This February, Heartland Workers Center was awarded a Civic Engagement Fund grant through the Nebraska Table. The Civic Engagement Fund is available to Nebraska Table member organizations working in grassroots lobbying, community connect, or Get Out The Vote efforts. In addition to funding, our team provides core support in organizing, data, and communications to grant recipients to help build out and sustain programs. Heartland Workers Center operates on three pillars: workers' rights, civic engagement, and leadership development. Janeth Cano, Director of Programs and Training at Heartland Workers Center, shares that the communities they serve are starting to make their mark by being financially independent and setting goals beyond what their parents or family were able to do.
"We want to share the message that a leader isn't only someone who wants to lead people behind them. You can start by being a leader within yourself. That innately is going to inspire someone else and then people will follow because of the impact you make and because of how you lead your own way," said Cano.
Heartland Workers Center is excited to be forming partnerships because it's a community effort. Cano shares that it's not Heartland Workers Center coming in and saying, 'hey, you should get involved.' The organization wants this to come from the community so that there's more buy-in and intrinsic motivation.
"We're not going to do everything and just have people come along for the ride; we want the community to be involved. We want them to be a part of building everything that we're doing because at the end of the day, everything that happens, they're the ones that are also going to feel the effect of it. And so we want them to know, you're a part of [these programs] because it impacts you and your family and the people around you," said Cano.
Heartland Workers Center is addressing the feeling of mystery surrounding the Legislature by increasing the involvement of its staff members at the Capitol. Cano shared that many people view the State Capitol as intimidating and scary, especially for those who come from countries where the government is not seen as accessible. So Heartland Workers Center brought all of its organizers on a tour of the State Capitol to listen to hearings and be a part of what was happening. Based on the feedback from the organizers, there was a complete change of mentality for them.
"They were amazed that it was so welcoming and that people were nice and wanted to talk to them. They got a tour with one of the senators and talked to some of the people that work there. And then they were just like, 'they're people just like us, and they're just doing their job,' and we're like, yeah, that's it!" said Cano.
Cano explains that going to the Capitol shouldn't be scary and should be something powerful and empowering. Heartland Workers Center is focusing on making this experience more relatable. Future programs may include more frequent tours of the State Capitol with organizers, community leaders, and other organizations. The organization would also like to focus on Nebraska's youth when it comes to civic engagement. Cano says that youth have the power and will but need guidance to expand their leadership skills. This program would focus on youth leaders and organizers who can network with each other about issues they care about most. With the 2024 election on the horizon, Cano said it would be essential to rely on youth organizers. This program would also look at trickle-down effects in leadership and being mentors to others.
“It's awesome to know that organizations are actively doing this, like the Nebraska Table with this Civic Engagement Fund. They're walking the walk, talking the talk, they're being engaged, and they offer many opportunities that we can use for programs that we know we could also have their support if we needed," Cano said. A new round of funding for Nebraska Table member nonprofits will be available soon through our Civic Engagement Fund.