Weekly Column

Apr 06 2020

Together Apart

Nebraskans are tough, resilient, and generous. Our strength of character is revealed on an everyday basis, but it’s especially illuminated during difficult times like we are facing right now with the COVID-19 pandemic. From distilleries and ethanol plants contributing to hand sanitizer production to school districts continuing to provide meals for students in need, the stories I have heard about Nebraskans’ collective response to this crisis are truly inspiring.

At a time when the news can often be disheartening, it is important to remember the selflessness and compassion of our citizens and our neighbors. To that end, I would like to share a few more of these incredible stories.

In Minden, Christmas came early this year. Known as the Christmas City, Minden is famous for the lights it hangs over the local courthouse dome and along nearby streets during the holidays. They usually turn them off on New Year’s Day, but City Administrator Matt Cederburg recently decided that residents could use a “ray of light” during these uncertain times and turned them back on. According to Matt, members of the community were tired of only hearing bad news, and they decided to do something about it. I couldn’t agree with this attitude more.

In an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19, senior living homes across the state have restricted visitors. But that hasn’t stopped family and friends from seeing their loved ones. Aksarben Village Senior Living in Omaha has seen a rise in “window visits,” where residents and visitors engage with one another through the home’s outside-facing windows. In one of these meetings, Omahan Kathy Dinkel’s grandsons connected a microphone to a speaker inside the home via Bluetooth so that their great-grandfather could hear them sing “You Are My Sunshine” and “Baby Shark,” among other songs.

With schools closed, Grand Island teachers have begun to read to their students over the Internet. Story Time Live, a new initiative by Grand Island Public Schools, allows teachers, administrators, counselors, and other school staff to read one or two books to students each night through Facebook Live. This has helped students to continue learning outside the classroom and given teachers the opportunity to keep doing what they love.

In Hastings, Longfellow Elementary School has converted old newspaper vending machines into learning material dispensers. Once a week, students can walk up to the dispenser for their grade level and take out their weekly learning packet, just as you would a newspaper.

And in Gering, a group of teachers and school administrators honked and waved at their students as they participated in an impromptu drive-by parade through students’ neighborhoods.

These are hard economic times and many families, businesses, and communities are struggling. But Nebraskans are rising to the occasion to help those in need. When their food pantry was running low, the Kearney Salvation Army received over $7,500 in donations, with over $4,000 coming in the first 24 hours. They operate on a monthly budget, and without that money, they likely would have had to close for the month of April.

Members of the University of Nebraska at Kearney wrestling team are volunteering with Hot Meals USA, a Kearney-based nonprofit, to deliver free meals and groceries to residents. Among them are Anthony Mancini and Matt Malcolm, two friends who have spent multiple days volunteering for the organization. Even more impressively, Anthony is donating his time despite recently undergoing surgery for a torn ACL. Thanks to people like Matt and Anthony, Hot Meals USA had served over 10,500 meals throughout Kearney as of March 31.

These are just a few stories that demonstrate the strength, innovation, and character of our people. We have seen similar stories, and so many others, across all Nebraska communities. Things may be hard now, but Nebraskans are finding ways to bring our communities together while social distancing is keeping us apart. Now, perhaps more than ever, I am proud to be from our great state.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.