Hidden Gems

Turn on the TV or radio and it’s highly likely you’ll hear a story about something that has been lost in your area – businesses, jobs, youth, young families, history, elderly residents – and so on and so forth.

It can seem really bleak at times.

Focusing on these bad things becomes far too easy because, well, they get a lot of political and media airplay and make for great gossip and coffee talk.

This narrow focus is unfortunate because focusing on what ‘has been’ hides ‘what is’ – all the really good stuff happening all around us.

Put another way, despite the fact much has been lost, most places still have a ton of assets available within them to do great things with.

Why focus on what you no longer have when you can focus on leveraging the things you do?

The Grand Theater movie palace in downtown Grand Island is a good example of what can happen if a community puts its mind to something. Thanks to the hard work of volunteers, the city, and downtown businesses, the theater has been restored to its original glory and is a big draw to the downtown. Photo by author.

The shift of focus from needs to assets, from what Stephen Covey termed a scarcity mentality to an abundance mentality, can be hard, but it’s critical as a stepping stone toward a sustainable pattern of personal, economic, and community development.

This shift highlights the skills, knowledge, and ability of the residents of your area. It helps to highlight the businesses, buildings, and infrastructure that you do have. It opens the door to understanding what you have and what you can do with it.

There will always been gaps in your city’s or town’s assets because it’s a rare place that has everything it needs. But these gaps are also opportunities:

  • opportunities to build community to fill those gaps
  • opportunities to work with other towns and cities to share and acquire resources
  • opportunities to think creatively and craft new options and possibilities
  • opportunities to diversify your economic sectors to prevent ‘putting all your eggs in one basket’

In other words – time to make lemonade from the lemons you’ve been given!

This isn’t to downplay the things that were lost – because the impacts of these are very real. It can be tough for a place to endure losing a large employer or sector and the ensuing loss of jobs, taxes, and local spending. Regardless of how tough these losses are,  there are lessons to be learned in what was lost – lessons which need to be understood in order to not travel down the same path in the future.

And that’s where shifting from needs to assets, from scarcity to abundance, can be a game changer – you worry less about things you cannot control and focus more on what you can. It encourages cooperation and coopetition amongst businesses, agencies, and the general public. It helps you find and focus on the things – the assets of people, businesses, and infrastructure – you still have.


Another hidden gem: The Grand Island Liederkranz was started in the 1870s by German immigrants who wanted to preserve their heritage in their new home – and which continues to help preserve this legacy to this very day. Photo by author.

These assets are truly the hidden gems in your community. They just need to be discovered, polished, and put to use.

The next time you hear another story about something going bad where you live, take a few moments to reflect on what is going good. More than that, be sure to let others know all the good you see in your neighborhood.

Help build the conversation about the abundance around us!

For a practical guide to Asset Based Community Development, see:

McKnight, J., & Kretzmann, J. (1993). Building communities from the inside out: A path toward finding and mobilizing a community’s assets. Chicago. ACTA Publications.

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