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Hometown Strong: JBS continues to hand out big checks — in more ways than one

Hometown Strong: JBS continues to hand out big checks — in more ways than one

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The main room at the Literacy Council of Grand Island soon will be named the JBS Hometown Strong Center for Learning.

Karla McGeorge of the Literacy Council made that announcement Thursday just after JBS representatives presented her organization with a check for $150,000.

That money comes from the $3.5 million that JBS USA committed to Grand Island as part of the company’s Hometown Strong initiative.

McGeorge, the executive director of the Literacy Council, said the organization has many employees, students and volunteers “who are directly involved with JBS.”

So we have seen countless times how their efforts have given back to our students and community.” The donation is “certainly instrumental in our organization and for our future,” she said.

Phillip Erb, the Literacy Council board president, called the donation an investment in the community.

“Every time that we can make one person a little better, this helps improve our community as a whole,” Erb said.

Representing JBS were Grand Island General Manager Zack Ireland and Human Resources Director Justin Bstandig.

Behind the presentation was a map of the world, which was fitting. JBS employees come from many countries, and the Grand Island plant ships its product all over the world.

Ireland said he has seen firsthand the work done by the Literacy Council. He noted that the council serves 695 people from 35 countries.

“I think the work they do is absolutely crucial, and it’s important that we help give them a base to be sustainable for the future,” he said.

The services provided by the Literacy Council are key “to helping them grow and learn,” Ireland said, “and it’s important for us to be a part of the expansion and growth of literacy councils so we can provide for the betterment of our employees for the future.”

He pointed out that the Literacy Council has benefited from “some key community partnerships.” Some good people in Grand Island “have worked very hard” to put support services together, including medical, physical and mental support “for people to be able to improve their lives.”

People should be “proud of our community,” Ireland said. “Even despite the pandemic and the challenges it brings, we’re still making progress in Grand Island. I definitely feel that we have a lot of great support in our community. So thanks to everyone for that.”

The Literacy Council has been in its new location, at 115 W. Charles St., since August.

How will the organization use the money?

“The main use is going to be continuing operations and funding,” Erb said in an interview. “Our agency has been very grant-heavy in terms of our main funding sources, excluding the last year in the capital campaign, which was our best fundraising year ever.”

But due to the coronavirus, many foundations have shifted their focus, he said. The number of applications received by those foundations have doubled, tripled and quadrupled, he said.

“One of our biggest funding streams took a massive hit. So we are extremely thankful for this, to kind of fill that gap and hopefully get us past the virus,” and “back to more normal operations,” said Erb, who is a senior accountant at Chief Industries.

As part of Hometown Strong, JBS USA committed a total of $4 million to Nebraska. The nationwide initiative totals $50 million.

Because of the assistance, the JBS name is going up on a number of projects around town.

The JBS Grand Island officials aren’t done handing out large checks.

“We’ve made quite a few generous donations at this point. We have a couple left. We have a list of projects in mind, but we’re still open to a couple more,” Ireland said.

“The basis for the program is to strengthen well-being and infrastructure in Grand Island, provide COVID relief efforts and also strengthen infrastructure for the future,” he said. “We’re looking at projects that are long-term, sustainable projects that’ll be here, be visible and be providing help for people many years down the road.”

The Literacy Council provides free individualized literacy and English language instruction, as well as other services. The council serves native-born Americans as well as those new to the country, McGeorge said.

The council is happy to work with all adults who want to improve their literacy, she said.

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