I want you to picture this. Individuals willing to invest their life’s energy into building and sustaining community life. Catalysts emerging from across sectors, leveraging roles and relationships to enhance the quality of life in the places they call home. Their presence can make the difference between a place where people live near one another, and one where people connect.

In smaller communities, these individuals often become targets and experience high burnout. The Sherwood Foundation developed the Catalyst program to invite change agents into groups, to provide connections, leadership training, self-care training and other opportunities as needs arise for the group. It also provides funding for the participants to create an Individual Development Plan (IDP), with the goal of bringing back new skills to one’s organization and community, and keeping them engaged. From my perspective, this program is building a great connection of skills in rural Nebraska. This is an 18-month to 2-year commitment. Some of the Catalyst groups have topics, and some evolve. I am in group CAT 14, and our topic has evolved into communities, connections, leadership and self-care. The program has given me invaluable connections and skills, and I’d like to extend a thank you to the Sherwood Foundation for inviting me to participate.

The IDP is intended to provide training which is otherwise unattainable. My IDP has included the Advanced Economic Development Leadership Master Practitioner program, along with a professional coach. The AEDL program topics included an Emergentics Profile, and sessions about learning your leadership skills from having a better understanding of your core personality along with what makes you itchy; effective negotiation strategies; how values create an agency of change; strategic plans (good/bad/ugly); leadership in the new age of economic development; leadership changes; creativity innovation and job creation; the challenges of innovation in manufacturing and the impact on future job creation; the critical importance of technology company incubation and job creation; restructuring the traditional economic development recruiting process with business model canvas; changing job creation strategies – thinking five years from now; the economic developer’s role in education excellence; Foreign Direct Investment and International Trade; effective media communications, and speaking/presentations. The insights I gained from AEDL class exceeded my expectations for the program. The level of expertise and knowledge of not only the presenters but of my classmates, created a hands-on learning experience that was incredibly beneficial.

My coach, Ginger Johnson, has no experience in economic development, and that’s one of the reasons I chose her. I connected with her because of her thoughts on connecting with a service mindset, and honestly, I valued someone that could talk though self-care with me. From her, I’m learning the balance between my passion for home and work. I’ve developed a model of building a better future by bringing positive energy to all my endeavors. I’ve learned that if she doesn’t understand what I’m talking about, then I need to dial my energy down and rethink the issue or topic I’m trying to describe. I have to give her kudos, as she’s done what my husband’s being trying to do for over 20 years. The TV is off at 8, and shockingly, it really does make a difference on sleep quality!

I have stretched my skills through meetings, trainings, my cohorts’ support, recommended reading, and my coach. I have started working on improving my video skills, as some of you may have seen if you follow our Facebook or LinkedIn pages. My group of change agents challenges each other, asks questions, gives feedback during our check-ins, and keeps each other accountable. For myself, being more balanced, along with learning additional communication and leadership skills, has allowed me to handle potentially charged situations. I pay more attention to others’ perspectives and subtle body language. I’ve learned when to bring in a facilitator for a discussion, instead of being the facilitator. It has taught me that sometimes I need to take a back seat to observe and listen before I lead, and to sometimes create a ‘safe’ place for a conversation (‘Crucial Conversations’ by Kerry Patterson). I have also identified items at YCDC and even my life where I am slowly starting to make some changes. I’m learning to delegate, and that sometimes people need those delegations in different communication formats.

As a result of being a participant in this program, and a connection, I was invited to apply for funds to bring in Deb Brown with SaveYour.Town for a 3-day embedded community experience, and many community members participated in this. I love to see organizations and people running with ideas. One such idea is the One County One Calendar which was launched recently. Anther was getting youth involved in boards and community discussions, and I’m happy to see that York Mayor Redfern has started a Youth City Council group. There are other projects people are working on, and while it’s wonderful for YCDC not to be involved in everything, I have also learned YCDC needs to share when projects that come out of initiatives such as the SaveYour.Town or the Marketing Hometown America. This is challenging for me to be honest, because I don’t want people to think YCDC is taking credit where it’s not due.

Now to wrap this together, imagine this. People from Greater Nebraska, who have expanded their skills and formed deep connections stay in rural Nebraska and make a difference in their many communities moving forward. Our connections, supporting each other, and continuing to learn are critical as we move York County and Nebraska forward in the future. Nebraskans are known for supporting each other, and this is another way of doing it. I know of five other people in York County who are starting their journey in this program, including Deb Heskett from YCDC. If you are ever invited to participate in this program, I highly encourage you to consider it. I am more relaxed and balanced for my family, YCDC, our communities, and the boards I serve on. My journey is not finished, and I’m excited to see what is in the future.


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