Elizabeth Everett joined Civic Nebraska’s Board of Directors in June. A native of Colorado who grew up in Fort Collins, Everett was among the staff of Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and the Senate Armed Services Committee. Today she directs policy initiatives for First Five Nebraska, advocating for our state’s youngest, most vulnerable children so that they get the necessary developmental experiences to succeed. She and her husband, Rick, an officer in training with the Lincoln Police Department, live in Lincoln. We sat down recently with Elizabeth to learn more about her.
Civic Nebraska: Thanks for taking the time to tell us about yourself. We’re excited that you’ve joined our Board of Directors – it’s so important for our organization to have a wide variety of experiences and perspectives. And speaking of, you have gotten plenty of both in your career. How did you find yourself working in Senator McCain’s office?
Elizabeth Everett: Well, for the longest time, I thought I was going to be a doctor. I don’t know if it was from watching a lot of Grey’s Anatomy, or what. But as it turned out, I didn’t care for the sight of blood, so I found myself becoming interested in other topics. I was studying at Vanderbilt University and got an internship in Senator McCain’s office between my junior and senior years. That’s where I really got a chance to read and learn about legislation, to do a lot of research into how it happens, and, frankly, learn about our history in general. I thought I knew a lot about U.S. history, but when you’re right there, it means a lot more. Two days after finishing my senior year at Vanderbilt, I went back to DC to continue my work for Senator McCain as a member of his staff.
You did a lot for both the Senator and the Senate Armed Forces Committee. Did you always have an interest in veterans’ affairs and national defense?
I was open to any opportunity to learn policy, but veterans’ affairs was a policy area that I wanted to help with as much as I could. You may remember, five or six years ago, the national stories about veterans not receiving access to timely health care. The issue came to light in Phoenix and Senator McCain spearheaded the response. Along with a number of people in the office, I was fortunate to work on the Veteran’s Access Choice and Accountability Act and the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which were very rewarding and exciting. It was frustrating to see our veterans not being taken care of – they served their country, why couldn’t they get the help they need? It also helped that my husband comes from a military family and served in the United States Marine Corps. In fact, he was deployed during that yearlong (policy) process.
You have really had remarkable experience in the political arena, especially so early in your career.
I can’t express enough how many opportunities that office gave me to grow. I learned that if you’re willing to learn and willing to work, you can make a difference. If you try as hard as you can and get support where you need it, you can make change happen.
I want young people to know, especially these days in such a partisan climate, that hard work can and will pay off. Just get involved. People always put down politics, but it’s probably the most effective way to make lasting, sustained, institutional changes in any single facet of our lives.
How does that philosophy play into your work with First Five Nebraska?
Obviously, early childhood is very different from foreign policy and defense. But early childhood really sits at the intersection of business, policy and innovation. We focus on quality early learning environments for every child in Nebraska – every child should have the opportunity to excel from the very beginning. For those who don’t have great support systems in place, the transition to elementary school can be harder. That shouldn’t be the case; everyone should have equal opportunity to excel.
There’s a connection to how it relates to our state’s economic development. I talk with business leaders, Chambers of Commerce, and others around the state to explain why early childhood is so important, provide them with resources and models, and connect them to services for where they live. You grow both your current and future workforce through early childhood development by building skills and talents at the very beginning of their lives. That’s why early childhood development is not just an education issue; it’s an economic development and workforce issue, too.
How did you learn about Civic Nebraska?
I found out about the organization shortly after I first moved to Nebraska. Obviously, I had a network in DC and in New York, where we spent a very short time after leaving Washington. In building a new network from the ground up, I was referred to Civic Nebraska to learn more about what it did to serve the state. I came away very impressed.
What are some things that impressed you?
I like the fact it’s a nonpartisan organization focused on civic growth and democracy – especially youth engagement. Going back to my own story, I do like that I thought about becoming a doctor but then realized I wanted to do policy. But I wonder if my direction could have changed, had I had that opportunity to be more involved at a younger age. I appreciate what Civic Nebraska is doing in that regard.
Also, the growth and momentum of this organization is particularly impressive. It is constantly moving forward. It seems that Civic Nebraska is willing and seeking to work with many different groups that are doing good things in Nebraska. Last, I appreciate (Executive Director) Adam (Morfeld)’s energy and enthusiasm. You can tell a lot about an organization and where it’s going by its leadership. There’s a strong mission and I appreciate how the board fits into it. That is, I didn’t want to just be a board member of any organization. Civic Nebraska seeks input from board members; it wants direct contact and help. It’s a good fit for me.
We’re glad to have you, for sure. And Nebraska is lucky to have you here.
I really like Nebraska. I’ll be honest, it took some convincing to move here – I wasn’t sure if there would be opportunities for someone like me. But I’ve certainly found otherwise.
I would love to run for office one day. I also have an MBA that focused on impact investing, corporate responsibility, and social enterprise work. I’d love to fill that niche someday in the future. I like the idea of investing in companies and organizations and not only getting a financial return, but a social return as well. I really enjoy First Five Nebraska and I’m happy to contribute to my community and our state in whatever ways I can. The best piece of advice I ever got was “Just work hard in the job you have now. Always work hard to make a difference, and then be open to whatever opportunities lie ahead.” I’ll see where that takes me.