When we talk about kids in our state, we know the needs are vast and wide – as vast and wide as our state itself. As a statewide organization it is so important that we look at the unique needs of kids in all parts of Nebraska, both rural and urban.
Part of my goal over this year has been to get out across the state and meet with folks and get a sense of what the issues, challenges, and opportunities are in communities across the state.
I know the challenges are different in different communities. I’ve traveled across our state before and learned the same lesson. Yet it is so easy to forget and get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the big city. I jump in my car and drive 10 minutes to be across town or take a quick 45 minute drive to be in Lincoln. Living in the urban/suburban bubble makes it easy to forget that not all places have service systems and community agencies so nearby.
Our state has a land area of 77,354 sq mi and a population of 1.8 million – but the two are not distributed evenly. Each state senator represents approximately the same number of constituents, but there is a vast difference in the land area they represent. This means, in many districts, the travel distance between communities and towns can be huge and resources and services can be very spread out.
Just look at the Legislative Map below. District 9 in Omaha too small to see on the map. It is less than 4 miles wide and takes maybe 10 minutes to drive across (if you hit all of the stoplights on Dodge!). In contrast, District 47 stretches from Ogallala to the Wyoming border, covering about 200 miles and is a 3-hour drive.
This concept was brought home on my recent trip to Scottsbluff (Legislative District 48) and Ogallala (Legislative District 47). Listening to school professionals, social workers, volunteers, community members, DHHS workers, county attorneys and probation officers share their passion for the kids and families they serve was inspiring. The theme of “we learn how to do more with less” was evident as they shared the unique challenges of serving children in communities where services may be few, and the distances wide. I found myself in awe of the collaborative spirit of the people I met with, and how they simply get things done.
I also left with clarity on just how these unique differences affect children and families and the communities in which they live. I have a clearer picture on the importance of representing “ALL KIDS” and telling the “WHOLE STORY” of Nebraska’s kids – both rural and urban. These stories share similarities and yet come with their own unique challenges, issues and opportunities. But regardless of where one lives, what affects one, affects us all.
So my shout out this week goes to “The spirit of Western Nebraska.” This “spirit” will forever be embedded in my heart. Being back in Omaha, I realize I’m missing the hay, the tractors, the open western sky, the sunsets, the lightning storms, the windmills, and the people I met. I have returned with a renewed understanding of just how important the success of children, families and communities from all areas of the state is to all of Nebraska.