Tag Archives: Lutheran Family Services

July/August 2017 Giving Calendar

July 7 (7-10 p.m.)
Ales for Tails
Benefitting: Nebraska Humane Society
Location: Bärchen
—nehumanesociety.org

July 8 (8-11 a.m.)
5K Superhero Run and Post Race Party
Benefitting: CASA for Douglas County
Location: Turner Park at Midtown Crossing
—casaomaha.org/calendar/

July 10 (11:30 a.m.)
24th Annual Golf Classic
Benefitting: Keep Omaha Beautiful
Location: The Players Club at Deer Creek
—keepomahabeautiful.org

July 13 (6:30 p.m.)
Links to a Cure Golf Gala
Benefitting: Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
Location: Embassy Suites La Vista
—nelinkstoacure17.eventscff.org

July 14 (8:30 a.m.)
Links to a Cure Golf Tournament
Benefitting: Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
Location: Arborlinks Golf Course
—nelinkstoacure17.eventscff.org

July 15 (5-11 p.m.)
Relay for Life of Greater Omaha
Benefitting: American Cancer Society
Location: Stinson Park at Aksarben Village
—relay.acsevents.org

July 16 (noon-3 p.m.)
ULN Guild Men Who Cook
Benefitting: Urban League of Nebraska
Location: OPS Administrative Building Cafeteria
—urbanleagueneb.org

July 25 (6 p.m.)
Hope in the Heartland Gala
Benefitting: American Cancer Society
Location: Stinson Park in Aksarben Village
—gala.acsevents.org

July 28 (6-9:30 p.m.)
Screw Cancer Fundraiser 2017
Benefitting: Cancer Alliance of Nebraska
Location: Omaha Country Club
—cancerallianceofnebraska.org

July 29 (6:30-11 p.m.)
2017 Blue Water Bash
Benefitting: Boys Town Okoboji Camp
Location: Boys Town Okoboji Camp, Milford, Iowa
—boystown.org

July 29 (8-10:30 a.m.)
Omaha Head for the Cure (HFTC) 5K
Benefitting: Head for the Cure Foundation
Location: Lewis & Clark Landing
—headforthecure.org/omaha

July 29 (9-11 a.m.)
The Walk to End Pancreatic Cancer
Benefitting: PurpleStride Omaha
Location: Sinson Park at Aksarben Village
—support.pancan.org

July 29 (1:30-10 p.m.)
Golf 4 Lungs
Benefitting: New Hope 4 Lungs
Location: Eagle Hills Golf Course
—newhope4lungs.org

July 31 (11:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.)
Help Build a House Golf Event
Benefitting: Gesu Housing
Location: Champions Run
—gesuhousing.com

July 31 (1-6 p.m.)
Swing 4 Kids Golf Benefit
Benefitting: Partnership 4 Kids
Location: Tiburon Golf Course
—p4k.org/2014-swing-4-kids-golf-benefit/

Aug. 4 (5-9 p.m.)
New American Arts Festival
Benefiting: Lutheran Family Services
Location: Benson First Friday, 60th-62nd and Maple streets
—bensonfirstfriday.com/news–events.html

Aug. 4 (6-10 p.m.)
Dance for a Chance
Benefitting: Youth Emergency Services
Location: Omaha Design Center
—yesomaha-org.presencehost.net/news-events/dance.html

Aug. 4 (6-11 p.m.)
River Bash N Brew
Benefitting: Visiting Nurses Association
Location: Lewis & Clark Landing
—thevnacares.org

Aug. 5 (6-9 p.m.)
10th Annual Nebraska Walk for Epilepsy
Benefitting: Lifestyle Innovations for Epilepsy
Location: Turner Park at Midtown Crossing
—nebraskaepilepsywalk.com

Aug. 5 (8 a.m.-noon)
Spirit of Courage Golf Tournament
Benefitting: Jennie Edmundson Hospital Cancer Center
Location: Dodge Riverside Golf Club
—jehfoundation.org

Aug. 5 (6-10 p.m.)
Spirit of Courage Gala
Benefitting: Jennie Edmundson Hospital Cancer Center
Location: Mid-America Center
—jehfoundation.org

Aug. 5 (6-9 p.m.)
Jefferson House “Stand Up for Kids” Comedy Night
Benefitting: Heartland Family Service
Location: Fremont Golf Club
—heartlandfamilyservice.org/events/stand-kids-comedy-night/

Aug. 6 (noon)
No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em Poker Tournament
Benefitting: Jennie Edmundson Hospital Cancer Center
Location: Mid-America Center
—jehfoundation.org

Aug.10 (7 a.m.-1 p.m.)
18th Annual Release Ministries Bill Ellett Memorial Golf Classic
Benefitting: Release Ministries
Location: Iron Horse Golf Club, Ashland, Nebraska
—releaseministries-org.presencehost.net/news-events

Aug. 11 (9 a.m.-noon)
Step Out for Seniors Walk-A-Thon
Benefitting: Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging
Location: Benson Park
—stepoutforseniors.weebly.com

Aug. 12 (8:30 a.m.)
HETRA’s Little Britches Horse Show
Benefitting: Heartland Equine Therapeutic Riding Academy
Location: HETRA, Gretna, Nebraska
—HETRA.org

Aug 12 (5:30 p.m.)
11th Annual Summer Bash for Childhood Cancer
Benefitting: Metro Area Youth Foundation
Location: Embassy Suite La Vista Convention Center
—summerbashforccc.org/

Aug. 13 (10 a.m.-3 p.m.)
Vintage Wheels at the Fort
Benefitting: Douglas County Historical Society
Location: Historic Fort Omaha
—douglascohistory.org/

Aug 14 (11 a.m.)
QLI Golf Challenge
Benefitting: QLI Tri-Dimensional Rehab
Location: The Players Club at Deer Creek
—teamqli.com/team_events/qli-golf-tournament

Aug. 18 (6-10 p.m.)
Exposed: Voice
Benefitting: Project Pink’d
Location: Hilton Downtown
—projectpinkd.org/exposed.html

Aug. 19 (day-long)
Paint-A-Thon
Benefitting: Brush Up Nebraska
Location: Various
—brushupnebraska.org

Aug. 19 (8 a.m.)
JDRF One Walk
Benefitting: JDRF Heartland Chapter
Location: Lewis & Clark Landing
2.jdrf.org

Aug. 20 (7-11 a.m.)
Boxer 500 Run and Walk
Benefitting: Great Plains Colon Cancer Task Force
Location: Werner Park
—coloncancertaskforce.org/boxer-500

Aug. 20 (7:30 a.m., end times vary)
Corporate Cycling Challenge
Benefitting: Eastern Nebraska Trails Network
Location: Heartland of America Park
— showofficeonline.com/CorporateCyclingChalleng

Aug. 21 (2-4 p.m.)
Grow with Us Gala
Benefitting: City Sprouts
Location: Metro Community College’s Institute for the Culinary Arts
—omahasprouts.org/gala

Aug. 22 (11:30 a.m.)
Annual Golf Classic
Benefitting: Methodist Hospital Foundation
Location: Tiburon Golf Club
—methodisthospitalfoundation.org

Aug. 24 (5:30-10 p.m.)
120th Anniversary of the Summer Fete
Benefitting: Joslyn Castle Trust
Location: Joslyn Castle lawn
—joslyncastle.org

Aug. 25 (5:30-8:30 p.m.)
Wine & Beer Event
Benefitting: ALS in the Heartland
Location: The Shops of Legacy
—alsintheheartland.org/news-events/

Aug. 26 (5-10 p.m.)
Gala 2017
Benefitting: Papillion-La Vista Schools
Location: TBD
—plvschoolsfoundation.org

Aug. 26 (5:30 p.m.)
Red, White & Madonna Blue
Benefitting: Madonna School
Location: CenturyLink Center Omaha
—madonnaschool.org/celebration

Aug. 26 (6-9 p.m.)
Mission: Possible
Benefitting: Angels Among Us
Location: Hilton Hotel downtown
—myangelsamongus.org/

Aug. 28 (11 a.m.)
10th Annual Jesuit Academy Golf Tournament
Benefitting: Jesuit Academy Tuition Assistance Fund
Location: Indian Creek Golf Course
—jesuitacademy.org/golf-tournament.html

Aug. 28 (noon)
19th Annual Goodwill Golf Classic
Benefitting: Goodwill’s Real Employment Assisting You (READY) & Business Solutions Programs
Location: The Players Club at Deer Creek
—goodwillomaha.org/events/golf/

Aug. 28 (11:30 a.m.-7 p.m.)
Golf Outing Invitational Fundraiser
Benefitting: Open Door Mission
Location: Oak Hills Country Club
—aunitedglass.com/golf-classic.html

Nicole 
Carrillo

April 9, 2015 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Originally published in March 2015 HerFamily.

Nicole Carrillo says she can make friends anywhere. Even at the airport.

Case in point: On a chilly night in November, Nicole stood with her fellow Thrive Club members at Eppley Airfield holding colorful signs. Nicole’s read “WELCOME TO OMAHA!” with the O’s shaped like hearts. Moments later, wild applause, laughter, and some tears erupted from the relatives, students, and coaches gathered for this moment.

Nicole’s soon-to-be-new friends were a refugee family just arriving from Burma. Marisol, Nicole’s mother and one of the sponsors of Thrive, was overwhelmed as tears flooded her eyes. “It was life- changing,” Marisol recalls.

Members of the Thrive Club, along with Lutheran Family Services, provided a cozy home environment for the immigrant family in an apartment volunteer’s chocked full of groceries, clothes, and furniture.

Nicole, a junior at Northwest High School, had filled out a grant to present to her principal, Thomas Lee, to do something for a family that would be lost in a foreign world.

Emigrating is hard, scary, often emotionally draining. Nicole’s empathy stems from hearing the story of her parents. Marisol, a native of Mexico, left for the United States in her teens to pursue a cosmetics license. It was difficult, she says, but she argues she had it easier than her husband Joel, who she would later meet in English classes.

Joel started his first job in the “worst town you can think of”—Aguascalientes, Mexico. He loaded heavy bricks into trucks and, along with 15 or so other boys, sold them house-to-house. He was five at the time. Joel came to the United States when he was 15. Later, he worked 60 to 70 hours a week while attending college classes at night, sometimes even taking a course during his lunch hour.

Nicole sees what her parents had to go through—all their hard work. So she strives to be the best. As a 4.0 student, Nicole is currently right behind her best friend for the top spot on the GPA ladder. “It has been a long steady fight,” she says, “but it’s all in good fun.” However, like most high achievers, Nicole gets upset if she receives a B on a test or paper, but her parents do not.

“My parents are like ‘you are doing the best you can,’” Nicole says resting her hand on her cheek during a recent interview.. “Love them.”

Nicole says attending Northwest was one the best decisions she has ever made. “She is one of the best ambassadors for the school,” Lee says. Nicole is active in all aspects of the school, including student council, National Honor Society, and choir. She has won numerous community service awards and was one of five in the nation to be selected for the National Youth Advisory Council.

Nicole is now eager to show the Burmese family all the “simple things we take for granted” around Omaha—“like the mall and zoo,” she says.

“Nicole has the heart to help…to make a better world,” her mother says proudly.

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Lorraine Chang

December 13, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lorraine Chang is all about sticking it out—whether it’s winning over skeptical constituents at their doorstep, reorganizing inefficient corporate and government bureaucracy, or even just making it through the 90th minute of a hot yoga class.

Chang currently sits as Chairperson for the Learning Community Coordinating Council’s 3rd District. Entering her third election, Chang said she’s thought about stepping aside, “But given where we are right now, there’s still so much more I want to be a part of getting done,” she says. “It means too much. I really do love what I’m doing and find it very, very rewarding.”

While sitting in a Women’s Fund of Omaha Ready to Run meeting in 2007, a Westside Community Schools board member informed the group about upcoming elections for the newly formed Learning Community. “I found myself writing the pros and cons as she was talking,” Chang said. “It was this automatic reflex of interest.”

Developed during a contentious time in Omaha’s evolving education landscape, Chang said the Learning Community was met with intense skepticism she’s still trying to quell.

“When I would walk door to door, people would say, ‘I don’t want it to be taking over my school and telling my district what to do! They’re doing a great job, what’s the Learning Community going to do that’s going to be better? You’re going to take my tax dollars!’ They had all kinds of imaginative things they came up with, so I’d say, ‘We haven’t even started! This group hasn’t even met yet, so tell me what you want it to be because the possibilities are so great and we can make this something that’s really beneficial to the district.’”

Six years later, Chang says change has been slow, but still effective. The Learning Community has developed a more definitive purpose and mission and is taking aim at closing the learning and achievement gaps across socio-economic landscapes.

“We have contracts with Lutheran Family Services to provide family support workers who are in the schools and work with principals and teachers. If there is a child identified as absent a certain amount of days or who is struggling with some other sort of issue, or academics, those are a sign that there’s something going on. And if it’s something outside the school, like a family situation, like transport, or the family’s having the kid babysit, or whatever it may be, the social worker can help identify what the issues are and get the family the help they need,” Chang adds.

Chang said things are starting to click with the Learning Community. “I think we’re just beginning to realize the full potential of the Learning Community, and that’s the greatest benefit over time.”

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Back on Track

August 27, 2014 by and
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Tara Ziesel has often had to ask for time off from her job for emergency runs to her son’s preschools. Her boy, Caden, was, as she says, “a holy terror.” When frustrated or angry, he lashed out with profanities and wild tantrums on his instructors. When mad, he has quite an arm. He was kicked out of numerous preschools around the city.

In kindergarten, he was suspended three times in his first 30 days. One of those days, Caden had ransacked the principal’s office by the time Tara arrived.

Here’s the thing, though: As in so many cases of kids lashing out, Tara had played a big role in Caden’s upsets. Caden was taken from Tara as a toddler because of Tara’s addiction to meth. “I was gone for months at a time, Tara says. “His grandmother had to take custody because of me. I was a bad mom and it hurt him.”

The goal of the Child Saving Institute’s KidSquad program, which Caden started in after being referred by his therapist, is not only to help children better understand and manage their emotions, but to also help heal strained relationships between parents and children that so often are the wellspring of the troubles.

“At the time I got sober [in 2009], our relationship was wrecked,” Tara says. “In the CSI therapy, we worked together, worked on building back our bond and trust. It’s had a profound effect on how we interact now. And it’s had a profound impact on how Caden interacts with others at school.”

The trick to KidSquad’s success is its holistic approach to tackling behavioral problems, says the program’s coordinator, Jana Habrock. CSI counselors work with psychologists, pediatricians, psychiatrists, school counselors, teachers, and caregivers to ensure that the child is getting the same instructions and care in all of his or her environments.

“We feel it’s so important for everyone in the child’s life to be on the same page,” Habrock says. “We all work together to teach the child healthy emotional literacy—mad, sad, frustrated; what is it I’m really feeling right now?”

There are three basic tasks at the heart of KidSquad, which CSI runs with the help of Lutheran Family Services, Heartland Family Services, and the Center for Holistic Development, among other organizations. The root problems must be identified. The child must be helped to identify those emotions that cause the problems. Then, effective coping mechanisms must be identified and taught so that the child turns to those mechanisms when they experience trigger emotions.

For example, Caden’s primary triggers for tantrums were feelings of frustrations and fear of change, his mother says. When he’s winding up, he’s directed to the coping mechanisms that have been found to work for him.

Sometimes, Habrock says, the tricks can be as simple as going to a “Coping Corner.” Sometimes a child will blow a pinwheel while concentrating on his or her breathing. Sometimes it helps to just knead a squishy ball for a while.

KidSquad has a full-time staff of 15 working with children throughout Douglas and Sarpy County. The program has expanded greatly in the last five years, Habrock says. Beyond helping individual children, Habrock says, the program’s staff is now going into preschools and school classrooms throughout the metro to teach instructors how to cope with and help troubled kids. Beyond working with 116 individual children, KidSquad educators assisted in 150 classrooms and 75 early childhood programs last year, Habrock says.

CSI staff will work with a child for four to six months on average, she says. But, there is no time limit. They’ll work with a child as long as necessary to get results, she says.

Caden stayed with the program for a year and a half. “He was a pretty angry kid when he came in,” Habrock says. “With his grandparents and his mom, we had to work through some pretty tough stuff.”

But, it was all worth it, Tara says. Caden, who will be a second grader this fall, will still have outbursts, she says, but they are now less severe and less common.

“It’s been a long process,” Tara says. “But he has come so far. He still has his moments, but he’s really doing well. Life is much better for both of us. Much more calm. We’re headed in the right direction.”

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More than the ABCs

August 19, 2014 by and

Little 5-year-old Emma already knows her ABCs. Well, most of them.  And she can count to five.  Sometimes all the way to seven.

But is she really ready for kindergarten?

Academic ability is only one indicator of whether a child is ready to make the transition from preschool into a kindergarten classroom.

“Research shows that academic learning does not happen in the absence of social and emotional development,” says Megan Jones, Mental Health Therapist.  “A child’s brain simply doesn’t take in information without the ability to cope with the environment and handle the stressors that are involved in everyday life.”

In other words, if by the age of five, a child has not learned to sit quietly without running all over a room, or know how to handle another child hurting their feelings without completely melting down and losing control—he or she will struggle.  To absorb spelling and math lessons, he needs to be able to calmly move from one task to another or even from naptime to lunchtime without stress.

Behavior problems in young children can be addressed, and it’s crucial that parents act as soon as possible.  In fact, the younger the child, the more easily and quickly the issues can be corrected. Experts have found that, depending on the child’s history, something as simple as changing a bedtime routine or redirecting playtime activities can provide insight and solutions to a child’s behavioral needs. Children who have witnessed or experienced trauma, however, may require more extensive therapy.

Fortunately, our little Emma has developed the social and emotional tools she will need—friendship skills, coping skills, problem solving, and how to recognize and label emotions: “I’m angry.” “I’m sad today.” “I’m having a happy day.”  These powerful tools will allow her to face her kindergarten classroom calmly, with confidence, and destined for success.

If you think your child may need early childhood behavioral therapy, please contact Lutheran Family Services (LFS) at 402-661-7100.  If childhood sexual abuse is of concern, LFS also shares building space and is a partner agency with Project Harmony.  This allows the best integration of services for area children.

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Coaching Support for New Parents

June 19, 2014 by

She may have been young, but Kassie (not her real name) knew one thing for sure—when she had children, she would not beat them. After spending her childhood frightened and hurting from physical abuse, she absolutely refused to do the same to her children.

But how was she supposed to stop that pattern of violence?

Kassie found the answers she needed at the North Omaha Center for Healthy Families. She came to the Center wanting to be trained to parent differently.  Now the young mother of a toddler and a nine-month old, she’s learning how to parent and discipline her children with love, and without regret.  She likes to call it “E-Parenting,” or parenting with empathy.

Better yet, Kassie is now taking part in the new Lutheran Family Services Home Visitation program, a special “at-home” version of the support that pregnant women and parents of newborns can receive. It’s confidential and completely free.  A parent coach from LFS visits Kassie at home regularly. How are the children doing? Are the teeth coming in okay? Any special screenings or shots due that you need to get?

It’s almost like having an extra grandmother for advice.

The Home Visitation program is available to any Douglas County resident 19 years or older who is pregnant or the parent of a newborn up to six months old. The goal? To give new babies a healthier start and their parents a better chance of developing confidence and self-sufficiency.

It’s working for Kassie. At the time of this writing, she was excitedly telling her parenting coach about the new job she just landed.  Along with developing her parenting skills, getting a better job was one of Kassie’s primary goals when she joined the program. She’s thrilled at what this means for her ability to care for her children.

If you know of someone who would benefit from the Home Visitation program, please call Tameshia Harris (402-504-1733) at the North Omaha Center for Healthy Families.

The Reality of the American Dream

March 25, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The apartment’s living room is warm. Blankets are on the couches, an old TV is playing cartoons, and 5-year-old Hana is mimicking the enthusiastic English of the monkey onscreen. Her grandmother, Zinab Abdelmote, watches from the couch, quiet and smiling.

Amna Hussein tells her daughter to lower the sound. “Zuza!” she calls her by nickname. Amna sets down a silver tray with one glass of juice. “From Egypt,” she says, gesturing to the delicate tray. Dinner, she says, is cooking.

She’s experiencing her first full winter in Omaha. She arrived in February 2013, after a circuitous route from her home country of Sudan that spans several years. Six of those were spent in a refugee camp in Egypt. Though Amna lives in a small apartment with Hana, her mother, Zinab, and her younger sister Elham, three of her siblings are still in Egypt. Two sisters, Najwa and Suzan, live close by in Omaha. Two other siblings are in Libya, two are missing in Darfur, and the eldest is living in the U.K.

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There were 16 of them once upon a time. Amna laughs at the shock the number incites. “How did she do it?” she asks, gesturing at Zinab.

Amna is obviously proud of her mother. She, Najwa, and Elham take turns watching out for Zinab throughout the day. Her heart is bad, she has kidney problems, and high blood pressure. Her current dream, Amna translates, is to learn English. “Her willingness to study has stayed with her to this moment.”

Zinab’s daughters living in Omaha are already deep into studies at Metro Community College: a few hours a day of ESL, per the requirement to receive temporary aid for needy families (TANF). Their knowledge quickly outgrew the English classes provided by Southern Sudan Community Association, where they still receive some case management.

“We’re comparable to Lutheran Family Services,” says Marni Newell, SSCA program coordinator. “Just a lot smaller.” Newell explains that as a federal resettlement facility, they have 90 days to offer in-depth information on a wide variety of complex topics: Medicaid, food stamps, banking, job searching, English classes, cultural orientation, and driver’s ed. Other assistance includes helping to apply for relatives’ resettlement, applying  >for citizenship, and demonstrating how to ride the bus.

Amna reflects on how much she’s learned just in the year she’s been in Omaha. She and Elham entered the U.S. through Miami. The use of Spanish everywhere in the airport threw her off. “I asked a caseworker, are we really in America?” Amna recalls. She can laugh about it now. After a stop in Washington, D.C., the sisters arrived in Omaha. “I was thinking…I have been to small villages before but…” She chuckles again.

But she says, “Omaha’s like a land of knowledge. A land of peace. It’s a friend to all refugees to find a right beginning for their life. To resettle correctly, this is the right beginning. Leave the dreams for a while. Then later on, you can go.”

Elham sets down a plate of beans with tomato paste and spices, some thin bread, and two slices of American cheese. Amna excuses herself to get Hana her dinner.

Elham’s English is only slightly less fluent than Amna’s, but the confidence is there.

“Refugees see America as a dream,” Elham says. “But when they start their life, they face real problems. Many become, like, lost. Because their families back in the refugee camp think they will send money. And people in refugee camps think life in America is very easy. You can find money and jobs anywhere. But since February [2013], I haven’t got a job. I’ve interviewed many, many places.”

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It’s a difficult life—going to school, finding work. “Najwa,” Elham says, referring to her elder sister who lives with three grade-school children, “is father, mother…everything. Here, you have friends to help you with these things.” But if you’re new to the country, she says, who do you have? She shrugs. “You can’t get a car without a job. And you can’t have a job without a car.”

Amna returns, saying it’s time to have tea. Her conversation is gentler than Elham’s as she stands over the stove, but she mirrors her younger sister’s opinions.

For example, she’s learning how to drive, but money has a lot of other places to go first. “At the beginning when we came,” Amna explains, “the organization does it for us. But three months is not enough. After three months, they require us to find a job. Some people can’t start school for two years because they’re running here and there to support the family. Even now, for me to go to a job and to school, it’s a problem.”

Still, she says she hopes to start work at Walmart soon as a cashier. The goal is to study at Metro and work at the same time. Of course, daycare is a problem. Due to Hana’s September birthday, she missed the cut-off date for kindergarten. Transportation, as always, is a headache.

But studying is important. “Here, there is no limit to education,” Amna says. “No matter your age, we can study what we like. We’re greedy to learn as much as we can.” She and her sisters hold college degrees in a variety of fields, but “the technology that America has reached, we feel that we are behind. In technology, development, education…”

Amna, for example, has a bachelor’s in English and sociology from India, as well as a diploma in health and social care from the U.K. She’s thinking of eventually taking up nursing studies.

“We will study according to what the market needs,” Elham chimes in. “If I studied geography, maybe I’ll do nothing. You must start with what the market needs. That is first.”Amna sets down a glass of hot tea with a single clove for fragrance. “You can take it with you,” she says, nudging the mug. “You will come back. It’s fine.”

Another winter day, another trip to the small apartment. A variety of pastas and glasses of nonalcoholic liqueur cover the dining room table. The atmosphere is intimate. The headscarves have come off, and the talk becomes frank.

“I lost my job,” Amna confides. Her voice is still gentle but frustrated. The buses, she explains, can’t reliably get her to Walmart on time and home again.

“I must work,” she says. “Someplace where I can walk to.” She mentions a few places she’s thought of and is unfazed when told it would take an hour to get there. “It’s good exercise for me.”

But here, in the small, warm apartment, frustrations are put aside for a moment. Elham brings tea to the living room, and Amna produces a small bottle of homemade perfume. “For after dinner,” she explains. “To cover the scent.”

Arabic and English swirl around the room as six women chatter about anything and everything and nothing in Omaha, Nebraska.

Editor’s note: As of late January, both Amna and Elham have found employment.

What happens when a child ages out of foster care?

February 16, 2014 by

Being a child in the foster care system can be lonely and confusing. Just ask Tabitha. Shuffled from one home to another, one town to another—by the time she was in high school, she was an entire year behind in her studies. She lost track of the number of foster homes and families that she left behind. It wasn’t until she was 17—nearly out of the system—that she became part of a family.

While foster care is not ideal, there are a few people who provide some stability and support while you are part of the “system.” Your caseworker. Maybe your therapist. But once you turn 19, those connections are usually lost. There may not be one single, caring adult who asks if you are doing okay. If you have enough to eat or just need a little help. If you have a place to stay or a way to get to work—if you even have a job. Or a way to go to college.

Just one caring person can make all the difference for a young adult who ages out of foster care. On their own, many are simply lost. Without connections, the statistics are grim for these older teens and young adults. Within two years, half are essentially homeless. They may be couch-surfing just to have a warm place to sleep. They have no network to find a job. Few can afford a car or even know how to drive, since the State of Nebraska doesn’t take on the liability of state wards learning those skills. They are easy targets for pimps and human traffickers. Many become pregnant.

Now, Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska (LFS) has adopted the national “Family Finding” model. This model recognizes the urgency of helping these young people establish meaningful, supportive, permanent relationships with loving adults—simply as a matter of safety, to start.

LFS is currently the only Nebraska agency providing these types of permanency services to 19-26 year-olds previously in foster care. In July 2013, LFS’ Permanent Connections program began working to build bridges for young adults to biological family members, former foster parents, siblings, former case workers, or group home staff. Most recently, LFS began expanding this support to young adults in Fremont and surrounding areas.

The program starts by identifying 40 people who have somehow been involved in the life of the young person. From this group, a smaller team is chosen. This team includes those willing to make a long-term commitment to this young adult and be an active, stable part of their lives. It’s not as formal as adoption; more like a vow to be a friend.

Many youth who grow up in foster care or spend significant time in foster homes transition into adulthood alone. They lose contact with all the people in their lives who were once in a caring role. Permanent Connections helps these youth create ties with caring and supportive adults who can give them some stability and support.

Lutheran Family Services

October 30, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lutheran Family Services President and CEO Ruth Henrichs remembers meeting a young man a year ago who had a tattoo on his lower arm that read “Born to Lose.” When she asked him about it, he told her that life had always been against him—that he had been “born to lose.” That was, of course, until he came to LFS, he said.

“There are lots of people who come to LFS on a daily basis who have this sort of invisible tattoo on their hearts that says ‘Born to Lose,’” Henrichs says. “I want them to leave here after receiving help with a different invisible tattoo.”

Strengthening the individual, the family, and the community is how LFS intends to change those heart tattoos. And that’s exactly the mission the organization has followed since its humble beginnings in 1892.

“When you work somewhere like LFS, no matter how difficult the day is, you always go home knowing that someone’s life was changed because you came to work.” —Ruth Henrichs

Over its many years within the Omaha community, LFS has grown into a faith-based nonprofit providing multiple services in over 30 locations across Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas to over 35,000 individuals annually regardless of age, race, religion, or income. In other words, just because it’s called Lutheran Family Services doesn’t mean you have to be Lutheran to receive aid.

Mental health counseling, sexual abuse treatment, substance abuse treatment, foster care, adoption, pregnancy counseling, family support services, immigrant and refugee services—they do it all and more for people 
in need.

“When you work somewhere like LFS, no matter how difficult the day is, you always go home knowing that someone’s life was changed because you came to work,” says Henrichs, who worked as a pregnancy and adoption counselor, a marriage and family therapist, and Interim CEO with LFS before she became its leader in 1985.

She believes LFS’ work is part of the fabric of the community. For many years, nonprofits used to work alone, focusing only on their own work. Now, however, many organizations, including LFS, embrace the idea of uniting their limited resources with other organizations’ limited resources to provide a bigger impact.

“There’s a rich diversity of nonprofits in the Omaha community, and we all offer difference services. Together, we have a collective impact. It’s important that we all work cooperatively so that our community can be strong. Communities are only as strong as their weakest link. Everyone has problems in life. Sometimes, those problems are so great that people need the help of the community. When the community helps those people, it strengthens the community as a whole.”

Nancy K. Johnson, volunteer and president of LFS’ Forever Families Guild, agrees. “Children are the future, as cliché as it sounds,” she says. “If, for example, we can get in there and help a single parent learn to be a better parent, that trickles down into our community to make it stronger.”

“We work with families and children to increase academic performance and help with obstacles, like attendance, to make sure the students are doing well with their education.” —Nellie Beyan

Johnson, who also works in real estate as the senior vice president of CBRE-MEGA, was introduced to LFS about 15 years ago through Adoption Links Worldwide, which later aligned with LFS. She began attending fundraising events for the organization and met Cheryl Murray, who was the executive director of Adoption Links at that time. “I really admire Cheryl a lot. She’s passionate and dedicated to the cause of helping young women and children. She’s one of those kinds of gals that you can’t say no to,” she laughs.

Clearly, Johnson couldn’t say no to Murray, now a development officer and guild liaison for LFS, because she was drawn into more volunteer work with LFS. “I started volunteering more for them, and I became the president for LFS’ Forever Families [Guild].”

As the guild president, Johnson works to increase fundraising and gain more exposure through other organizations. “There’s an organization called CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) that I’ve been involved with before through my real estate work. So I mentioned the Forever Families Guild to them, and they’ve picked the guild up as their philanthropy of choice for the next year.

“People are always afraid to volunteer because they think it takes too much time or money, but it really is simple…LFS can do a lot on limited funds and time because the group is so passionate.”

One such passionate supporter is Nellie Beyan, who works as a Family Support Liaison with LFS in the Omaha community and the Omaha Public Schools district.

“We work with families and children to increase academic performance and help with obstacles, like attendance, to make sure the students are doing well with their education,” Beyan says. “OPS has a large population of Burmese refugees [the Karen] that we work with, too.”

Working with refugees and immigrants comes easily for Beyan because she, herself, is an Omaha transplant. She moved in April 2000 from her home country of Liberia to work as an international volunteer with LFS. Later, she enrolled at University of Nebraska-Omaha to get her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work with the help of sponsors Mr. and Mrs. Howard Hawks and Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Alseth.

“I underwent a similar experience and hardships that most non-Americans undergo when they first come to America…I can put myself in their shoes because I know exactly what it’s like to come into a country with a new culture and new way of life, leaving family behind. It’s a difficult thing, the assimilation process. It’s very gradual, but it’s made easier by the available resources.”

“People are always afraid to volunteer because they think it takes too much time or money, but it really is simple.” —Nancy K. Johnson

Beyan likes working with LFS because she feels that the organization is everywhere in the community. “Imagine what Omaha would be like without LFS,” she muses. “I can’t even picture that. Without all that they have to offer, especially for all of the immigrants and refugees, people would be totally lost.”

Understanding just how many people in the community rely on LFS, Henrichs and the Board of Directors are taking major steps to improve LFS’ outreach and work in Omaha.

“Whether we’re talking children’s needs or refugee and immigrant needs, we’ve recently decided our focus in the program development should be primarily on prevention and early intervention,” she explains. “Many services are ‘fire truck’ in that they respond when a crisis happens. We need to become ‘smoke detectors’ and catch issues before they become bigger problems.”

Another improvement? They’ve been at their 24th & Dodge location for more than a decade, and they’ve slowly been acquiring the city block between Dodge and Douglas streets in order to renovate and build more space. “Many that we serve are in the heart of the city,” Henrichs says. “We’re going to stay right here.”

And here is exactly where the community wants them to stay.

Lutheran Family Services will host their annual Wicker & Wine® Basket Auction fundraiser on Nov. 7 at Mid-America Center (One Arena Way) in Council Bluffs, Iowa, from 5-7:30 p.m. Tickets are $40. For more information, visit lfsneb.org or call 402-342-7038.

Grades, and Then Some…

September 24, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It took me a really long time to get organized. Not this morning or this week—I mean since high school.

I was one of those irritating kids who pretty much winged it through my early grades. I never had to study. Maybe running through spelling words a time or two before a test, but really, hardcore, sit-down-and-learn-this studying wasn’t my thing. And since my grades were always good, no red flags for my parents.

Until high school.

I started taking French and honors classes. There may be a few subjects you can “wing,” if you just pay attention in class, but I’m here to tell you that, for most people, foreign language is not one of them. Neither is The Odyssey.

So, at the age of 14, I was finally introduced to the concept of “studying” and being fully prepared for class. It was an eye-opener. And truth be told, it took me a while to catch on. I tried really hard to be organized like my friend Judy, who always had her notes in order, her assignment book filled in with little checkmarks by the completed items. She graduated second in our class of 384. My efforts always seemed short-lived.

It’s not that I was a bad student. I managed to graduate in the top 10 percent of the class, but I just wasn’t as successful as I could have been if I had started high school with some established study skills.

High-school Spanish teacher Theresa Jensen says the biggest challenges for kids who don’t know how to study isn’t their natural ability. It’s generally organization and planning: “They tend to wait until the last minute when it’s really too late to internalize anything. Then, when they finally focus, they don’t know what to do. They’ll passively look over their spotty notes or the book. They’ll try to quickly memorize vocabulary or rules, but learning a language [or any subject] is so much more than just memorizing words.”

Jensen says she can tell which students are studiers and which aren’t. “The studiers pull out old vocabulary lists; they take notes without being told. They write things down in an assignment notebook and sometimes bring in their homemade flashcards. I can [also] tell which kids have logged onto our class study website and which haven’t.” And she says the most obvious indicator is who performs well in class and how prepared they are.

So as school is steaming full speed ahead, what can you do to help your student be a “Judy” and not a “Bev?”

The number one suggestion is to teach organizational skills early on. Also don’t use good grades as the only indicator of your child’s progress in school. Elementary teachers generally hand out assignment books or sheets, and parents are asked to sign them so the teacher knows that the child is getting his work done. Make your child responsible for bringing the assignment book to you to sign (rather than you asking for it); and as you do, ask your child to tell you more about their work. Even in early grades, encourage your kids to take responsibility for writing down their assignments and checking them off as they are completed.

“Good study skills start with simply being organized,” says Jensen. “I’ve seen high school students over the years who end up in special study halls because they are failing three classes. Why? Not because they can’t learn, but because they are so unorganized. They don’t even know where to start. They lose assignments and papers and don’t know where to find the answer. They don’t know what the teacher expects of them.”

Harder still for those students who have always had an easy time getting excellent grades and suddenly begin bringing home 2s, 3s, and even 4s (a.k.a. Bs, Cs, and Ds). Confused parents may be quick to blame their teenager for slacking off when, in reality, the student is doing exactly what they have always done. It just doesn’t work anymore.

The best advice? Start your child early with a regular, established study time and place that works for your family. Encourage and teach consistent organizational skills. Even helping little ones learn to put toys and clothes away in the right places counts.

Older students can make sure they are using their assignment book consistently. Having teachers check the book weekly and make notes for a while can help clarify and demystify expectations. The student should have one place for keeping important papers, and set aside specific time for study several times a week, even if there’s no assignment due the next day. If these things aren’t helping, it’s probably time for the student to let the teacher know he’s struggling and get the teacher’s recommendations.

Sending your student to college with solid studying and organizational skills is a powerful gift. And it’s far more efficient to strengthen weak study skills before you start paying per credit hour.

For more suggestions on helping develop study skills visit greatschools.org or childdevelopmentinfo.org.