Tag Archives: help

Your Garden Glory

April 9, 2015 by

Originally published in March/April OmahaHome.

Mother nature is warming things up outside, which means it’s time to dig out those boots and gloves and get to work preparing your garden and outdoor living spaces for those heady, bountiful days to come. Don’t forget the sunscreen!

Indoor Prep Work

To kick-start your spring color, cut branches of forsythia, crabapple, and spirea to place in a bucket of cool water inside. Leave in a cool area of no more than 60 degrees until buds show color. Snip and display in your favorite vase for an instant, preseason pick-me-up.

Grab some paper cups and your kids or nearest tiny relative and show them the wonder of starting seeds. Their eyes will delight in the wonder of the bursting of that first tiny sprout. Ideal veggies for home germination include basil, broccoli, brussel sprouts, chives, leeks, peppers, and tomatoes. Make your own seed-starting mix with a blend of equal parts perlite, vermiculite and peat. To neutralize the acidity of the peat, add ¼ teaspoon of lime to each gallon of the mix.

Clean up the Clutter 

Around the third week of March, clean your lawn of any debris like rocks and sticks (or annoying blow-away garbage from your neighbors, as is all-too-often the case here in the big O). Prep the beds by removing winter mulch. Prune fruit trees, shrubs and ornamental trees before buds begin to break. Later, prune spring flowering shrubs as soon as they finish flowering.

Early Spring Planting

Cool season veggies, like peas, onions, potatoes, artichokes, and some lettuces can be planted now. Just make sure not to work the soil when wet. Raspberries should also be planted in early spring as soon as the soil is dry and workable.

Survey the Scene

Check conifers and broadleaf evergreens for signs of winter injury. To control aphids, apply a soil drench treatment of imidacloprid on deciduous and evergreen trees. A March application will be effective against insects and will last all year.

Spread the Love, Garden-Style 

Share with your friends by dividing perennials before spring growth has begun. Who doesn’t
love the gift of greenery?

Keep a Record

Pick out an adorable journal that expresses your inner gardening diva and keep a record of all of your gardening information. Make a list of each item you have planted in the garden, and create a schematic to remember where everything is. Make sure to include seed companies, plant name, variety, planting date, and harvest date. Maintain a record of how well each plant does during the growing season. If any variety is prone to disease, record what was used to treat the problem. You will thank yourself next gardening season for keeping these handy records at your fingertips.

Thank you Berry Much 

Give established strawberry plants a dose of fertilizer before new spring growth starts.

Make Your Beds

Mama told you that if you make your bed you’ll have a great day. Transfer that wisdom to your garden by picking out flats of your favorite bedding plants such as begonias, geraniums, lobelia, busy lizzie, petunias, rudbeckia, California poppy, antirrhinum, and cosmos.

Revive Bulbs

Soak any bulb-like plants that are starting to shrivel. Put them in water for a short time to allow for plumping. Weed out dead blossoms from spring-flowering bulbs. Discard any rotted bulbs among your dahlias, gladiolas, elephant ear, caladium, tuberous begonias, and cannas.

Fixer-Upper 

Check your deck and lawn furniture for needed repairs or re-painting to make sure that your outdoor living space is ready for all of that entertaining you resolve to do this year. Search for the perfect
outdoor party treats on Pinterest. Bring on the guests!

For the Birds

Birds will now start looking for places to nest, so set those birdhouses out and keep an eye out for your newest fine-feathered friends to come calling.

Mid-Spring Mulching

Applying mulch now will cut down on your summer weeding time. The best mulches are compost and rotted wood chips. Buy only what you need. A yard of mulch will cover 300 square feet when spread an inch thick.

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Joy Johnson

January 20, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It wasn’t a funeral. Or a viewing. Or even a celebration of life.

When Joy Johnson’s husband Marvin passed away earlier this year, she held a roast. “We had what Marv would have called one hell of a party,” Johnson says.

Johnson, who co-founded with her late husband the Centering Corporation, a nonprofit grief resource center, has spent the last three decades trying to change the language of death, or at least improve the way we communicate about it: you know, that fate we cannot escape, when we bite the dust or cash in our chips so we can be called home to sleep with the fishes…?

“We don’t have a language of grief yet,” Johnson says.

Seated around a table eating breakfast with a few old friends—hospice nurses and chaplains who have also spent years around death and dying—Johnson continues. The root of the word, ‘widow,’ she says in citing just one example, is ‘destitute.’

“That’s not a good word,” Johnson says.

She and her husband worked with counselors, crisis centers, hospitals, and funerals at Centering Corporation to provide books on death and other grieving resources meant to help people find comfort in the right words. Along with their daughter and former son-in-law, the couple also founded Ted E. Bear Hollow, a nonprofit focused on working through grief with children, who may need different kinds of consoling words. Johnson has also written several books on the subject. But when her husband passed after a battle with esophageal cancer, Johnson found herself on the other side, and those accumulated coping skills were tested. “I like to say I’ve had 37 years of research and writing,” she says, “and now I’m in my practicum.”

Johnson knew there were places to turn and people she could talk to, and she knew what she needed: to get out and do things. So she wrote up a list, which she named ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’—30 names of people she could call to go out with, or meet for breakfast.

“Every grief has its own note,” Johnson says, and dealing with each type is different for everyone.

Long-time friend and retired hospice worker Marcia Blum says a sudden death can be much harder to handle than a prolonged illness. “There’s no anticipatory grief period,” she says. Blum says her parents died within five months of each other; her mother after a long battle with Parkinson’s, and her father shortly after, suddenly. “They were two totally different griefs,” she says. “It was the wrong death in my mind.”

But even in hospice, where one might imagine family members would be prepared for the inevitable, Blum says people are so often surprised by death. It occurs behind closed doors—in hospitals and hospice; it’s not discussed openly. “Nobody sees it,” Blum says. “I think people still avoid real death. There’s the gruesome death that we see on television, but real death is different.”

Words didn’t work for Johnson’s daughter when she faced a sudden and up-close death. Janet Roberts, the executive director of Centering Corporation and the daughter behind the founding of Ted E. Bear Hollow, grew up around the family business and started helping out when she was eight. “I was always comfortable with grief as part of the life cycle,” she says, leading a brief tour of the center’s offices—small and unassuming; shelves of books, boxes and packaging tape stacked behind a circle of couches where visitors can warm themselves with hot coffee and tea. But at 18 years old, Roberts’ boyfriend was killed while she was with him, and the shock threw her into a depression and PTSD. She recalls her mother offered books to help work through her grief, but they were geared to adults, and she couldn’t relate. She left the business for a while, and when she returned decided to start Ted E. Bear Hollow to help teens and children dealing with grief. Teens respond differently, she says; they often they need to write through their grief, or just acknowledge they’ve had a loss.

When Roberts went through that loss, there were few books or resources available for teens, she says. But today, she explains in gesturing to the piled-high shelves, there are thousands.

Back at the breakfast table, Johnson and her friends said attitudes about death have changed significantly in the last couple decades. Communally tragic events like the bombing of the twin towers on 9/11 have made grief and death more public, and people are able to connect through social media as they mourn. But our words are still lacking and our condolences can seem trite—particularly to a group of people who deal with death and its aftermath on a daily basis. I’m sorry for your loss—that’s one Johnson grew tired of hearing. I know how you feel—that’s another. “Don’t assume you understand,” says Blum.

Johnson has her own words for her grief, like DTT, or Designated Tear Time. She’s not a public crier, she says, so she gives herself time alone to let it out.

And aside from ‘hello’ when Johnson goes through her list and makes the call, the words of condolence that she’d like to hear?

“What a bummer.”

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Driving Past Trauma

December 12, 2014 by and

I was driving along Dodge Street on a Friday afternoon. Rush hour traffic.  As I stopped for the red light in front of Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, my mind was on pizza and movie night.
I needed to order the pizza, swing by the video…

BOOM!

My van shook like it had been hit by a bomb. The sound was deafening. I saw a big truck bounce away from me, towards oncoming cars, and then back into traffic—where it hit another van that I later learned was full of children.

My mind went blank. And then I started shaking.

Police came (lots of them), but no ambulances. Incredibly, no one was hurt. The little kids in the other van were weepy, but physically fine. We exchanged information, waited on the police report, and watched the truck driver go away in the back of a police car.  My husband helped me get my damaged van home.

All okay, right?

Well, actually. No. All weekend, I was jumpy and shaky. I kept trying to brush it off. But come Monday morning, I went to climb into my husband’s car to drive to work. It would be the first time I drove alone on the same street as the wreck.

I looked at my beat-up van. I didn’t want to get into the car. I had to force myself into the seat—to turn the key—to open the garage door. Things that were usually just automatic took conscious effort. I realized that the accident had affected me more than I even realized.

I share this because trauma is a sneaky thing. And recognizing it, both in yourself and especially in your children, is extremely important. The sooner someone receives therapy after major trauma, the sooner he or she can recover. My trauma was minor, but it still impacted my emotions and my behavior. Now, imagine a child experiencing or witnessing major trauma. Untreated trauma can negatively impact a child’s behavior and decision-making as a teen and well into adulthood.

Children learn what they live, and those who grow up in homes with violence are repeatedly subjected to traumatic experiences. They are far more likely to continue that pattern into their adult lives.  Short-term, they are likely to demonstrate behavioral, social, and emotional problems, as well as have trouble in school. Long term, little boys who grow up in violent homes are more likely to become abusers, and little girls are more likely to choose partners who abuse them. These children grow up with higher levels of depression and anxiety.

Therapists will tell you that significant trauma experiences can cloud your self-image and all of your decision-making. Getting those traumas into perspective can truly be life-changing.  If you or your child has been affected by violence or other trauma, please contact Lutheran Family Services. Services are provided on a sliding scale so you can get the help you need.  Please do it as soon as you can.

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The Handyman Diaries

February 11, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In this increasingly corporate world of ours, it is somehow comforting to know that the age-old tradition of the neighborly, “one man and a truck” model of handyman services has not yet completely gone the way of rotary dial phones, 8-track tapes, and Polaroid cameras. Jeff Toma of Accountable Construction is one such lone wolf, something of a folksy jack-of-all-trades when it comes to everything from quick fixes to remodels.

Being a Hero

“It’s not unusual to troubleshoot a problem over the phone,” Toma says. “I might get a ‘Hey, my microwave is dead’ call, and that can often be nothing more than an opportunity to explain to a homeowner how the reset button on an electrical outlet works. I’m happy to help whenever and however I can.”

 Digging Deeper

“Identifying and diagnosing more complicated problems takes time. I’ll charge a fee for that in some cases, but I just lump it in with the job total when the homeowner gives me the green light to proceed.”

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 Scheduling

“Being your own boss doesn’t mean that I have a calendar that is a wide-open, drop-everything thing in terms of availability. Thursday mornings, for example, are out. That’s when I have a standing appointment at Pat’s. She’s in her 70s. We drink coffee. We chat. She’s like family. Eventually I’ll get to work on her to-do list.”

Tipping

“The general rule about tipping is that you don’t tip the business owner himself; you tip his people. But I don’t have ‘people.’ I have bills. I’ll rarely turn down such a genuine offer of gratitude. It makes me feel kind of proud, especially after a tough or messy job.”

 The Power of Dreams

“This is going to sound crazy, but I sometimes come up with fixes in my dreams. I might go to bed bothered by some difficult or tricky problem that I just can’t quite work through, and the answer will come in a dream. Weird.”

Self-Awareness

“I don’t suffer from MAS (Male Answer Syndrome). I know what I know, and I know what I don’t know. I don’t try to be somebody I’m not when it comes to my abilities.”

Appropriate Topics of Conversation

“Fishing. Any and all kinds of fishing. I got it bad. You don’t want to get me started.”

To Tanzania with Love

January 15, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann and provided by Alegent Creighton Health

Life-changing work by Alegent Creighton Health in Tanzania is the focus of a forthcoming documentary from a one-time Omaha television news personality. When former KMTV anchor-reporter Mary Williams and videographer Pete Soby travel to the African nation in February, their main point of contact will be ACH’s man-on-the-job there, Bob Kasworm, whose life has been transformed by the calling he follows in that distant land.

Kasworm, a biomedical engineer and devout Christian, combines career and faith in Tanzania, his home the last 10 years.

“This was never in my plans,” says Kasworm. “I really wasn’t thinking I would ever go to Africa or have a life of service,” he says.

He first visited in 2001 on a Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America-sponsored trip. He went to evaluate the potential of Alegent assisting hospitals, dispensaries, and public health programs there.

The pull of Africa began then.

“From the very first trip there was never a day and rarely an hour when Africa was not on my mind,” he says. “Yes, it was the poverty and the need, but it was more than that. Somehow Africa just got into my blood.”

He made a dozen or so additional visits in a three-year span as Alegent committed itself to working with the evangelical church and various health and civic partners in Machame, an area on the southeastern slope of Mount Kilimanjaro. He cultivated and coordinated the growing relationship between the partners and implemented various initiatives.

The organization’s efforts there include training medical staff at Machame Hospital, developing Machame Nursing School, providing nursing scholarships, and delivering medical equipment and supplies. Kasworm leads the Homes for Health program that uses local laborers to build new, cleaner, safer homes for residents.

At the end of 2004 Kasworm decided to live in Tanzania full-time. He says it was then his wife “realized that what she thought was just a temporary ‘mid-life crisis’ was something I was powerless to resist.”

He’s since learned Swahili well enough to speak it fluently.

Machame Lutheran Hospital, founded some 110 years ago by German missionaries, is at the center of much of Alegent’s 
work there.

“We have the hospital with about 120 inpatients and many outpatients and clinics,” he explains. “We also have a Clinical Officer Training school and now the nursing school. There are about 20 homes for staff.”

The campus is on a rare paved road. There’s running water (“usually”), electricity (“much of the time”), and internet access (“slow”).

Bob Kasworm in Tanzania

Bob Kasworm in Tanzania

Progress is plodding but rewarding.

“The most satisfying thing is that, in many cases, if not for our efforts and involvement many would simply not get help,” he continues. “A child with a club foot would become an adult with a club foot. The nursing student would not have had a chance to study. It is not like you can just go down the street to an alternative. There is no safety net. We do it, or it won’t happen. We can now point to a number of successes.

“There is such a shortage of trained healthcare workers that our efforts in education may well be our biggest legacy. If you educate one nurse they will care for thousands over their career.”

Williams, who interviewed Kasworm on one of his periodic visits to Omaha, describes him as a “strong, driven” man who “sees opportunities where others don’t.”

ACH mission integration consultant Lisa Kelly says, “He’s so embedded in that culture now it’s amazing. He’s definitely a problem-solver, which is huge in that country. Everything from unloading containers of things we send to fixing machines to keeping a water source going or getting an internet connection set up…you name it, Bob is the guy who figures out how to do it.

“He has to navigate what’s possible in the developed world with what’s possible there in that culture and that setting. So you have to think of medicine in a whole new way and what he has been able to do is to bridge that gap.”

Williams and Soby are eager to capture the story from a grassroots perspective.

“You can’t really tell the story without talking to the people on the ground who are being helped, and that would start with the patients coming through the door,” says Williams. “You cannot tell the story without talking to all the players—the patients, the nurses, the young women who have a fighting chance now. We can’t tell the story unless we go past the borders and see how exactly the people live and the challenges they face every day. We’re going to experience that first-hand. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

When Williams left KM3 in 2009 and launched her own marketing and media production company, she set her sights on telling stories that engage people’s hearts and minds. From reporting medical news she knew Alegent had compelling stories to be told and she wanted to be the storyteller that shared them.

Kasworm and a villager inspect the bounty of harvest.

Kasworm and a villager inspect the bounty of harvest.

There wouldn’t be a Tanzania story without Kasworm, whose year-round presence in that county makes the Alegent Creighton mission model unique. Much emphasis is placed on building relationships and making connections through ministry and medical mission trips organized by ACH and the Nebraska Synod of the ELCA.

For Williams, whose only previous overseas assignment was covering local airmen serving in Desert Storm, it’s an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.

“I’m sure it’s going to be a life-changing experience.”

She and Soby expect to complete the 30-minute documentary in the spring.

Kasworm sees the project as another vehicle to foster awareness between Tanzanians and Americans.

“Our experience lets us serve as a bridge between the cultures and reduce misunderstandings. It seems much of our important work has not come from analysis or needs assessment. The work has just found us. I am sure more will present itself.

“As long as the doors keep opening and my health stays good, I hope to continue.”

 Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.

Looking for Trouble

January 2, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Eighty eastbound…four four nine…ten sixty two…occupied,” went the call over the radio. 60 Plus in Omaha was only a little more than a mile out from base in a ride-along with the volunteers of the Metro Area Motorist Assist program, and 65-year-old Wayne Fry was calling in the first incident report.

A vehicle—the “1062” in the cop-talk lingo above—was pulled over at mile marker 449 of Interstate 80, and a young man named Kenny was about to make the mistake of pouring engine coolant into the wrong receptacle of his overheated and smoking junker.

20131118_bs_2927“I obviously had no idea what I was doing,” says Kenny. “Those guys are lifesavers.” The red-faced man was more than happy to have his last name shown in print as simply “Occupied,” the designation from Fry’s radio report indicating that the car had at least one person in it.

Over the last 13 years the Motorist Assist program has come to the rescue more than 85,000 times. Based on the most recent census report, that’s the equivalent of coming to the aid of one out of every 10 people in the metro area.

“It started as a public safety initiative so that law enforcement can concentrate on what you pay us to do—enforce the law,” explains Lt. Kevin Bridges of the Nebraska State Patrol. “It doesn’t take a trained officer to give a lift to someone who is out of gas, so that’s where our great Motorist Assist volunteers come in.”

Omaha’s State Patrol Troop A office has 21 Mobile Assist drivers, but Lt. Bridges has a duty roster that calls for twice as many. Volunteers go through 12 hours of training and are required to have a current CPR card. All ages are welcome to explore becoming a Motorist Assist volunteer, but the normally wide-open schedules of a retired person, Lt. Bridges says, is the most common profile of the volunteer he seeks.

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Mobile Assist uses the buddy system, and 84-year-old Gene Tschida was riding shotgun the day of the interview.

“It’s a lonely, helpless feeling to be stopped by the side of the road with all that traffic buzzing past you, so people are glad to see us,” says Tschida. “The big thing is the personal satisfaction we get in helping people.”

“Especially because so many of the folks we encounter are maybe less fortunate than we are,” adds Fry. “That young guy, Kenny, was an excellent example of a great stop. He was polite. He gave us a nice ‘thank you’ and a big smile,” one that broadened when he learned that Assist services carry no fees.

Tschida is a veteran of 15 years volunteering behind the wheel of a Motorist Assist vehicle. “I’m still kinda feeling out this job,” he quips. “The pay is pretty lousy, but I figure it might improve with seniority.”

Fry returned to the radio to call in a “1098,” the code for “all clear.” Fry and Tschida were back on the road, once again looking for trouble.

To learn more about volunteering with the Metro Area Motorist Assist program, contact Lt. Kevin Bridges of the Nebraska State Patrol at 402-331-3333.

Christian Gray

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As director of inCOMMON, a nonprofit organization located at 13th and William streets, Christian Gray thrives on building relationships in the Omaha community. Growing up in the affluent suburbs of Orange County, Calif., Gray was rarely exposed to the hardships many Americans face, but somehow he got the message that material wealth is not what life is about.

“When I began to juxtapose a wealthy lifestyle with the lifestyle of millions around the world, and even here locally in the United States, it began to bother me,” Gray admits. “It began to make me uneasy about what life is, and I began asking questions like ‘What is the purpose of life? Is it to be comfortable? Successful?’ I began to challenge a lot of those notions that I think were just part of the culture growing up.”

After graduating from the University of Arizona, where he met his wife, Sonya, Gray began seeking out places where he could help. His passion for helping the poor has taken him from Romania to India to South Africa and back to the U.S. During the process, he had time to really self-reflect on the bigger picture.

“I’m still trying to figure it out, but I think the purpose of life is to live wholly and richly,” he says. “That doesn’t mean you have a ton of stuff or even a ton of success. It means you’re an authentic person, and you care about other people, and you’re part of a greater global community and humanity. I think that’s the answer. I think the way we go about that all looks differently. Locations can change and reflect how we can live that out. I think that’s the purpose of life, to really be a part of enriching the global community.”20130321_bs_8688

Once settled in Omaha, Gray got to work on inCOMMON, which specializes in uniting and strengthening vulnerable neighborhoods. He spearheads many subsidiary programs, such as The Listening Project and Neighbors United.

inCOMMON incorporates Asset-based Community Development (ABCD) practices into its work. ABCD is a best-practice that dates back to the 1970s. “We try to build upon a neighborhood’s pre-existing strengths,” he explains. “We have the Listening Project, where we train volunteers to go into the community and hear from its residents and try to build solutions to their problems.”

As a result of information gathered from The Listening Project around the Park Avenue neighborhood, inCOMMON is preparing to open a community center in June called Park Avenue Commons. Located on the corner of Park Avenue and Woolworth Street, the dilapidated Acme Rug and Carpet Cleaning building is getting a new life as a part of Gray’s vision.

“When I began to juxtapose a wealthy lifestyle with the lifestyle of millions around the world, and even here locally in the United States, it began to bother me.”

“I had a growing compassion for the condition of people that are poor, and I wanted to be a part of creating better futures for our communities in that way,” Gray says. “Park Avenue Commons will provide easier access to social services, emergency and preventative services, and a place to come together as a community.”

Gray has many dedicated volunteers that share the same passion for helping the less fortunate. For example, Omaha resident Leslie Wells is gearing up for a recycling program, in which he provides bikes for the homeless to collect recyclables from downtown businesses. Gray emphasizes it’s about building those relationships in order to cultivate community development and empowerment.

“‘The single greatest cause for sustained poverty is isolation,’” he says, quoting Dr. Robert Lupton of FCS Urban Ministries. “If we look at poverty, at least in an urban context, as people living in an isolated community that are cut off from opportunities, then relationships are key because they allow people to bridge outside their limited ranges to a greater opportunity. Strong neighborhoods require that people know each other and people are cooperative with one another and working to solve problems together. The key to overcoming poverty is to have residents that know each other and work together.”

Gesu and Brother Mike

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jesuit brother Mike Wilmot prefers his actions to speak for him more than his words. Lately, those actions have helped put several first-time homebuyers in new houses.

After years of coaching and teaching at Omaha Creighton Prep, then doing humanitarian missionary work in Sudan, he’s made North Omaha his ministry base. He helped build Jesuit Middle School and for more than a decade, he’s directed Gesu Housing, a nonprofit he founded that builds affordable new homes in high-poverty northeast Omaha.

Gesu helps him fulfill a Jesuit credo of finding God in all things. He gravitated to the Society of Jesus as a youth in his native Milwaukee.

“I got to know many Jesuits who were very influential in my life,” he says. “They were friendly, they were happy, I admired them, and then I kind of said, ‘Well, maybe that’s what I should do.’ In anything that any of us do, we want to make the world a better place to live in by spreading the kingdom of God and bringing that to all people, and housing-shelter is one of the ways you can do that.”

“Everybody should have a decent place to live.” – Brother Mike Wilmot

Wilmot’s work in Sudan impressed upon him the difference a suitable dwelling can make in people’s lives. Back in America, he realized many urban residents lack a home of their own.

“Everybody should have a decent place to live,” he says, “but it’s not the case, at least for a lot of people it isn’t. It’s proven that kids that grow up in a house [that] their family owns are much better off.” He says kids and families benefit from the stability home ownership provides.

Enter Gesu (Italian for Jesus) as a provider of quality, affordable houses in a working-poor area beset by distressed homes and vacant lots. Gesu mostly does in-fill on empty lots, thus turning neighborhood eyesores into assets. Wilmot lives with fellow Jesuits in the Clifton Hills neighborhood Gesu builds in.

He’s recruited former Prep students as key team members. Dale Barr, Jr., grew up in Clifton Hills and has gone from volunteer painter to board member to board president to paid general manager. Dan Hall, whose Hallmarq Homes is the general contractor for Gesu, played ball for Wilmot.

“It’s rewarding work,” says Barr, whose duties include promoting Gesu and raising funds. A recent direct-mail brochure he sent out netted new supporters. “It’s nice to find people who buy into Brother’s vision,” he says.

“It’s a great thing we’re doing down here,” says Hall. “We’re changing the neighborhood one house at a time.”

Gesu works closely with the city to tap HUD dollars that subsidize half the purchase price of each home and make it possible for low-income buyers to obtain low-interest loans and to assume small mortgage payments. Omaha 100 helps buyers qualify and educates homeowners in maintaining their places.20130114_bs_0907_Web

Both the Peter Kiewit and Sherwood Foundations have supplied major matching grants. Kiewit recently awarded a second $250,000 grant, but that means new funds must be found to match it. A fundraiser is in the works.

Barr says Gesu isn’t as well-known as older nonprofit players in the field, but what it offers is hard to beat. He says Gesu homes represent “a tremendous deal,” adding, “If you’ve got good credit, you’ve got a job, and you qualify for a $70,000 loan, you’re going to get into a brand-new, three-bedroom, energy-efficient house for $600 per month.” It’s why he hopes more people discover Gesu and support it.

“It’s not just people getting houses…It’s improving neighborhoods, it’s diverse people living together,” says Wilmot. “It’s been proven the best neighborhoods are diverse economically, culturally, ethnically. That’s the mission of Gesu Housing—to put people into houses and to make the neighborhoods better neighborhoods. “We’ve got to rebuild the city from the inside out.”

Gesu’s doing its part with 17 homes completed and occupied, five underway, and five new ones scheduled for construction this spring. More support can help build more homes and assist more families to live the ‘American Dream’.

“It’s a great thing we’re doing down here. We’re changing the neighborhood one house at a time.” – Dan Hall, contractor with Hallmarq Homes

“We’ve gone from two houses a year to four, and now our cycle’s five,” says Barr. “That’s gotten us in good graces with the city and HUD because we’re doing it…we’re building them and selling them. We don’t have inventory sitting around.

“We’re making our own footprint with these new houses. We try to be a part of the neighborhood. We ask neighbors what we can do better. We give away hams and turkeys to our homeowners and their neighbors at Christmas.”

Hall says the collective neighborhood is protective about Gesu homes because residents appreciate the investment they represent on their block.

“Neighbors that watch houses for me, I give a gift card. It goes a long way, you know, in establishing a relationship. You get some security out of it. Once you get people involved, if somebody isn’t supposed to be here, they’ll run them off or they’ll call me.”

It’s all about building a community, says Wilmot. “We started on Grant Street, then we went to Burdette, and now we’re going over to Erskine. Little by little…”

One house at a time.

For details about how to support Gesu, visit gesuhousing.com.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.

The Budge Porter Story Comes Home

October 25, 2012 by
Photography by Scott Drickey

Budge Porter lost many physical capabilities when he broke his neck tackling a teammate in a 1976 Husker football practice. The catastrophic injury left him a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair.

What he’s never lost is determination and, remarkably, a positive outlook. It’s what helped him build a successful stockbroker career, woo and marry his college sweetheart, and start a family when many doubted he could do those things. He and his wife, Diane, are parents to three children.

His will has continued carrying him through recent setbacks.

“Every step of our lives we’ve been told this can’t be done,” says Budge. “We have the character between the two of us, working together with great friends and family, to beat all those odds…”

“Disappointments are not foreign to us,” Diane says. “There were many hopeless feelings and times of despair through all this, but I think so often what’s saved us is that you get to the point where you’re either going to laugh or cry, and we’ve chosen always to laugh. You kind of know in your heart of hearts it’s always going to work out, and it always does. It’s like you’ve got to throw it up to God or whatever and just say, ‘Whatever happens, it’s going to work out, and we will survive.’”

Budge Porter Project

That indefatigable spirit is what’s motivated friends and well-wishers to build a completely barrier-free home for this never-say-die warrior and his family. The nonprofit Budge Porter Project is a volunteer, donation-fueled effort led by Omaha home designer-builder Brad Brown, whose company Archistructure has supervised construction of the rustic ranch-style home at 13522 Corby Street. The home is expected to be completed by year’s end.

“Budge has got this captivating spirit about him,” says Brown. “You look at a person who’s been dealt what some feel is a bad hand, and you might expect they’d get bitter. If anything, Budge has turned it around and looks at life as every day is a blessing and an opportunity. I don’t think it started off that way, but it’s led him to a sense of inner peace.

“He’s a very open and caring person. When you’re around him, you feel like a breath of fresh air.”

The 1,900-plus square-foot home includes an elevator, a therapy pool, a tracking-lift system, ramps, and various features built at wheelchair level and wherever possible, subtle and aesthetically pleasing. Those are big-ticket items the Porters could never afford themselves, but donations in excess of $120,000 have purchased them.

“Budge has got this captivating spirit about him. You look at a person who’s been dealt what some feel is a bad hand, and you might expect they’d get bitter. If anything, Budge has turned it around and looks at life as every day is a blessing and an opportunity.” – Brad Brown of Archistructure

Subcontractors and suppliers have given time and materials. Consolidated Kitchens and Fireplaces owner Sam Marchese donated all the cabinets and countertops. He also co-signed Porter’s home loan and hosted an August 15 fundraiser. Steve Reeder gifted the lot.

Accepting help doesn’t come easily for Porter, who hails from a long line of orchard and farm owners. They’re a tough, independent lot. His father and grandfather both played at Nebraska. When Budge and brother Scott carried on the football legacy there, the school had its first and only three-generation athletic family.

“He feels somewhat embarrassed and undeserving,” says Brown, “because he’s always made it on his own. I told him, ‘This is a hand-up, not a hand-out, and it’s something these guys are tickled to give back.’ It makes us all feel so good.”

To customize the home to Budge’s specific needs, Brown had to ask personal questions and view Budge in intimate situations. Diane says Kent Pavelka’s public relations company made a video documenting what Budge contends with daily.

“I looked at Kent and Sam and Brad, and they were all crying,” says Diane. “They didn’t realize what the simple act of getting in and out of bed is for Budge. He’s so good about downplaying all the stuff that goes with his injury, and he doesn’t want people feeling sorry for him. But I’ve often said if people really knew what it takes to be him every day, it’d be very hard to keep positive because it’s exhausting. A lesser man would not handle it as well as he has.”

Budge Porter Project

The experience gave Brown a deeper appreciation for Budge’s “courage” and bonded the two men even more. “We were really good friends, but we’re definitely brothers now,” says Budge.

The Porters have always managed dealing with the challenges of paralysis, but then Budge lost big in the 2000 stock market crash, which also cost him many clients similarly hard-hit. Osteoporosis forced him to retire in his mid-50s and go on disability.

A stretch of the Papio Creek behind the family’s previous home eroded, causing such severe damage to the property the home’s value plummeted. Health scares resulted in long, expensive hospitalizations. Finally, Budge swallowed his pride and filed for bankruptcy. The family gave up their home. Getting a loan and finding a new place to live proved daunting.

It seemed like more than one family could bear. “I don’t like to make excuses,” Budge says.

He’s heartened by how others have responded to their plight. “We’ll never be able to repay all these people other than just to tell them we’re forever grateful. We’re rich beyond compare with friends. We intend to be good stewards of these benefits.”

Budge views the home as “a legacy” for Diane and the kids when he’s gone. He hopes to inspire and assist others through the Budge Porter Project.

“I would love to see us form a foundation to raise future monies to help others in need along these same lines. There’s a lot of people far worse off than us, and we feel for them and pray for them and we just hope they’re as fortunate someday to have the type of friends we’re blessed with to give them a hand.”

Donations are still being accepted and may be made at budgeporter.bbnow.org.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.