A sculpture of Archie the Mammoth, based on the University of Nebraska State Museum's Columbian mammoth exhibit, is fitted with both a face mask and a trunk mask, as it stands in front of the museum in Lincoln, Nebraska. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

At Nebraska Community Foundation, we’re in the community building business. We work with community volunteers in Nebraska hometowns to dream big dreams and make them come true. At its core, community building isn’t about constructing new recreational facilities or entertainment venues. Community building is about investing in people. Communities are built and sustained by the people who live and work in them. Together.

The people-building business begins with people being healthy. When people are healthy, they can be productive and cooperate with one another to dream big dreams for the future of their homeplace. As an old saying goes, “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.” 

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented challenges for all of us. Remote school. Remote church services. No holidays with family. Our rituals of daily, family, and community life have been upended. The pandemic resulted in changes occurring at breakneck speed. Sometimes almost too fast to keep up.

In Nebraska, we are beginning to emerge from the pandemic. Case counts have dropped. Kids are back in school. Grocery store shelves are stocked. Congregations are worshipping together, in-person. And yet the threat of the pandemic persists. 

Fortunately, we have a lifeline to move forward together: the Covid-19 vaccine. Once about 80% of us get vaccinated we should approach herd immunity, meaning the virus won’t be able to infect as many people as rapidly. Herd immunity means having the freedom to attend a community celebration, or a big family wedding, or the baptism of a new grandchild with far fewer worries or concerns. 

Along with countless medical and health experts, I believe vaccines work. Vaccines greatly reduce disease, disability, death, and inequity. In the United States, we no longer worry about measles, mumps, rubella – nearly all of us got the MMR vaccine when we were young. And we’re no longer worried about smallpox, polio, or diphtheria. Once upon a time, every one of these diseases was catastrophic or even deadly. Today, they’re either eliminated or manageable. That’s wonderful progress.

Right now, some of our fellow community members are reluctant to get the Covid-19 vaccine. The reasons for vaccine hesitancy may be numerous, but that is not the point of this column. In the Nebraska Community Foundation network, we say “change happens along the lines of relationships at the speed of trust.” Now is the time for all of us to utilize our trusting relationships to encourage individuals to get vaccinated. 

Please reach out to people you care about who are hesitant to get the vaccine and talk with them about their reservations. Answer their questions without judgment. Listen and empathize. Talk with them about how we all do better when we all do better. And doing better begins with our health. And the health of our neighbors and family and friends. We’ll all be more protected, and healthier, when as many of us as possible get vaccinated.

There may be medical reasons why some people should delay getting vaccinated. But for nearly all of us, it’s the right thing to do, right now. Just because you have a relative with an autoimmune issue or an allergy, and their physician recommends they wait, doesn’t mean you should. One story of why one person shouldn’t be vaccinated is an anecdote, not evidence. And anecdotes shouldn’t drive decision-making.

Community building is about investing in and caring for people. More people can be a vibrant part of community life when they’re healthy and feel safe. Please talk with your friends and family about the importance of vaccination, listen to their concerns, help them get the facts. Remember, change happens along the lines of relationships at the speed of trust. Please engage those you care about in this important conversation about their future. And our collective future.     

Jeff Yost is president and CEO of the Nebraska Community Foundation.