Kansas – It started out as an idea in a dorm room with a limited budget and has since grown into a multimillion-dollar nonprofit organization with a mission of ‘growing our own.’
Joe Nail, Kansas native and one of the newest Forbes 30 Under 30 honorees in education, wanted to show young professionals they don’t have to abandon their roots for bigger cities to make a difference, but rather, they can be successful in their very own hometowns.
“I think that I, like a lot of people that grew up in Kansas were told by society in general that in order to be successful, you have to leave and never come back,” said Joe Nail, Cofounder and CEO of Lead for America.
Lead For America is a national nonprofit organization focused on revitalizing and strengthening rural and urban communities.
The goal is to teach young people how to become civic leaders in the places they call home.
“Every community is facing challenges and our greatest resource to solve those challenges is our outstanding young people and civic leaders, and so we have to stop this trend of exporting our greatest resource which is our people,” he said.
The nonprofit offers educational resources and fellowship opportunities, providing individuals the tools needed to tackle important issues within their local communities.
“In order to realize that vision of thinking that every community is worthy of investment and worthy of outstanding leadership, we have to not just talk about it, we actually have to build pathways for young people to say, ‘Okay, I not only care about my hometown, but I think that there’s a place for me and I see that as a place I can really contribute,’” he said.
Since its official launch in 2018, the organization’s small staff has worked with community leaders, officials, and statewide agencies in nearly 100 communities across the country, helping younger generations find potential on their journeys back home.
“It’s really special to actually have a place where you know people by their first name, where you can have a stake from a really early age on the decisions that are happening in the community,” he said.
Nail has plans to expand the organization’s programs to communities across the state, starting first in southwest Kansas.
Dodge City has been chosen as the nonprofit’s national headquarters where leaders believe the community could become a national model of how other communities could successfully retain their talented younger generations.
“We’re trying to not only build the pathways but hold up examples of young people who are actually doing this so that young people coming up, regardless of whether it’s through our program or not, can see their future and their potential,” he said.
Nail says the organization’s success is a reflection of his team’s hard work, and that he credits much of his accomplishments to his family and his faith.
“We’re working to change the narrative that you have to leave to be successful,” he said.