The Buffett Early Childhood Institute’s latest listening tour brought staff to central Nebraska, where two growing communities are trying to expand and improve their child care offerings.
Through these tours
, Walter Gilliam, the Institute’s executive director, and Institute staff are listening to community members and learning about their early childhood challenges and successes. It’s also a way for Gilliam, who began leading the Institute in March 2023, to introduce himself to and strengthen relationships with community leaders across Nebraska.
In October, Gilliam and Ally Freeman and Erica Sesay, the Institute’s director and associate director of communications, visited Gothenburg and Lexington. In Lexington, they were joined by Marisa Macy, University of Nebraska at Kearney Community Chair.
The Buffett group visited the Lexington Public Schools, including the Early Learning Academy and dual-language program at Bryan Elementary, Dawson Area Development, the Tyson Foods beef plant, and Blooming Daycare, an in-home child care program.
Through meetings with community organizations and residents, Institute staff learned there are not enough child care spots for Lexington children and their families, and there is a need for more bilingual and Spanish-speaking providers.
Lexington, population 10,000, is highly diverse due to the workforce drawn to the Tyson plant. Residents include immigrants from Central America, Somalia, and Cuba, with more than 40 languages spoken at the high school. Forty percent of Lexington students are English Language Learners.
In Gothenburg, Institute staff met with a community roundtable, toured the under-construction Gothenburg Impact Center, and took a driving tour of the city.
City leaders in Gothenburg, home to roughly 3,400 people, have raised millions of dollars
to build the Impact Center
. The community, event, sports, and early childhood center is slated to open in 2024 and help the city attract and retain residents, including young families.
It is expected to increase the number of licensed child care spots in Gothenburg by 25%—new parents typically sit on child care waiting lists for a year.
Gothenburg has a strong core of community and economic development. It’s the smallest city in the United States with a YMCA. Employers include the local hospital, a Frito-Lay corn gathering facility, and a Bayer crop science center, with plans to build a $750 million renewable liquid fertilizer plant.
Future tours will cover northeast and southeast Nebraska, as well as Lincoln and North and South Omaha.