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It's Always the Season to Serve Others in Nebraska

The holiday season is full of examples of Nebraskans taking the time to help one another.

Just think of the bells we hear and the red Salvation Army buckets we see at the entrances of the stores where we run our daily errands. The toy drives and free meals offered by organizations like People's City Mission in Lincoln to Nebraskans who've fallen on hard times. Or the clothing donations and the outreach to the lonely and shut-ins that are put on by the diverse communities of faith across our state.

The holiday season is full of examples of Nebraskans taking the time to help one another. But in our state, the spirit of serving others is present year-round. In fact, it's Nebraskans' dedication to selflessness that puts the "good" in the Good Life.

At the State, we've worked to instill that spirit in the many programs meant to help our neighbors and friends who are struggling. We don't just want to give Nebraskans temporary relief. We want to equip them with resources and training needed to sustain themselves and their families long-term. 

In 2016, we launched SNAP Next Step with the goal of helping Nebraskans participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in their search to find new or better employment. Nebraskans who participate in this program receive job search coaching, interview preparation, and help with resume writing as they pursue financial security. Since the program's launch, we've been able to help 363 Nebraskans complete the program and reach their employment goals.

That's made a huge difference in their lives. Those who complete SNAP Next Step have an average increase in income of $2,100 a month. That's more than $25,000 per year. As a result, 60% of these participants are no longer in need of SNAP benefits. And the benefits aren't just financial, since participants also improve their quality of life. For example, many now work more predictable hours, which allows them to spend more time with their families. This includes a Nebraska woman named April, who credited SNAP Next Step with providing the accountability, structure, and resources needed to complete an Associate's Degree and find a great job here in the state.

The success of SNAP Next Step has helped us launch another innovative program that helps struggling Nebraskans rise: Ignite Nebraska.

Through Ignite Nebraska, the State has partnered with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE) and Bellevue University to offer meaningful career development opportunities for working Nebraskans who are underrepresented in higher-paying, high-impact industries like IT. Participants engage in a paid six-to-nine-month training program, where they learn the skills needed to gain full employment in an in-demand field. Those who complete the program are guaranteed a full-time job.

Ignite Nebraska launched in February 2022 and has since graduated its inaugural class. One of those graduates is Laura Croswell. Laura recently shared her story at an event highlighting the program. In her words, "As a single mom of two, I worked job after job just to put food on the table for my kids. Ignite has allowed me to excel in a career where my pay reflects the talents I've developed. Ignite has invested in me and helped me provide my children with financial stability for years to come."

While the existing program is focused on developing IT professionals, there is potential to expand the model to other in-demand fields across the state. I encourage any business looking to expand its workforce and help its community to consider taking part in Ignite Nebraska (visit Nebraskablue.com/ignite to learn more).

Creating new partnerships and developing innovative models to serve Nebraskans has helped us deliver other meaningful improvements to people across the state year-round. For example:

• In May, we sought applications for the 2022 Developing Youth Talent Initiative (DYTI) grants. Since 2015, the State has facilitated partnerships between businesses and schools to expose middle schoolers to the rewarding careers we have here in Nebraska. This fall, we announced this year's DYTI partners: MetalQuest in Hebron and 21st Century Equipment in the panhandle. These companies introduce students to manufacturing, industrial robotics, coding, and precision agriculture. Overall, our DYTI grants have made a difference in the lives of 27,000 students across 66 Nebraska school districts.  

• In August, we signed a memorandum of understanding with Western Governor's University. Through this partnership, we are expanding access to affordable, high-quality degree programs for the roughly 306,000 Nebraskans who have some college credits but no bachelor's degree. This will allow them to take the next step in their careers while continuing to earn a living for their families.

• In November, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Nebraska worked with the State and community partners to announce a $5.4 million, multi-year investment in the Creighton University Community Collaborative Program. That will provide funding to community-based organizations in North and South Omaha to help address the biggest health challenges facing those communities. These and similar investments help target Medicaid dollars to address the needs of Nebraskans in innovative ways. 

It's Always the Season to Serve Others in Nebraska No matter what holiday traditions you observe, I hope you find meaning in the season of giving, of charity, and of peace and "good will toward men." Know that here in state government, we will continue that spirit of service year-round for all Nebraskans. If you would like to learn more about our efforts to help every Nebraskan succeed, you can email me at [email protected] or call 402-471-2244.

 

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