KEARNEY, Neb. — The feeling of optimism is overwhelming at the Nebraska Community Foundation’s annual training event in Kearney.

“Communities are just so fired up," Director of Marketing and Communication Carrie Malek-Madani said. "You can feel the energy in the room today.”

“I’m so excited for our future, my kids future, it helps me understand how we can make an impact,” board member Sarah Sinnett said.

There’s plenty of reasons for positivity. Director of Marketing and Communication Carrie Malek-Madani says the foundation has now reinvested more than $500 million in greater Nebraska since its founding in 1994.

“So I’d say that’s a pretty big achievement for under three decades that we’ve been able to reinvest that much money and make that many hometowns that much greater,” Malek-Madani said.

The organization is riding momentum from its biggest giving stretch ever, having distributed $54 million in grants and disbursements over the past fiscal year.

The foundation’s 245 affiliated funds give financial support to whatever they deem as the biggest priorities in their communities. That ranges from arts and culture to early childhood education to housing.

Board member Sarah Sinnett of Sidney says the funds get tips on fundraising and giving at the annual training.

“It’s where the best and brightest and most inspiring people in Nebraska all come together about moving Nebraska forward in the right direction,” Sinnett said.

In McCook, high school student Becca Koenig leveraged a local fund to help raise $75,000 to build a drive-in movie theater. She says she finds inspiration through the foundation.

“I just feel like everybody should be able to live in a place where they really love," Koenig said. "Why not make Nebraska that place?”