Tag Archives: helping

Love is in the air, 
especially at school.

February 9, 2014 by

This is the month that people rush to buy flowers and chocolates in order to celebrate the love they have found with that “special someone.” However, for those of us working in an elementary school, we may look at this holiday a little differently than the rest.

For us, we take this time to celebrate friendship and positive relationships of all types. We may do this by allowing the children to send special treats to friends or teachers with kind notes attached, or encouraging the students to bring small Valentine greetings to share with their class. This is done to facilitate an appreciation among the students for those people that help make school a nice place for them to spend their days. Yet, school personnel do not wait until February to show love to students. Schools try to do this all year long.

During the nine to 10 months that schools are in session, many different programs are put into place in order to celebrate students and bolster their self-esteem. Awards assemblies are held to recognize students with good grades, students who attend school regularly, and students who are responsible and trustworthy when it comes to their education. Programs are also put into place that celebrate students who are good citizens, respectful, kind, and simply make the school an enjoyable place for others. Schools also make sure that children support other children by holding food drives for needy families, collecting coats and winter gear during the colder months to donate to other children, and supporting letter-writing campaigns to soldiers (who are also students’ parents) who are away from home serving their country.

All of these things give students a sense of pride and accomplishment. This leads the way to further academic and personal success in their lives, and it helps them spread and receive lots of love!

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.

Selfless Selfishness


January 11, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A recent visit to the Nebraska Humane Society (NHS) found volunteer Chet Bressman deep into an adoption consultation with Sara Edwards, Amanda Hoffman, and a pup of questionable parentage named Nina. There had apparently just transpired a minor spat of sorts, and Bressman was setting things aright so that an interview could begin in earnest.

“No big problem,” Bressman explained. “It’s just that she was getting a little mouthy, and we had to…the dog…Nina…Nina was getting mouthy…not either of these nice young ladies,” the amiable Bressman sputtered as the women made an unsuccessful attempt to suppress giggles.

“Not only does he know the history of the Nebraska Humane Society, he is a vital part of that history. He’s played an important role in where we’ve been and where we’re going.”
— Pam Wiese, NHS Vice President of Public Relations and Marketing

Bressman was working adoption duties that day, but his other efforts over the last 15 years have included everything from building kennels to driving the PAW mobile adoption unit and more. His tireless dedication—60 hours a week of volunteering is not uncommon for him— led to him and his wife, Louise, being recognized by NHS with its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Chet and Louise are fixtures here at the Nebraska Humane Society,” says Pam Wiese, the organization’s vice president of public relations and marketing. “Chet has been here so long and has put in an incredible number of hours. Not only does he know the history of the Nebraska Humane Society, he is a vital part of that history. He’s played an important role in where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

The couple, both longtime volunteers, met at NHS and dated for four years before being married over 10 years ago. “She came with all her papers and licenses in order,” Bressman quips.

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Bressman was part of the organization’s team that traveled to coastal Mississippi on an animal rescue mission in the devastating wake of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, and he joined the ASPCA team for a similar trek to Joplin, Missouri, after a tornado wrought destruction on that town in 2011.

Bressman’s commitment to animals knows no geographic boundaries, but his heart, he says, will always be for the sprawling NHS complex near 90th and Fort streets.

“I want the Nebraska Humane Society to be the very first words people think of when it comes to new pets,” he says. “There are so many puppy mills and so much bad breeding out there, and we don’t put up any unhealthy animals for adoptions. It’s a win-win situation in every way. It’s a win for the animal, for the adopting family, and it’s a win for the community because every adoption opens a new space here for us to do it all over again.”

“He told us everything; the day the dog came in, where she was found, her health at the time. He knew absolutely everything about Nina. He’s a real adoption pro.”
— Sara Edwards

The Bressmans live with Golden Retriever Buddy (11) and cat Sophie (17). Last year they lost Gracie, but her memory lived on when NHS commissioned a caricature of the Golden Retriever for use as the official mascot of the nonprofit’s annual Walk for the Animals.

Back in the adoption room—one brightly painted in the hue of cheery sunflowers—Bressman was coaching Edwards and Hoffman on some of Nina’s special needs. The dog, a Boxer-Dalmatian mix, was born deaf, and that meant the learning of hand signals along with other tips.

“Fold your hands,” Bressman gently explained to Hoffman, but not before she playfully wiped some of Nina’s slobber onto Edwards’ sweater. “That’s right. Now turn away from Nina. You got it.”

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Safety was also paramount in the discussion because each woman, both recently divorced, had a young child at home. Neither of the kids knew that Nina—an early Christmas present—would be awaiting introductions when they returned from school that day.

“Chet was great to work with,” Edwards says. “He told us everything; the day the dog came in, where she was found, her health at the time. He knew absolutely everything about Nina. He’s a real adoption pro.”

“More like an adoption god,” adds Hoffman. “We couldn’t believe it when we learned he is a volunteer. He should have his own show on Animal Planet.”

“I knew that was going to be a good adoption. Nina is going to a good home with good people where she’ll get lots of love and care.”
— Chet Bressman

Bressman was equally happy with how Nina’s adoption unfolded. “I knew that was going to be a good adoption,” he says. “I always know. Nina is going to a good home with good people where she’ll get lots of love 
and care.”

And then Bressman admits that he, the seemingly selfless co-winner of such an august award as the Lifetime Achievement honor, secretly harbored the most selfish of motives in his interaction with Edwards, Hoffman, and Nina.

“Best of all, it’s a big win-win for me, too,” he beams. “That one made my day!”

Visit nehumanesociety.org for more on Nebraska Humane Society adoptions, programs, and events.

Cole Rollins’ Blanket Parties

January 7, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Kristy Rollins hands the phone to Cole almost immediately. It’s still a little tough for her talk about the blankets.

Cole is 10. He’s in fifth grade at Pine Creek Elementary, and he’s chatty on the phone. “We have a huge, big party,” he says, “where we make the blankets, and then we go give them to the kids at Children’s Hospital. They’re the kind you cut out and tie together.”

“Everyone brings their own fleece,” Kristy says. “Cole calls them parties.”

“People are upstairs and downstairs and all over, and everyone’s making them,” Cole says.

“It’s a big day,” his mom adds.

This year, about 20 people helped him put together 70 fleece blankets for the hospital. That’s a considerable increase from his first blanket party three years ago, when six friends came to help him make 19 blankets.

Cole was seven then. His little sister, Mallory, was three and receiving monthly infusions at Children’s to combat opsoclonus-myoclonus syndrome (OMS). “My sister came home with a couple fleece blankets from the hospital,” Cole says.

“He said he wanted to give blankets back to the hospital where Mallory got hers,” Kristy says. “The blankets mean so much to her. She treasures them. So we know that these kids treasure these. It’s a keepsake. Mallory has at least three.”

“My first one I gave to an older boy,” Cole remembers. “It was a John Deere blanket.” His favorite fleece patterns, he says, are camouflage and anything outdoorsy.

“Lots of kids still bring their blankets [to infusion],” Kristy says. “We’ll see them around.”

“I want to make a blanket for one of Mallory’s infusion friends,” Cole says. “It’s one of her friends that gets infusion at the same time, Lily. She wants a Justin Bieber fleece, but I can’t find any.”

Kristy says that, for the kids who make the blankets, the best part is hand-delivering them to the hospital. “The kids love giving them out in the lobby,” she says. “They love personally giving them.”

Speaking of giving, the 2013 holiday season marked the first annual Cole Cares Christmas—Cole partnered with a company, DirectCall of Air Methods, to run a gift donation for Children’s. “This is what he wanted to do next,” Kristy says.

But he’ll still be hosting his blanket parties.

The goal for 2014?

One hundred blankets.

Boxes of Cheer

January 5, 2014 by
Photography by Justin Barnes

Northwestern Mutual employees recently teamed with the Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Foundation to deliver 170 boxes of cheer to children suffering from cancer and other ailments.

“Look, Mom, it’s a glow sword!” 5-year-old Sammy Nahorny chirps as he digs through a bright green Cheeriodicals box packed to the brim with smile-inducing toys, crafts, and more. Sammy, who lives in Columbus, is battling neuroblastoma.

His mother, Erin, is the recipient of her own Cheeriodicals box, this one loaded with reading materials (including Omaha Magazine and HerFamily) along with other grown-up goodies. “We haven’t seen a smile like that on Sammy’s face in three or four days.” She beams as her son shifts his attention to adorning his fingers with light rings and laser talons. “Whoever came up with this idea is a genius,” she adds. “What a fabulous boost it is to have you here doing this for Sammy.”

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Cheeriodicals is a web-based company offering a wide array of customizable gift boxes for all seasons and reasons. The boxes delivered that day were carefully curated so that each child would receive age- and gender-specific surprises. Two Men and a Truck donated its time and people to transport the treasures to the hospital.

“This was a wonderful event that brought our team together to help give back to the community and spend time with so many special children and their families at Children’s Hospital,” says Michael Tews, managing partner of Northwestern Mutual of Nebraska. “We were honored to have the opportunity to bring a smile to so many families.”

“It was amazing that Northwestern Mutual could join us in this way,” says Alyssa DeFrain, development officer of the Foundation. “We could tell they had a great time getting to know our young patients, but what they didn’t get to see was that those little green boxes continued to bring big cheer to the kids and families for many days after the event.”

For My Teacher!


December 4, 2013 by

During my time as a teacher, it always felt great when a family thought of me during the busy holiday season. It brought me joy every time one of my students handed me their little present with a big smile on their face, no matter what was inside. Now that I’m a parent, however, I’m in a unique position because I’ve got the inside scoop on the gifts teachers can really use in their own classroom. If you’re looking for a good gift for your child’s teacher, consider one of these:

  • Classroom educational games. As teachers, we’re always looking for fun ways for children to learn and reinforce skills. Teachers will always be happy to receive math, word, and strategy games. Even some of the classics—Boggle, Scrabble, Mastermind, Yahtzee—are great to have in a classroom.
  • Supplies. Having an endless array of stickers, stamps, colored index cards, cutouts, and colored pens always made me happy as a teacher! Many of these supplies are usually purchased out of the teacher’s personal funds, so saving us a few bucks by gifting these types of things is extremely appreciated.
  • Gift cards. Some of the best places to purchase gift cards for teachers are Barnes and Noble, Half Price Books, Lakeshore Learning Materials, Learning HQ, and Oriental Trading Company. All of these suggestions are places that teachers tend to frequent when we’re in need of something for our students.
  • Fund a project. I once had a parent offer to purchase supplies for one of my classroom projects, and that was awesome! Not only did it save me money, but it also saved me the time it took to shop for the materials. That was a gift I always remembered and appreciated, and the children benefited from it greatly!