Tag Archives: Gifford Park Neighborhood Association

Don’t Come Undone

August 16, 2018 by

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Friday, August 17 to Saturday, August 18:  It is the 10th year for Omaha’s MAHA Music Festival, and they’re not holding back. With both local and international acts from across the musical spectrum—from R&B to country to, of course, indie rock—fans are guaranteed a good time. Plus, this year Maha joins forces with the well-established Big Omaha tech conference as the two entities celebrate the culture and creativity found in Omaha for a combined three-day event. Don’t forget to visit the Community Village—a collaboration with The Kim Foundation—to connect with local nonprofits such as Defy Ventures and Aqua Africa. You may just get inspired and get involved. Learn all about this  more-than-a-music festival here.

Friday, August 17th: What’s the best way to celebrate the fact that it’s still summer? With a block party, of course! The 33rd Friday Block Party: 30th Anniversary Edition is happening at Gifford Park. This is the 30th year for the event, so it is going to be big. Besides the regular Gifford Park Neighborhood Market, there will be live music, dancing, games and prizes, a bounce house, and so much more! Find out all about this event here. Learn more about the Gifford Park Neighborhood here.

Saturday, August 18: If MAHA doesn’t seem like your scene but you’d still like to get out and enjoy a day full of good music, head to the Jazz and R&B Festival at the Levi Carter Pavilion on Saturday. You can catch performances by saxophonist Walter Beasley, local musicians Ed Archibald & Friends, and Jazz In Pink, an all-star ensemble of musical women, as well as several other artists and entertainers. Gates open at 11 a.m. Get all the details here.

Saturday, August 18th: Yes, beer is still a thing. And you will find so much of it at the 2018 Great Nebraska Beer Fest this year. Taste brews from across the country—from Milton, Delaware, to Kailua Kona, Hawaii—including all your local favorites from small towns across Nebraska and Iowa. Celebrate all that makes craft beer great as you try the samples and learn from some of the best craft brewers around. Tap here to get the full rundown.

Sunday, August 19 and 26: Get your culture in this weekend at Worldfest at the Omaha Children’s Museum. Learn about the food, customs, and people of Omaha’s sister cities—Braunschweig, Germany; Siauliai, Lithuania; and Yantai, China, on the 19th and Naas, Ireland; Xalapa, Mexico; and Shizauka, Japan, on the 26th. Awesome activities will include making alpine hats and learning about Chinese knots. Of course, there will be food samples from each of the counties, including bratwurst and spätzle, butter cookies, and a variety of Asian food. Take a tour of all the upcoming fun the museum has to offer here.

 

Omaha Fashion Week

Gifford Park

April 15, 2015 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Originally published in March/April 2015 Omaha Home.

Until the relatively recent past, a rapid-fire word association game played on the subject of “Gifford Park” would, for many, elicit the most meager of responses. Sure, blurting out “California Tacos” and “Shelterbelt Theatre” would tally points in this exercise, but other responses, even among the more intrepid of urban adventurers, would likely have included variations on the theme of “crack houses,” “prostitution,” and “buckets of 9-1-1 calls.”

Like so many Midtown neighborhoods now being reclaimed by a pioneering and diverse group of new settlers, the once-neglected area is experiencing a dramatic rebirth. The renaissance of Gifford Park, longtime homeowner and community leader Chris Foster explains, had the most fundamental of beginnings.

“The Gifford Park Neighborhood Association [organized in 1988] was founded on fear,” Foster says. “It was really about nothing more than survival. Our streets weren’t safe. Some very dedicated people built on and decided to try other things. They added simple things like an Easter egg hunt in the park. They started a newsletter. Today the fabric of the neighborhood is its community spirit. We care about this place and a tremendous number of volunteers pull together here in Gifford Park.”

 

The children of the neighborhood, Foster says, best represent the focus of the association’s efforts.

“Young kids don’t see color,” Foster says. “They don’t see incomes. They just see people as people.”

Volunteers of the neighborhood association offer a robust tennis program in the park, including free lessons with donated equipment. In the same once-quiet park whose silence was interrupted only by the very occasional thump-thump-clang of a pick-up game of hoops, kids swarm to the soccer events made possible by the donation of used nets. And at the community gardens, special sections are reserved for children so that a new generation can plant the seeds of change in the butterfly-strewn space that itself is a big part of the neighborhood’s metamorphosis.

The garden was established in 2001 and has become a center of both social and agrarian activities for many in Gifford Park. The neighborhood is also home to the the Big Muddy, a collectively run urban farm whose goods often travel only a couple blocks to be sold at the Gifford Park Farmers Market during growing season. Raising chickens is also prevalent in the neighborhood located just north of the Mutual of Omaha campus.

“Sometimes I think that our chicken population is approaching that of the people here,” Foster quips. Neighborhood kids also learn and work at the Community Bike Project, a nonprofit that’s many initiatives aim to provide transportation in a fun setting. One of its most popular offerings is the Youth Earn-a-Bike program. Through the course of six free classes, students receive instruction on bike maintenance, safety, and riding skills. At the end of their schooling, they take home a bike they fixed up in the process, including a lock and helmet, all at no charge.

“Gifford Park is a great neighborhood with an amazing amount of community involvement,” says Charles Mitchell, the shop’s manager who happens to live right next door.” The people who have lived here a long time are really invested in this place, but now younger people and even the kids that we get to work with here in the shop all come together and connect in really authentic ways.”

Decoding the impetus behind a neighborhood’s rise is often an exercise in assessing the “bones” of a community.

Benson, for example, is hot-hot-hot in large part because of its collection of previously underused structures along Maple Street. It’s a place that practically screamed for the new and novel. The formula was deceivingly simple. Just add an eclectic mix of innovative, risk-taking entrepreneurs, stir in an uncanny sense for what it is that people seek, and…voila…instant and seemingly
overnight revival.

Gifford Park has few such assets in the way of infrastructure. A mere handful of storefront options are available for any aspiring business-launchers at the neighborhood’s small commercial epicenter, the intersection of 33rd and California streets.

So what accounts for the symphony of nail guns and table saws throughout the neighborhood that will reach a crescendo once temperatures continue to rise? Here it is not about dollars invested. In Gifford Park, neighbors are building stronger communities one household at a time.

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The Essence of Oikos

April 9, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Originally published in March/April 2015 Omaha Magazine.

These pages often feature nonprofits that have the power to draw from scores of volunteers supported by a paid staff backed by a who’s-who-in-Omaha board infrastructure in serving broad and far-flung community needs. Sponsored events and fundraisers may attract hundreds, even thousands, of generous, like-minded people in raising big money to propel mission statements.

Eric Purcell’s role is…well, a little different. He’s an army of one.

“I certainly don’t feel alone,” says the area’s sole representative of Beta Communities. “Sure, this is my job, and I’m the only one that happens to be doing this for Beta here in Omaha, but when your thing is to work in the community, you can never really be alone.”

Beta Communities, the organization’s website explains, is a missionary order—embedded locally and sent globally—that develops leaders to deeply inhabit their place in the way of Jesus and, in doing so, live out their vocational call in the world.

Purcell points to a photo collage in his living room in making a point on Beta Communities’ values. He took five snapshots of random objects (the letter “O,” for example, is rendered in the form of an overhead image of a coffee cup) to spell out oikos, the ancient Greek word for household.

“But the word goes beyond the idea of a mere structure or a home,” Purcell adds. “It speaks more to the idea of family, extended family, and the wider community. The word ‘economy,’ for example, is also derived from oikos, and indicates a system of interactions, just like the interactions we have in our mission.”

The “we” in Purcell’s thoughts above is a nod to his wife, Lisa, who is Eric’s constant companion in his work. She is a stay-at-home mom who homeschools the couple’s children, Norah (9), and Brennen (5) in their home that overlooks Gifford Park (see related story on page H24 for more on the Gifford Park neighborhood).

“There’s something almost countercultural in what we do,” says Lisa. “I’m a stay-at-home mom. I’m a homeschooling mom. Because of that, it’s sometimes hard for me to easily define my role in Eric’s work, but this ministry is something we birthed together,” she says as Eric nods his head in agreement. “We are in this together, even though he’s the paid staff member. He has the ‘office hours’ [even though there is no office], but together we find a way to fill things in. His work has no context unless everything points back to our life together; our life with the kids, our life in the community, our life in this mission. Sometimes I feel like I’m on the outside looking in, but I know that isn’t really the case at all.”

“And neighborhoods,” Eric explains, “can never be looked at as a one-man anything. It just doesn’t work that way. Being a neighbor, most importantly, starts with a lot of listening.” Eric adds that they believe that a community’s strength is measured in the number of people who, as the Beta values state, “deeply inhabit” their surroundings, the people who are invested in a neighborhood on all levels.

The couple recently hosted their own little “investor meeting,” what Beta Communities calls a Cohort. It’s a weekend immersion experience with friends and neighbors that features a slate of guided conversations in sessions that center around the idea of imaging better communities and the individual’s power to affect change. Their most recent Cohort had a decidedly local, even walkable flavor, but two friends involved in community arts efforts in Wichita, Kansas, also travelled for the Cohort to learn more about what was happening in Omaha.

Just like the area’s community gardens that will soon sprout with the promise of another leafy bounty, Eric explains that the couple’s work is equally organic. “That’s because a lot of our involvement comes through our work with the [Gifford Park] Neighborhood Association,” where Eric just completed two consecutive terms as president of the group. “Very few people in this neighborhood know what Beta is. They may never have even heard us use the word, and we’re okay with that.”

The Gifford Park Neighborhood Association is one of the strongest and most active in the community, but even the most robust of programs face challenges, Eric says. The area is home to neighbors hailing from more than 20 nations. Income levels are all over the map. Many of the Purcell’s neighbors are learning English.

“Maybe it’s getting kids to kick a soccer ball around,” Eric says in pointing across the street to Gifford Park’s used soccer nets donated by the city. “That’s one way to connect. Maybe it’s our Summer Tennis Program or the community gardens. That’s how it works.” You find a way to bring people together, he says, and good things start to happen.

And that, these most non-traditional of missionaries believe, is the very essence of oikos.

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