Nancy Petitto: What Civic Nebraska means to me

Collective Impact Lincoln's program manager on how plans change -- often for the best -- and how that translates into building communities and neighborhoods of which we all can be proud.

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This wasn’t necessarily the plan.

The original goal was as follows: attend the University of Nebraska for four years, graduate with journalism degree, move back to New York, attend graduate school for arts journalism, obtain job at [insert hip magazine/publication here] in New York City. Well, the plan changed when something happened between my freshman and junior year in college. All of a sudden, I was a midwesterner, and Lincoln was my home.

During my first visit to Lincoln as a junior in high school, I recognized something special in the people, the neighborhoods, and the communities. Over the last 17 years, I’ve found myself becoming more engaged and invested in making Lincoln a great place to live.

Initially, that started though my work at the university — helping welcome incoming graduate students and throughout their careers; developing faculty development initiatives and welcoming new faculty; and managing operations that are vital to the research and innovation essential to our city, state, and nation.

In the last two years, I’ve wanted to make more of an impact in our Lincoln communities and neighborhoods. I began navigating the landscape — attending various organizational meetings and even starting a grassroots group in my own neighborhood. While meaningful and important, there just wasn’t enough time to dedicate to these conversations and projects. I know the work I was doing at the university was important, but I wanted this to be my full time gig.

Then, I saw a job posting at Civic Nebraska for the Collective Impact Lincoln Program Manager. This was it — this was the new plan.

Collective Impact Lincoln is an initiative between three partnerships: Civic Nebraska, Nebraska Appleseed, and the South of Downtown Community Development Organization. We focus on six neighborhoods with the goal to support community conversations, leadership, and action opportunities to create a more vibrant and inclusive place to live. A few months into my role, I am in awe of the work happening at Civic Nebraska and with the CIL initiative.

The learning curve is still there, but getting smaller each day. The passion and dedication from the people involved in this project, from the organizers to the residents, is reason enough for me to know I’m where I need to — and want to — be.

There’s no handbook for community building. I led my first Community Builder Workshop last Saturday. I was nervous to stand in front of a room of people and tell them how to be leaders in their community. Or how to engage with their neighbors and move a project forward. I questioned my knowledge and expertise in these areas. Turns out, I’ve known how to do this work all along because I’ve been doing it, too. We are all a part of a community — our schools, jobs, neighborhoods, book clubs, Sunday night softball league, dog park crew — and we all know how to work together to make these communities better. It’s just a matter of having the resources and engagement, which is what CIL is here to provide and it’s what I want to make possible for our city.

My original plan may have shifted a bit, but the ultimate goal remains intact: to support my community and engage in the necessary conversations to create positive progress.

— Nancy Petitto

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