Nebraska communities, large and small, all have their challenges — sometimes, really big challenges. How encouraging it is, then, when residents come together to find a solution.
The community of Cody in north central Nebraska provides an impressive example.
Like many small Nebraska communities, Cody lacked a grocery store. That meant 90-minute round trips to Valentine. It also meant local school officials grew concerned because some parents were passing up sending their children to the Cody-Kilgore schools, opting instead for Valentine, with its greater retail offerings.
But things changed for the better, in spectacular fashion, after a brainstorming session at the Cody-Kilgore schools asked an important question: Would it be possible for folks in Cody to start their own grocery?
It turned out the answer was yes — and the Circle C Market, built by local volunteers and now stocked with 1,500 items, has been a notable community success.
A key bonus is that the Circle C Market, which opened in May 2013, is operated by Cody-Kil- gore students. Todd Chessmore, the Cody-Kilgore schools superintendent, calls the store a “learning laboratory” where students learn real-world business skills and strengthen their connections to their hometown.
The grocery is among the success stories highlighted at the website for Nebraska Entrepreneurship, an initiative of the University of Nebraska.
What the people of Cody have achieved is a sterling example of what can be accomplished in Nebraska through creative thinking and community collaboration.
Starting a grocery store is no easy task, but through patience, dedication and cooperative planning, it happened. A student-run nonprofit called Cowboy GRIT (Growing, Revitalizing, Investing and Teaching) stepped up and worked with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission on leasing the land for the store.
Important support came in grant form from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Sherwood Foundation, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and local donations.
As events in Cody shows, size needn’t be an obstacle to small communities’ ability to get things done. A few other examples:
>> Residents in Odell, in the southeastern corner of Nebraska, came together to renovate the 1929 Rice Hospital, converting it into a bed and breakfast inn and conference center operated by local volunteers.
>> Wisner, in northeast Nebraska, raised $70,000 for local community projects through its Thunder by the River tractor pull, which last year drew some 13,000 spectators.
>> Aurora, one of Nebraska’s most vigorous small cities, has pioneered remarkable use of home-grown foundations and nonprofits, going back to the 1950s. That community vision has resulted in projects including a library, a museum, an educational center, a leadership center, a community center, a hospital expansion and independent living facilities.
The can-do attitude of Nebraska communities demonstrates itself in all corners of the state. Nebraska’s future will be secure as long as its communities embrace such optimism and a collaborative spirit.