KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Civic pride can help spur residents to good health, a philanthropy expert told a group of nonprofit officials Tuesday.
If I feel good about my community’s future, said Jeff Yost, chief executive of the Nebraska Community Foundation, “I’m going to be a lot more likely to take care of myself, I’m a whole lot more likely to eat right, I’m a whole lot more likely to exercise, I’m a whole lot more likely to be disciplined within my life about the amount of sleep I get, the amount I drink, all these sorts of things.”
Yost spoke to about 25 officials and funders during a meeting focused on how to convince townspeople to reinvest more in their hometowns. He said his foundation has encouraged reinvestment of $97 million in Nebraska communities within the past five years.
Much of the discussion centered on preserving rural areas, such as northwest Missouri. But organizers said many of the issues — such as losing grocery stores and businesses — apply to the urban core as well.
“It’s on and on, the similarities that exist between the two,” said Andres Dominguez, a program officer with the Health Forward Foundation.
Dominguez is also chair of the KC Funders Forum for Communities for All Ages, the group that sponsored Tuesday’s meeting.
The gathering wrapped up five years of work by the group, said Cathy Boyer-Shesol, project manager for KC Communities for All Ages, a Mid-America Regional Council initiative funded through local and national grants.
Having hosted about 10 events since 2009, Boyer-Shesol said, the intent was to raise awareness among funders that as the number of elderly grows, suitable transportation and housing for them are becoming critical concerns.
The program on Tuesday, she said, aimed to give those who heard it ideas on how to fund those needs.
Community planners and advocates for seniors argue that amenities that allow “aging in place,” such as good public transportation, benefit people of all ages. The concept is also part of the “smart growth” movement.
When it comes to maintaining community wealth, Yost said, many moving parts fit together.
Well-rounded communities can entice younger natives to return home — often with their spouse and kids in tow — if they have left for college. That not only rejuvenates the community, he said, but it can also convince grandparents to stay put instead of moving elsewhere to be close to their children and grandchildren.
Then, the senior citizens are more likely to bequeath their estates to community causes.
Continuing the loop, he said, some of the bequests might go toward activities that feed economic development, such as technical assistance for entrepreneurs or college scholarships aimed specifically at helping tradesmen or service workers advance their skills.
One example, he said, was helping a licensed nurse become a registered nurse.
“Capital flows to certainty,” Yost said. “People are going to be more interested in investing, either privately or philanthropically, in a place they feel has a brighter future.”
He urged the audience members to adopt an “attitude of abundance” by focusing on the amount of wealth available in their communities, rather than harping on the scarcity of dollars from other sources.
Similarly, he said, an emphasis on estate giving does not mean nonprofits must forego raising money for current needs.
“We are going to make the pie bigger,” he said.
The Nebraska Community Foundation has calculated that more than $600 billion will likely transfer from one generation to the next in the state during the next 50 years.
Missouri’s 10 community foundations commissioned similar research, and according to the March report, transfer of wealth opportunity in Missouri totals about $1.5 trillion during the next 50 years.
Capturing just 5 percent of the available wealth for community philanthropy during the next decade, the report said, would equate to about $6.75 billion.
Mary Hinde, chief executive of the Community Foundation of Northwest Missouri, helped bring the foundations together as the Alliance of Missouri Community Foundations.
In northwest Missouri, she said, champions of community cooperation and investment have coined the phrase “rural regional vitality.”
When, she said, “you have arts options, you have health options, you have education options — and we include quality of life — then we have a vibrant, healthy community.”