Tag Archives: Meet the Family

Great Returns

September 8, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Annika  and Stephen   George have called many exciting places home—locales like Melbourne, London, Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City—but, when it came time for them and their four children to put down roots, Omaha was the prime destination on their minds.

“Omaha has all that one needs, but without the challenges of most American cities—traffic, cost, lack of community and transient nature of culture, crime, crowds,” Stephen says.

Stephen and his wife, Annika, live at West Shores Lake in Waterloo, Nebraska, but it was the greater Omaha area that drew the Nebraska natives back when they decided to relocate their family from the San Francisco area to Omaha in 2010.   

Columbus native Stephen, and Annika, originally from Fremont, knew each other peripherally for years before being set up in summer 2007 by a family member of Stephen’s who was friends with Annika. Before long, Annika and her two daughters, Kyra, now 15, and Briley, now 12, relocated to California to join Stephen, who’d resided in the Bay Area since 1995. The couple married in 2008 and soon welcomed another child, Rafe, now 8. Annika was pregnant with their son Vail, now 6, during the family’s move back to Nebraska. The family also includes Stephen’s adult daughter, Spencer, who attends Barnard College in New York City.

A stronger support network and solid educational opportunities for the kids topped Annika’s list of reasons for wanting to return to Nebraska. 

“I’m very close with my family. My parents live in Fremont; in fact, they’re moving into a house that’s being built right over there,” Annika says, pointing at the nearby construction project through a large picture window which nicely frames a scenic view of the shimmering lake.

Annika credits her mother, Sheryl Bergstrom, for helping provide the kind of family support she so craved when the Georges lived in California. During the school year, Bergstrom comes over every morning to help get the kids up, dressed, and ready for school, and she also helps cart the kids to various after-school endeavors.    

“Kyra is involved in theater, speech, all things high school; Briley is a competitive soccer player; and the boys are involved in Cub Scouts, soccer, basketball, and tennis,” says Annika. “My mom is a saint for all the help she gives.”

As for providing solid educational opportunities for the kids, the Georges were discouraged by the state of schools in California. This was evident when they began looking into preschools for Briley.

“When we first arrived in California, Briley needed to enroll in preschool. I reached out to as many places as I could, and each one said there was no possibility she’d get in, or even get on the waitlist in some cases, because everything was so full,” Annika says.

A few months later, Briley lucked into a spot at Kirk House Preschool (part of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church), because it had one slot available for a girl. Briley jumped ahead of several boys to grab this chance.

This wasn’t the only discouraging factor. Annika and Stephen found the schools in California overcrowded and understaffed, with routine facility maintenance suffering, and arts and language programs buckling under budget cuts.

When it came time to move back, the family learned to look for schools early. Stephen, in fact, traveled to Omaha ahead of the move to scout schools. “We were looking for the best education opportunity for our children in Omaha,” Stephen says. The parents enrolled their young scholars at Brownell Talbot, where there was no waitlist, but the kids had to, and did, pass entrance exams.

Annika and Stephen agree they’ve found an optimum educational fit.

“You have to be an advocate for your kids,” says Annika, who stresses that she encountered great, well-meaning teachers in California, but they were simply overburdened and thus ill-equipped to provide a nuanced, well-rounded education for their children. “At Brownell, the teachers are also great advocates for them. They see the kids’ needs and gifts, and are there to support them.”

“We found Brownell Talbot to be on par with the best private schools in places I had lived, such as NYC, London, and San Francisco, but much more accessible for families,” Stephen says. “The school has a wonderful campus, excellent academic, artistic, and sports programs, caring and superb professionals, and a top-notch college placement program—all of which help position our children to be the best they can as they grow up and head to college.” 

With a strong support system and the kids receiving a stellar education, Annika and Stephen are quite pleased with their decision to return to Nebraska.

“Omaha is a ‘big little town’ where families can focus on their careers and be active in their kids’ lives, plus it has unending resources—sports, community, academic—to help families to thrive,” says Stephen, founder of Omaha-based private equity investment firm Panorama Point Partners.

“Nebraska is truly a hidden gem,” Annika says. “People who haven’t lived elsewhere may not realize all that they have here—especially for family life.”

This article was printed in the Fall 2017 edition of Family Guide.

(from left) Rafe, 8; Vail, 6; Kyra, 15; Briley, 12

The Beckmans

February 2, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sadie Beckman—at 2 years old—likes to pick up pretty rocks and cup them in her tiny hands. Then she clicks them together. These are special rocks that her grandmother, Linda Beckman, brought back from past vacations in Colorado and Washington.

Whether she’s practicing her sensory motor skills by playing with Grandma’s rocks or taking short walks with her grandpa, Dennis Beckman, Sadie’s too little to understand the favor her parents, Jennie and David Beckman, did for her.

By returning back to their hometown of Omaha after stints in Boston and Baltimore, they widened their daughter’s family circle. A supportive circle that cares for her, plays games with her, and feeds her homemade sugar cookies.

Young families are increasingly returning home to Omaha to live closer to grandparents for more quality family bonding. Jennie’s childhood friend Amy Isaacson also recently returned to the Omaha area after working as a researcher at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Isaacson says her family moved due to the rising cost of living in the Silicon Valley area and to reside closer to family. The Isaacsons have a 4-year-old daughter and 9-month-old twin girls.

“This has been absolutely the best decision for so many reasons. We have more space. We have family. People are friendly here. It’s more affordable,” Isaacson says.

Beckman, who graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, says they talked about returning to Omaha after they had children. Fortunately, Beckman’s previous job as director of volunteer strategy with the non-profit Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies allowed her to work remotely, so she could take her job with her to Nebraska. She is now the director of community engagement and education for the Jewish Federation of Omaha.

After the birth of Sadie, Jennie realized how important it was to be around her family. “It was really painful to go a whole year with them not seeing her for large slots of time.”

When David’s mom, Linda, heard the news, she says she kept thinking, “Oh my gosh, is this real?”

“Many, many years before, they had wanted to move back,” Linda says. “It all depends on jobs and things. You can’t just decide to move. You have to have an income.”

“It’s fun to watch her,” Linda says of baby Sadie. “When she first walks in the house and she sees you, she just lights up, and it’s like ‘Ahh!’ She just melts your heart.”

The Beckmans also have another granddaughter, Evelyn, who lives in Iowa. “We don’t see her nearly as often, but I’ll send her little packages here and there,” says Linda.

“We just want to be there to be of any assistance that the parents need. My parents were like that. They were always there to pick up the kids after school if I couldn’t do it. They were always there, so it just comes natural,” she says.

The Beckmans take care of Sadie each Tuesday evening. “Dave and Jenny get to have a few minutes by themselves to sort of catch their breath,” Linda says. They get to do things childless people do, like go out to eat without the dining room theatrics or relax on the deck and enjoy each other’s company.”

“I think the biggest thing is just the sense of comfort and security, and feeling like we have backup. And we have backups to our backup,” Jennie says.

Jennie’s support team also includes her own parents, Linda and Harry Gates, and her two brothers.

The Gates watch Sadie each Wednesday evening, and sometimes on the weekends for an hour or so while Jennie runs errands. They like to read books to Sadie or work on puzzles with her. They have tried painting and crafting with Play-Doh—no small feat with a child that age.

Harry also likes to take Sadie on walks. “We go look at the ants, and we go look at the flowers, and we go look at the birds,” he says.

Linda Gates says she really notices how Sadie changes from week to week. “Her vocabulary has just exploded. It seems like it’s all of a sudden, but because we can see her once a week, we really can see that progression. If they were still in Baltimore, we would miss out on all of that,” she says.

Gates, who prefers the name “Gigi” over “Grandmother,” has a penchant for wearing jewelry. “Sadie’s always real fascinated with that. If I have on bracelets and necklaces, I’ll take them off and put them on her, and she puts them back on me. It’s just kind of a nice moment together,” she says.

All the grandparents are happy with the new living arrangements. “It’s great. We’re very grateful and excited that it all worked out for them,” Gates says.

This article was printed in the Winter 2016 edition of Family Guide.

 

The Dotzlers

April 28, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Josh Dotzler was 2 years old, his father sold everything they owned, including their house and cars, and relocated his family to a rundown building in a crime-ridden neighborhood in North Omaha.

The reason: He felt called to God’s mission.

“My father said if he ever wrote a book about moving, one of the chapters would be titled Roaches and Rats,” Dotzler, now 29, says. “Because the building was infested with both of those.

Dotzler says his father, Ron, a chemical engineer, witnessed more police and more crime in the first three weeks after moving than he’d experienced in his entire life. It was then, he says, that his father knew he was meant to be part of a solution for the Omaha community.

It was due to this revel-ation and mission that the nonprofit organization, Abide, was founded, which Dotzler now runs alongside his father. However, Dotzler admits, his current work is a far cry from the original blueprint for his life.

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“I grew up in that environment and loved what my parents were doing, but I didn’t want to be a part of it,” Dotzler says. “We experienced neighbors being murdered, our house and cars being shot at, windows broken. There were lots of experiences that we had in North Omaha that caused me to have a sense of fear being in the community. That was part of the reason I didn’t want to move back.”

Dotzler says they had a saying in the area growing up: “Work hard, get an education, and you, too, can move out of the ghetto.” Dotzler’s hope was that his graduation from Creighton in 2009, complete with a degree in public relations and a position on Creighton’s basketball team, would mean his ticket out of North Omaha for good.

However, after attending the funeral following the murder of a childhood neighbor, Dotzler had serious cause to reevaluate his life.

“It had me thinking,” Dotzler says, “how could my friend’s life have been different if more people were a part of it? That was the catalyst God used to redirect my life. That was when my wife and I came to the conclusion that this is what we’re called to be doing.”

Dotzler and his wife, Jen, moved back to North Omaha shortly after that, into a one-bedroom space in the original building his family had refurbished. Their hope was to work with Abide to identify and revitalize 700 pockets of Omaha’s most crime-infested neighborhoods.

Already, Abide has a presence in 100 of those areas.

When Dotzler was a child, his father moved their family of 16 a second time into a neighborhood that the police had red-lined as the most dangerous in the city. With the aid of several volunteers, the Dotzlers hosted neighborhood clean-ups, home constructions and renovations, and block

parties in a full revitalization effort. Crime and drug abuse declined; community morale skyrocketed. This success is the prime example Dotzler wishes to follow with his work.

“We watched this red-lined community become one of the best neighborhoods in Omaha,” Dotzler says. “Our dream is to see all 700 of these neighborhoods transform in the same way.”

The most rewarding part of Dotzler’s job is witnessing the effect Abide has on members of the North Omaha community within their own neighborhoods.

“We’ve seen crime decrease, relationships in the community increase,” Dotzler says. “We see freshmen in high school getting ready to drop out; not only do they then graduate, but they go on to college and invest in the program to give back to other people. People in prison have turned their lives around and are now part of the solution.”

Currently, Dotzler is the executive pastor of Bridge Church and the father of three—Joshua, 5, Joseph, 3, and Julianna, 1. His family is enthusiastically involved in Abide’s various efforts in the Omaha community, including afternoon tutoring programs, a basketball league, a youth club, and even a recording studio.

“Our organizations are really family-centered,” Dotzler says. “We couldn’t do what we’re doing if our family wasn’t a part of it. We live in the community that we work in. For the most part, our lives are really centered around what happens in North Omaha.

Dotzler adds that some of his kids’ best relationships are from the programs that Abide provides. Dotzler even coaches one of the program’s 10 basketball teams, which his two sons participate in weekly.

As for the future, it’s Dotzler’s hope that Abide will continue to revitalize and expand its efforts until it reaches its end goal: transforming the entirety of Omaha, one neighborhood at a time.

“We’re beginning to build the foundation for the future,” Dotzler says. “Our hope is that there won’t be any inner city in Nebraska.”

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