. Daniel Bennett, our rural civic health programs manager who travels around Nebraska regularly, also will use it as a home base. This spring, you’ll see staff from Nebraska Counts, our census initiative, coming and going. Plus, any number of Civic Nebraska staff, such as Director of Communications Steve Smith, will be working out of the office when they’re in the area. We also expect area community-oriented nonprofits and other groups to use the new office as a regular meeting space. If you ever need to get ahold of us in a pinch, you can always email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Is this your base for all points west from here?
West, east, south, north – wherever our statewide mission takes us. The great thing about Grand Island, besides the obvious energy and momentum in the community, is that it’s centrally located. For example, this month, we’ll be in Kearney as our UNK-centered Rural Civic Action Program ramps up in Axtell, Gibbon, Pleasanton and Kearney. This Greater Nebraska HQ will be a regional hub for our programming, and we’re really excited to see that take off.
What ages do you work with?
We often like to say that our work touches Nebraskans ages 6 to 106, but we don’t want to leave anyone out!
Are you looking for local partners?
You bet. Already, we’re working with the League of Women Voters on a nonpartisan voters guide for the May and November elections and have had informal discussions with the Grand Island Public Library about how our missions intersect. We have a few other partnerships coming together that we’ll be eager to talk about very soon.
What can I do to get involved?
As the saying goes, “everyone doesn’t need to do everything, but each one of us can do one thing.” True to that, we have a range of opportunities for Nebraskans of all ages to engage with Civic Nebraska. In May and again in November, we’ll deploy hundreds of trained volunteer election observers around the state to ensure fair elections. Local organizations also can work with us to arrange and lead community forums and training on how to strengthen their civic health. And we’re looking forward to hosting area middle- and high-schoolers at our regular Government In Action Days, which educate and connect students about different aspects of their local and state governments in an interactive, hands-on way. The first one is March 27’s Law Day for Grand Island Senior High students.
Those are just the obvious avenues. One hallmark of our organization is that we’re always interested in hearing what you might want to do to help strengthen our democracy. Drop us a line and we’ll be happy to start a discussion on ways we might be able to partner!