NEBRASKA CITY – Over 70 Nebraskan Citians vowed their commitment to the town’s progress at the conclusion of the two-day Prosperity Initiative meeting held at the Lied Lodge Conference Center on Friday.
Doug Friedli said it was great to see over 100 people attend sessions Thursday and Friday, where they were challenged to three times bolder.
Friedli: “We heard a lot of great passions of people. We’ve got lots of needs, but also opportunities in Nebraska City. What I heard as everybody went around the circle is what they are willing to spend their time and efforts on and passions to address some of these big issues facing Nebraska City.”
Citizens want 24 hour day care, an early childhood development program, robust housing, jobs and riverfront development. Also a focus was community-wide connections.
Information brought out at the two-day meeting included an increase in the city’s latino and Hispanic population by 116 percent over the past decade, more than twice the state growth rate.
Librarian Denise Davis said the initiative left her feeling both blessed and challenged.
Davis: “I guess my challenge would be each one, meet one. Many of you know that I’m bilingual and I’m doing a lot to engage the latino community here in town. I guess I’m blessed because I have the language, but that’s not to keep any of you from going to El Mercandito or anywhere and just saying hello and greeting and meeting.”
Cindy Meyer of Southeast Community College said connections is also a factor for people living in poverty. Initiative documents say the poverty rate in Nebraska City is 15 percent, higher than surrounding communities and the statewide rate of 11 percent.
Meyer: “Along the idea of the, kind of shocking figures with the poverty numbers, we live right here in the same community and don’t really know what’s happening next door or down the street. One of the things we feel strongly about is that we need to change the way we think about low-income families and minorities and the fact that they are an untapped asset rather than a burden on our taxes and our services. They all have talents and intelligence and lots of things they can contribute.”
Mayor Bryan Bequette said he was impressed with the idea that Nebraska City should set it’s goals bigger, rather than smaller.
Bequette: “Sometimes we think well if we do this small project, we’ll get people on and we’ll see success and we can do another project and another project. Maybe we’ve been thinking of projects that are too small to start us on that path.”
He noted a feeling of frustration. Nebraska City was once the largest settlement in the Nebraska Territory, but its population peaked in 1890. Other issues involving economics and quality of life linger.
Bequette: “As the old saying goes, information without transformation leads to frustration. We’re talking about housing. We were talking about housing 25 years ago. We talk about increased infrastructure for the city, especially Highway 75. If it was four lanes down that would increase another avenue for us just like we have west to Lincoln. So, there’s frustration that things like those have been going on so long and have been discussed, but it also shows that you need to keep going and chip away at it.”
Melissa Turner said she feels the meeting is leaving a sense of collaboration in its wake.
Turner: “Collaboration and being able to have all of these people in one room, representing all different areas of our community. Yes, there are more people that we need to get involved, but this is just starting the ripple effect of change that I really feel coming to Nebraska City.”
Extension Educator Rex Nelson said there are a number of projects he could work on professionally, but he joined the voices ready to address poverty issues.
Nelson: “I’m moved by the opportunity to work in helping people break the cycle of poverty and really having an impact in people’s lives.”
Economic Developer Dan Mauk said the meeting encourages collaboration and follow-up on ideas.