A Tale of Two (Not-So-Different) Cities

By Jamie Carson, Carson+Co Global, Nonprofit Hub Member

Walking in downtown Washington, DC — our family’s home of about six years — you experience many things. First, there’s the overwhelming number of people wearing suits. There’s city noise from the Metro tunnels under the sidewalk and honking cabs to boot. This time of year, you see Cherry Blossoms in full bloom; the air smells fresh with a hint of the budding trees.

You hear people in conversation passing by you talking to colleagues or friends, sometimes on a cell phone, and oftentimes their language isn’t English. You’d hear everything from Arabic and Chinese to French, Spanish and even Swahili to name a few. You see people walking their dogs; in city-center DC, the dogs have about a two-by-two-foot section of grass to do their thing.

The city is loud, it’s complex; it’s beautiful.

To flourish in a community and experience its beauty, engaging with your neighbors must take place authentically. Cities around the world are becoming more culturally diverse and technologically advanced. How do you communicate and engage? Do you give to your community? And do you do so authentically?

This may come as a surprise, but the answer isn't social media and more technology. It's actually getting out and interacting with your culturally diverse city.

Since moving home to Lincoln about a year ago, I’ve noticed several similarities between the city of DC and good ol’ Lincoln. One in particular is the increasingly global feel of Lincoln including access to international grocery markets and restaurants. In Lincoln, we have refugees and immigrants who speak 96 languages from countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Burma, Sudan, Syria, and more, according to Bryan Seck, Employment Skills Developer with Prosper Lincoln. Seck has lived in more than 10 cities in the US, and abroad in Kazakhstan, Russia and Spain.

Lincoln’s cultural centers include, for example, the Asian Center, El Centro, Islamic Foundation, the Malone Center and Yazda. Two faith-based nonprofit organizations, Lutheran Family Services and Catholic Social Services, provide case management and support for all refugees assigned to the Lincoln area. Seck notes that Lincoln also has many secondary refugees that left their assigned city to come to Lincoln to be with family or to take advantage of the many jobs available. In addition, Lincoln Literacy and Southeast Community College provide the bulk of the English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for adults to achieve functional and employment-based English.

Here in Lincoln, we are continuously becoming a more global city. Our neighbors, new and old, are all making Lincoln the beautiful place that it is. Exposure to global cultures, food and people create a dynamic and well-rounded community. Communication and engagement is what threads our community together to make it into an elaborate piece of artwork. Thanks to community leaders, nonprofits and cultural centers, the city of Lincoln is developing a culture of authentic communications and engagement.

But it doesn’t stop there. Continuous support is needed to keep this momentum.

One of the assets of modern digital communications is the amount of information we can access on the Internet. For example, here in Lincoln and housed out of Nonprofit Hub is VolunteerLinc, a Lincoln and Lancaster County network for local service. According to Janet Chung, who serves on the VolunteerLinc team, there are hundreds of volunteer opportunities listed on VolunteerLinc.org at any given time. VolunteerLinc’s search engine can populate opportunities by agency name, interest, distance or age.

When it comes to volunteering, says Chung, “most people think of the volunteer opportunities with larger organizations such as the Food Bank of Lincoln, Salvation Army or Tabitha. VolunteerLinc also helps smaller organizations such as the Asian Community and Cultural Center, Fresh Start, Domesti-PUPS, Nebraska State Historical Society and Frank Woods Telephone Museum.”

A colleague, Vernée Norman, has this to say about Lincoln, “As a city, Lincoln could improve by helping others without seeking anything in return.”

Take a moment, and consider what that means through your lens. Norman argues, and I agree, that if we're honest, diversity and inclusion can be more of an afterthought than we would like to admit. This is somewhat due to how slowly some of our systems have adapted to new technologies and also the ever-increasing global influence in cities.

“It's too common to think of inviting someone along for the journey only after we're miles down the road, even if we always had the intention of including them,” Norman said.

As Lincoln continues to grow and change it reminds me more and more of DC. To continue the growth, more help than ever is needed to support organizations and initiatives that are leading the way to building a strong, dynamic community. Finding ways to give back or volunteer (check out VolunteerLinc or stop by Nonprofit Hub for a tour), or having a conversation with your neighbors is just one way we can create authentic engagement.

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Jamie Carson, CEO of Carson+Co Global (www.carsoncoglobal.com) and founder of the nonprofit Envirorun (www.envirorun.com), lives in Lincoln with her husband Derek, 1.5-year-old Max, and two cats Pike and Beck. Carson+Co, a communications agency based out of Nonprofit Hub, is a social enterprise business with a mission to advance access to impact in the environmental sector. Jamie and Carson+Co are two-year, Private Office members at Nonprofit Hub.

This article was originally published in Nonprofit Hub Magazine — Subscribe for free! | Back to the archives