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Learning at the Nebraska Table: Reflections on my first months as a Weitz Fellow

My name is Madeleine Parr (she/her) and I am the current Weitz Fellow and Communications Specialist at the Nebraska Civic Engagement Table. The Weitz Fellowship, a program funded by the Weitz Family Foundation, provides recent graduates with opportunities to build professional experience and support the work of nonprofits in Nebraska in expanding their capacity. Since starting in September, I have been working with the communications team to uplift the work of the Nebraska Table’s Member organizations and advocate for causes that support the needs of Nebraskans. Originally, I am from St. Paul, Minnesota, and moved to Omaha to work with the Nebraska Table, so the last several months have been dominated by figuring out ways to become more engaged in new communities and learning about the place I am now calling home.

Much of my learning about civic engagement opportunities has grown out of my responsibilities in my role as the Communications Specialist. I write many of the Nebraska Table newsletters, which include finding upcoming events hosted by our Member organizations and various community resources that support the diverse efforts of our Member’s. Additionally, I have been able to speak with several Member organizations to learn more about the critical work they are doing in their respective communities. These conversations highlight not only the diverse, and incredible work being done by non profit community organizations in Nebraska but also showcase the passion and knowledge of the people driving these efforts forward. 

One of the projects I am supporting is the newest season of our podcast “Seat at the Nebraska Table.” Each podcast episode covers a pertinent topic relating to civic engagement in Nebraska presented through conversation with experts. In both preparing and listening to these conversations I am getting to learn about how topics such as redlining, the legislative process, and voting rights impact communities in Nebraska specifically. Stay tuned for the release of our first episodes! 

One of my favorite parts as a Weitz Fellow so far has been attending sessions of our Lobby School program, as well as the Weekly Nonprofit Advocacy Calls that we host in collaboration with the Coalition for a Strong Nebraska and the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands. Through these opportunities, I am learning about grassroots lobbying and the particularities of Nebraska’s unique Unicameral which, previously, I had a fairly limited understanding of. It was particularly interesting to attend the first day of the legislative session on January 3rd of this year with Lobby School and learn more about testifying at hearings and the use of legislative rules in debate. Prior to beginning work with the Nebraska Table, advocating for Legislative change with Senators and local representatives all seemed very abstract and unattainable. However, my greatest takeaway so far as I continue to learn and get more involved has been how overwhelmingly human and accessible the process is. I am excited to continue following along with the session and keep learning to advocate for policy in the Legislature that creates positive change for communities in Nebraska. 

A big thank you to everyone at the Nebraska Table and the Weitz Family Foundation for this opportunity to learn and gain professional and personal experience! I am excited to continue engaging and growing in this role. 

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