Mary Harding is not one to cower from doing what’s right. She once risked being ostracized when she voted against her colleagues with the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) Board of Directors to reject the resolution on TransCanada’s Keystone Pipeline project.
Although NPPD still approved the resolution, Harding became a hero for Bold Nebraska, an advocacy group that continues to fight the pipeline project.
She’s just as determined, when it comes to her grandkids and other young Nebraskans, to leave them a better world. “I hope that they can enjoy the same kind of life that I did growing up,” she said. “We felt safe on the streets…. Schools were well-funded” and better-off then.
Today, nearly 40 percent of Nebraska’s children ages 0-5 aren’t doing as good as Harding’s generation did at their age, according to a data by First Five Nebraska, an advocacy group building public momentum in support of high quality early childhood experiences for young Nebraskans. That preschool group is considered at risk of later failing in school and life because they don’t have access to high-quality early experiences and relationships.
“The more we know about the development of human beings, the more we realize those early experiences are absolutely critical to laying down the pathways that make an individual a good member of our community and society,” Harding said.
Her early experiences helped her appreciate the environment she fights to protect. “I love the change of the seasons,” said Harding, whose preservationist background includes executive director positions at both the Nebraska League of Conservation Voters and the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund.
Harding’s currently helping to push her state’s wind-energy potential, with NPPD’s goal of generating 10 percent of its power from wind. “I love the fresh air and the clean water that we take for granted here,” she said.
Harding’s early experiences also derive from her Nebraskan roots that run seven generations deep. She feels that same sense of community in her current hometown, Lincoln, where she and her husband, Richard Erickson, operate a residential rental property business.
With a population of over 302,000, the Lincoln Metropolitan area – which also encompasses Lancaster and Seward counties – is personable enough for Harding’s granddaughters – Eleanor, 5, and Elizabeth,2 – to enjoy the easygoing pace and hospitality their grandmother enjoyed from childhood to now.
Harding hopes to see more grandparents advocating for children and youth. In her Aug. 23 letter that the Omaha World-Herald published, she called on Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman to do more with Parental Involvement in Education Month.
“As a grandparent and Nebraskan who cares about our state’s future, I urge the governor to expand that call to grandparents and extended families,” Harding wrote in her piece, “involve grandparents in school family” – noting that educators and childcare providers are already interacting with the one in 10 grandparents who regularly provide care for at least one grandchild.
Since older adults have the benefit of experience, “we must stand up, speak out and get involved at the very beginning in advocating for children,” according to Harding. “We got to take a role in helping shape the policies that we undertake to provide for a strong environment to raise children.”