For the last decade or so, two words have caused considerable heartburn for midwestern cities and towns. And while there has been a ferocious push recently to combat this gut-wrenching trend, the problem is still very relevant.
According to the Economist: “Although the depopulation of America’s ‘heartland’ is well-known, the internal redistribution of educated professionals (so-called ‘brain drain’) poses new economic, social and political difficulties for affected areas.”
So, how can a thriving and progressive city like Omaha go from a brain drain to a brain gain?
Growing Home is a new initiative of the Greater Omaha Chamber to connect diverse students who are attending a Historically Black College or University (HBCU), out-of-state institution, or in-state institution but want to continue building their network and exploring work opportunities in Omaha.
“Thinking about Growing Home makes me work a little harder,” said Malachi O’Neal, an Omaha North High School graduate who attends Jackson State University, majoring in Civil Engineering.
“It means giving young people from Omaha guidance so they can grow and build the foundation to blaze their own path.”
Kori Bullard, who graduated from Omaha Westside and now attends Lincoln University Missouri, echoed O’Neal’s sentiment. “The program is amazing. I was able to meet other students like myself who share the same goals that I have. I’ve maintained those relationships as well. Now, we bounce ideas and current experiences off each other.”
With Growing Home, students receive professional development training and mentorship from Omaha professionals and get connected to internship opportunities in Omaha over their summer break.
“The Omaha community has supported me physically and financially in multiple ways,” said DaNya Horne, an Omaha North High Magnet School graduate. “Programs like Urban League, Growing Home, and Girls Inc. are all communities of people that have inspired and believed in me.”
Horne is a Biology Pre-Med major who attends the Xavier University of Louisiana. “Whether it was at a community service event or coming back to talk to students who needed a little motivation, it meant a lot to me. Omaha will always be my home, and I will forever be grateful for the opportunities it’s provided me with.”
Mentorship matters. Knowing how to network and properly market oneself matters. Understanding the importance of investing youthful ambitions and passions into the local community matters.
A recent study by the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee concurred: “One worry is that if a state cannot convince its most skilled children to remain within its borders as adults, then the state will suffer from the loss of this ‘homegrown’ talent.”
“The networking is huge. I’m able to call people that are in my field and ask questions so I can get an insight about the jobs available and the process to apply,” said O’Neal.
With the mentorship of Growing Home, students are more prepared to tackle their industry of choice with a gusto.
“My future career goals is to be a Civil Engineer and to work in real estate as well,” said Bullard. “My mentor (Mynesha Spencer) is truly amazing! She introduced me to so many people and career paths. I’ve given her my thoughts on what I what to do career-wise and she has given me her thoughts on how I can make it happen!”
For young people, the profound impact of having the opportunity to work with cultural icons, many of whom grew up in the same communities and neighborhoods, cannot be understated.
“All of the other members of the program I either went to high school with or grew up with in the same town,” said Horne. “It’s motivational to see representation of yourself in higher positions.”
“I will be attending the University of Southern California to obtain my doctorate in physical therapy. This mentorship provided me the opportunity to meet with a health professional and my other minority peers to inspire me to work in the health field.”
Ultimately, Growing Home has also clarified that the west and east coasts need to have a stranglehold on opportunities for young professionals. There’s an enormous sense of pride in taking a passion and using it to improve the lives and livelihood of those in your local community.
“It’s important to stay connected to the Omaha community because Omaha is my home and always will be,” said Bullard. “Growing Home has helped facilitate that by fostering relationships between fellow college students that I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise.”