A group of Columbus teens is hoping to help make the community’s future bright by potentially launching a drive-in movie theater in town and more.
Legacy is a collective made of students from Columbus High, Lakeview and Scotus Central Catholic high schools.
“Our main push is to look at what we can do to make Columbus a place people want to come back and raise their families; live and work here,” said Columbus High junior Caitlin Campbell, who is a proud member of the Legacy group. “Making Columbus somewhere people want to stay.”
The Legacy group was inspired by a youth study conducted by the nonprofit Nebraska Community Foundation, which has a mission to “unleash abundant local assets, inspire charitable giving, and connect ambitious people to build stronger communities and a Greater Nebraska.” Its local affiliate, the Columbus Area Future Fund, helped NCF coordinate the survey with Columbus teens.
The study, which gathered information from teenagers from across Nebraska, indicated teens felt safety, good schools and proximity to family were among the most important things to consider when picking a community to call home as an adult.
Residents K.C. Belitz and Lisa Kaslon have been serving as key adult volunteers on behalf of CAFF for the Legacy group, initially helping lead periodic meetings among the students and guide the conversation.
“Change plus impact equals legacy,” Kaslon said. “The idea is for them to think about all the positive change for Columbus that will happen and this legacy they can leave for a community they’ve been a part of, and hopefully, come back to.”
Belitz, who is also the director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and the former NCF chief operating officer, said the group has had about a half-dozen meetings since forming earlier this summer. The youth have taken over the discussions as the meetings have continued.
“At first it was a bit more structured, but as we’ve gone on, I think we’ve (the teens) taken more leadership and that we’ve made progress,” Campbell said.
The CHS junior said the drive-in movie theater idea is something the teens believe could be a great entertainment option that appeals to kids and adults. Right now, the project is still in the early stages. They’ll be discussing funding options and looking for the right land before making further decisions.
The drive-in theater might be down the road but the Legacy group has already made its presence known with help from many community partners, including the City of Columbus, Cargill, Columbus Area Future Fund and additional corporate sponsors.
Earlier this month, the teens hosted a summer party at the Pawnee Plunge. About 160 kids showed up for a night of fun at the water park and enjoyed free snow cones and burgers. All high school students were welcome to attend for free – they just had to show their student ID proving they attended one of the three local high schools.
“We were so happy to be able to offer the Plunge for an end-of-year party,” City Parks and Recreation Director Betsy Eckhardt said. “It was a nice warm night and we are always happy when volunteer groups and groups that help to grow young leaders invite us to help celebrate those kids and their achievements.”
The event was a tremendous success and the support from the community doesn’t go unnoticed by the teens.
“I definitely think it means a lot to us. It really means a lot that the public is in support of us and that they are encouraging us, they do take us seriously and help us out as much as they can even though we’re just teenagers,” Campbell said.
Belitz said he was happy to see so many area teens representing all three local high schools show up for the fun, adding that it wouldn’t have been possible without so many local entities collaborating to help the youth.
“This is youth-led engagement, and I think we should all be extraordinarily encouraged about that. It should make us optimistic about the future of not just Columbus but the Columbus region,” Belitz said. “What’s really key is that these young people know their hometown supports them and want to support the things they think are important. The Columbus region is a place they’re listened to, appreciated and where they can make a difference.”
(ABOUT THE PHOTOS : Columbus teenagers enjoy the Pawnee Plunge during the Legacy group's night of fun in August 2023. COURTESY PHOTOS.)