Last month I wrote an article looking at the ways communities can be successful, and I chose Hartington, Nebraska, as an example. Several factors make me think this is a community that is going to make it, and youth-driven leadership is one.

Years ago the Center for Rural Affairs partnered with Hartington in a community development effort called Project Hope. The project identified the community’s youth and how to work with them as an overlooked community capacity. As an outcome, three entities – city fathers, economic development, and the Chamber of Commerce – decided to ask young people to join their Boards.

Project HOPE also helped to create two energized community youth groups. The Junction Youth Group formed to promote a youth center located, ironically, in the basement of the Senior Center. They wanted to create an after-school environment that allowed students to relax and get their homework done. This group still attends an annual leadership forum and works with the community on a variety of projects.

LEAP, Leaders Energizing Activities in Partnership, was created by Hartington youth and Cedar County Extension under the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Members were chosen by school administrations in Hartington, public and private. Selections were based on high standards of character, leadership, involvement in school, and dedication to various community activities. Many of those selected were also on the Junction Youth group.

The main purpose of both groups was to involve more young people in the community, and the overall goal was to create an environment that would allow youth to participate on governing boards of various community groups. The success of this effort has allowed youth to be active with the Chamber of Commerce, economic development, city council, and the library board. Due to the success of both groups in Hartington, the community won an award at the annual recognition in Nebraska called the Nebraska Community Improvement Program (NCIP).

One of the biggest obstacles in creating these community youth groups is to make sure they are created with the good intentions of allowing growth to occur for all. Youth do not want to just serve the community. They want to be part of the community’s leadership and future. Hartington learned that lesson and showed why they are successful.

Contact: Michael L. Holton for information, or 402.687.2100.