Tag Archives: Millard Public Schools

Superintendent Letters

August 6, 2018 by

The greater Omaha metropolitan area is home to some of the state’s best schools, educators, and students. Superintendents at six of the area’s largest school districts share their thoughts and reflections for the fall.

School Districts

Omaha Public
402-557-2222
students: 53,000 | schools: 81

Archdiocese of Omaha
402-558-3100
students: 20,000 | schools: 71

Bellevue Public
402-293-4000
students: 10,000 | schools: 20

Elkhorn Public
402-289-2579
students: 9,500 | schools: 17

Millard Public
402-715-8200
students: 24,000 | schools: 35

Westside Community
402-390-2100
students: 6,000 | schools: 13


Cheryl J. Logan, Ed. D.

Cheryl J. Logan, Ed.D.
Omaha Public
district.ops.org

Welcome back to a new school year. I hope everyone has had an opportunity to recharge and prepare to hit the ground running.

In July, I officially took the reins as superintendent of Omaha Public Schools. I’m honored to have the privilege to serve our students, their families, and the citizens of Omaha. During my visits to schools and with community organizations and city leaders these past seven months, I’ve heard, on more than one occasion, that OPS is an emerging leader in urban education. I’ve seen it up close and personal. OPS is a gem in this community, and the recent show of support in the passing of the Phase 2 bond is inspiring.

I’m honored and humbled to serve as the superintendent of Omaha Public Schools and look forward to working with the Omaha community to ensure that every student is prepared to excel in college, career, and life.

As I learn more about the district’s strengths and opportunities to grow and build upon our shared vision for the future, I’ve also shared my entry plan, which explains the goals, objectives, and activities of my early work here in Omaha. My four primary areas of focus include: 1) building a positive, collaborative, and productive relationship with the board of education; 2) establishing trust and confidence amongst stakeholder groups; 3) reviewing and studying our fiscal and organizational health; and 4) reviewing and studying curriculum and instructional practices.

The insights that are gained during this process will help the district leadership team make informed decisions, building upon the foundation of excellence that already exists while finding strategic ways to ensure our continuous improvement.

Michael W. Ashton, Ed. D.

Michael W. Ashton, Ed.D.
Archdiocese of Omaha
lovemyschool.com

We are blessed in Omaha to have high support and enrollment in the largest by-choice school system in the state. Nearly 20,000 students across 71 schools enjoy a progressive, Christ-centered environment that remains focused on those subjects most important to our families: faith, discipline, service, and community.

Our schools continue to uphold the tradition of high achievement in academic, creative, and athletic pursuits. Our students continue to exceed the Nebraska average in ACT scores, graduation rates, and college acceptances. An even more pronounced difference is seen when comparing Catholic-educated students of Latino backgrounds or from less resourced households to their non-Catholic-educated peers. But these measures are only significant in the way they contribute to each student’s pursuit of God’s plan for their lives. We endeavor to awaken the greatness that is within each child by engaging the whole family in a supportive community that focuses on each person as a valued creation of God.

Catholic education has what we have always valued—morals, high expectations, rigor, and service—but did you know that each year we enroll more students with disabilities and those from non-English speaking households? Our families, parishes, and other benefactors provide additional resources each year in efforts to provide environments that serve every child. You can also find STEM/STEAM/STREAM labs, fine arts programs, vocational preparation partnerships with local colleges, dual enrollment courses, and a new Dual Language Academy, Omaha’s first bi-literate language opportunity for children as young as preschool-age.

Jeff Rippe, Ed. D.

Jeff Rippe, Ed.D.
Bellevue Public
bellevuepublicschools.org

Here at #TeamBPS, we are eager to kick-off the 2018-19 school year.

BPS and our stakeholders began work on a strategic plan last school year; we’re going through a final review before the plan is presented this fall. Once fully implemented, this roadmap will guide and challenge us towards even greater success. 

We continue to renovate, rehabilitate, and improve existing facilities through our bond program—allowing us to provide students with access to cutting-edge technology, educational and recreational resources, and safe and secure environments where they can learn and grow.

In addition to the many happenings this school year, our focus is #BeKind 

We want to bring awareness to all of our stakeholders on issues our students or staff may face while simultaneously initiating a focus on being kind. Our initiative is not limited to students and staff; we hope to have the entire Bellevue/Offutt community join us in spreading the word about our #BeKind message. 

Our accomplishments in BPS are many. We continue to be fortunate to have a community that supports and values education. Above everything we put our students first. It is the promise of the community and the mission of this school district.

Bary Habrock, Ph.D.

Bary Habrock, Ph.D.
Elkhorn Public
elkhornweb.org

With a renewed sense of excitement and promise, we will open our doors to more than 9,500 students this fall.  We look back with pride on the past achievements and successes accomplished by our students, both in academics and extracurricular activities, while looking forward with enthusiasm to the possibilities open to us in the year to come.  

As a prime destination for educational excellence, our focus remains on student achievement, and it’s this priority that drives our actions and decisions. Together with our dedicated students, supportive parents, caring teachers and staff, considerate board members, and a community that partners with us to ensure student success, we set an expectation of excellence as a district that has grown from rural roots into a premier educational environment. Our students continually out-score state and national averages, and our high schools maintain outstanding graduation rates.  Our community understands the value of attending schools where the names and needs of students are known and understood, and it is this partnership that allows us to continue to provide our students with the best educational experience available.  

As we move forward in our 31st consecutive year of significant student population growth, our ability to live out our mission remains the same as we “unite students, families, educators, and the community to ensure a challenging and enriching academic environment that inspires students to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to become responsible citizens and lifelong learners.”

Jim Suftin, Ed. D.

Jim Sutfin, Ed.D.
Millard Public
mpsomaha.org

A new year means a new backpack full of fresh supplies. You can spot the ritual at any of the local stores. The class lists are posted conveniently right as you walk in the door. Along with the required No. 2 yellow pencils, composition notebooks, and folders, we are asking students to tuck one more tool into their backpacks this year. Parents, you’ll like this one. It’s free, it works, and students can keep it for life.

We are asking every student to bring kindness to school this year. You’ve probably already spotted the movement in your community. #BeKind is everywhere. Our neighboring school districts are a part of it. Omaha’s mayor, and the police and fire departments are all part of it. Of all the important lessons our schools can teach, we think this one rises to the top. What you do in this world matters. How you go about it matters even more. Please help us help our students learn how to #BeKind.

Blane McCann, Ph.D.

Blane McCann, Ph.D.
Westside Community
westside66.org

I’ve held many roles in my life: teacher, coach, principal, and now, superintendent. Despite the accolades and awards I’ve been honored to receive throughout my career, nothing will top my most important roles in this world: being a husband and father.

I have devoted my career to public education, yet my proudest moments and fondest memories are those spent with my family. I have been blessed with five wonderful children, several of whom are now adults. I often look back on their younger years and laugh with my wife—how did we do it? How did we survive the sibling rivalry, broken windows, and long car rides on family road trips? The jam-packed schedules. The sleepless nights when they were babies, and the long days when someone was sick.

My wife and I are now empty-nesters. To those who still have little birds at home, I encourage you to enjoy every moment. Soak up the crazy things your children say, and listen when they tell you about their days. Try to remember every day that tomorrow they will be one day closer to adulthood and independence. They need you to listen, to play, to teach them, and to love.

We as educators do our very best to give children all of the tools they need to become happy, productive citizens excelling in their strengths. However, even the best teachers cannot replace your important role as parents and caregivers. And as important as our roles in career and community often seem, nothing can or should compare with family. Your efforts at home make our efforts at school exponentially more powerful and worthwhile.

Here’s to another outstanding school year, and to new summer memories made as a family.


This article was printed in the Fall 2018 edition of Family Guide.

Nancy Beal Meyer

October 26, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When the other little girls in Nancy Beal Meyer’s third grade class were coloring and making crafts, Beal Meyer was begging her mother for an opportunity to learn about art. Not the art from her elementary school classroom, but rather the strokes and techniques behind such Impressionistic artists as Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

And lucky for her, her mother said yes.

Finding a teacher would prove the bigger issue. Private art classes for younger children didn’t extend into actual technique and structure of oil painting, and Beal Meyer was yearning for more. The only classes her mother could find were led by Dorothy Ruge, and those were just for high school students. But that didn’t stop Beal Meyer.  She jumped right in and learned alongside students double her age. When Ruge retired five years later, Beal Meyer, at just 14 years old, took matters into her own hands. She found Augustus W. Dunbier, a renowned local German Impressionist painter. But like Ruge, he would only teach adults. He told her that she could observe but couldn’t be an actual student in his class. Following his strict instruction, every Saturday morning, Beal Meyer would set her easel up directly in back of Dunbier and observe every stroke and detail of what he painted. Finally, after seeing her potential, he relented and brought her into the fold, eventually becoming her mentor and ongoing teacher.

Since then, Beal Meyer has spent her lifetime not only painting, but teaching others that art is truly limitless. As an artist-in-residence for Millard Public Schools through a grant from the Nebraska Arts Council and individual schools’ PTA funding, Beal Meyer’s not just teaching the mechanics of art, but also the power of what art can do to your life.

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And it’s amazing how far her reach has spread.

After graduating from The University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BFA as well as K-12 certification in art instruction, Beal Meyer taught after-school art programs to the at-risk youth at Omaha Home for Boys. She knew then that she had found her gift, “it just takes someone helping them to take them where they want to go.”

From helping a student with his scholarship portfolio to design school, to showing them careers in graphic design they never knew existed, Beal Meyer has always been dedicated to helping students see beyond what’s right in front of them. “Art isn’t just about drawing and painting,” she explains. “It’s about career opportunities and seeing what they can do with art.”

Since those early days at the Omaha Home for Boys, Nancy has been an advocate for the power of art programs in elementary-based education programs. “Art is what grounds people, it makes people kind and sane.” She fears where our education system is going with the cutting of art and music programs from the younger-aged school programs. Millard School District has already cut their art programs at the elementary school level and only offers art curriculum by individual classroom teachers. Beal Meyer is able to teach at schools like Sandoz Elementary and Wheeler Elementary because of Nebraska Art Council grants and PTA fundraising. But every year her fate is unknown. “It’s sad,” she explains. “Kids need this. They want to learn.”

That is obvious from the pile of thank-you notes from her most recent students stacked on her table. Each with a message of hope for a world Beal Meyer opened up to them. A hope she’s happy to give. “They need someone telling them that they can do it.”

And it’s not just for them. “This work in the schools is my heart. These kids are my heart. I want the world to see that they deserve more.” And she’s doing just that—one artist at a time.

NancyBealMeyer1

Linden Estates

December 5, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It originally carried the decidedly blah designation of “SID 353,” but Linden Estates is now among Omaha’s most prestigious neighborhoods. Known for its approximately 120 stunning luxury homes that sit on large, exquisitely landscaped lots, the properties start at 3,000 square feet and more than a few attain the classification of “mansion,” with the largest topping out at 23,000 square feet.

“The beauty of the neighborhood is that you didn’t have one builder going in there with a specific style,” says Deb Cizek, of the Cizek Group with Prudential Ambassador Real Estate. “You had the individual taste of the owners who contracted with these builders. You have some contemporary homes in there, some traditional, you have some Tuscan—just a beautiful mix of architecture.”

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Cizek has been in real estate more than 25 years, and as a realtor who specializes in high-end properties, she knows Linden Estates particularly well. “It will go anywhere from half a million to multi-million, and everything seems to blend just fine,” she says.

The residents themselves also blend well, says Kim Syslo, who’s been in the neighborhood for about a year. There are homes with play structures side-by-side with homes that feature stately courtyards or pristine gardens, and Syslo says her young family has felt at home from the beginning. “We have friendly neighbors who are so kind to my kids,” she says. “Children really are welcome—we’ve been thrilled with the neighborhood.”

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John Belford, president of Linden Estates’ board of directors, agrees that, as the neighborhood enters its third decade, it has become more diverse in recent years. “There’s definitely been a lot of turnover. We’ve had a lot of new kids come into the neighborhood, young kids from 2 to 14. There are also people who are retired with no kids as well. Everyone 
gets along.”

“It’s a pretty good mix,” Cizek agrees, “and that’s what you want in a neighborhood.”

Located in the area of 144th and Dodge, Linden Estates is close to West Omaha business parks, retail developments, and 
other amenities.

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“We used to think 72nd was the heart of the city, and now it’s 132nd,” Cizek says. “Everything is easy to get to. It is a phenomenal location: easy access to downtown, easy access to the interstate.”

“There are a lot of restaurants and grocery stores and amenities that are within 10 minutes,” 15-year resident Nancy 
Hultquist adds.

Linden Estates is in the Millard Public Schools district, so neighborhood children generally attend Ezra Millard Elementary, Kiewit Middle School, and Millard North High School. Catholic schools St. Vincent de Paul and St. Wenceslaus are also nearby. Belford, who is the parent of three high-school students and also has one in college, says, “I’m fortunate to live here. It’s been great for our family, and it’s a great location—between 132nd and 144th and Dodge to Maple, we have everything we need.”

Linden Estates was annexed by the City of Omaha in 2008, Belford says. There is also a Linden Estates Second Addition, but although the two neighborhoods are adjacent, they are independent developments and even managed by separate home-
owners associations.

“Linden Estates is, in my opinion, probably the premier neighborhood in the city,” Cizek says. “It has stood out for twenty years.”

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Not only has the natural maturation of the community’s trees enhanced the look of Linden Estates over the years, the April hailstorms that came through West Omaha this year had an unexpected silver lining—many of the homes now sport new roofs, which has refreshed the neighborhood. “You have homes in there that look like they’re brand-new again,” Cizek explains.

The new roofs will also be a perfect canvas for the elaborate holiday light displays for which Linden Estates has become known.

“It’s always been like that since we’ve been here,” Hultquist says of the collective enthusiasm for holiday decor. “Everyone really puts up a lot of lights and celebrates the holidays. It’s a very festive environment not only for the homeowners, but also for Omahans to enjoy. I think when you go out to look at Christmas lights, this is one of the neighborhoods 
you go through.”

Even the entrance to Linden Estates is welcoming, Belford says. “The homeowners association started putting up lights about 10 years ago at the main entrance at 144th Street and Hamilton. The homeowners were already putting lots of lights up, so we decided to enhance the holiday season by adding lights.”

Linden Estates is an active neighborhood year-round. Even the surrounding areas are pedestrian-friendly, Hultquist says, with plenty of paths, parks, and even a small reservoir near the First National Business Park.

“In the morning, you see children walking to school, and after school, you see more people walking their dogs, children riding bikes,” she says. “There’s just more activity with more families and younger children in the neighborhood.”

Family Success Story
: The Murceks

November 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Grief is an unavoidable part of life. Everyone encounters it at some point, and it usually strikes when least expected. And though no one grieves the same, the emptiness that follows losing a loved one is universal, whether it’s for a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a friend, a child, even a pet.

But the true test is not the grief itself—it’s coming back from it.

Looking at John and Cindy Murcek of Millard today, you wouldn’t know that they suffered a terrible family loss. John is a painting contractor; Cindy is a social studies and English teacher at Andersen Middle School in the Millard Public Schools district. They’ve been married for a little over 20 years.

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They have three children—sons Eric, 14, and Will, 7, and daughter Jamie, 5. “Eric’s in tennis. Will’s in football. Jamie’s in gymnastics…It’s kind of busy, but it’s the good kind of busy,” Cindy says. When asked how the kids get along, she laughs. “Will and Jamie will either play together or be at each other’s throats. Eric, being the teenager, thinks they’re annoying sometimes. But they’re all good kids.”

John and Cindy’s devotion to their children is what Cindy believes binds their relationship. “We want our children to know that they have a secure home, and that we’re giving them the best life that we can. I came from a divorced family, so it’s important for them to know that that will never happen. And John’s from a big Catholic family, so family and staying together has always been important to him.”

Twelve years ago during the Thanksgiving holiday, however, their family was shaken when they were on their way back to Omaha from Billings, Mont., after visiting Cindy’s sister and her family. Their truck hit black ice and rolled. John, Cindy, and Eric were all fine, but Cindy’s mom, who rarely traveled, and the Murceks’ oldest son, Andy, were killed.

“It was devastating,” Cindy says. “That’s an understatement.”

While they grieved, John and Cindy found support in each other. “I think that incident made John’s and my bond stronger. Nobody loved Andy like we did, nobody can break that, and nobody can understand our loss. We had that grief to share; and though we grieved differently, we both knew exactly what the other was feeling.”

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Eric, at the time, was 2. While he didn’t understand everything, he knew Andy was supposed to be there but wasn’t. “He’d ask where Andy was and if he could play with him,” Cindy says. “When we went to the grocery store, he’d ask if he could get Andy a snack. Of course, I let him. We’d even tell him stories about Andy.” Although they missed their oldest son, Cindy says that she and John were grateful to still have Eric. “He was my reason to get out of bed in the morning.”

Today, Cindy aches for Eric almost more than she did when he was too young to understand his brother’s death. “He’s a freshman in high school now. Andy would’ve been a senior. He would’ve had his big brother in school with him.”

The grieving process for the Murceks was always about time. Some days were harder than others, but each day, it got a little easier. “As time goes on, grief is more a silent battle…You deal with it on your own, you face it, and go on.”

During that silent battle, Cindy says she bought a “full library” of books on grief and went to grief groups, looking for a fix. But it was faith that turned everything around for her.

“I wasn’t really a spiritual person before. My mom was,” she says. “It’s weird, but I feel like that’s why she was on that trip with us. She knew she was going to a better place and teaching me a little faith as well.”

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Cindy swears her mom is still teaching her lessons in faith to this day. She recalls a Sunday when her church’s pastor asked the congregation to open their Bibles to a specific verse. “My mom had given me a Bible several years before, and I’d never used it. But I brought it with me that day.” When Cindy opened the Bible to the verse, she realized it had been underlined. “I flipped through some more pages and saw that my mom had underlined verses she thought would be good for me to read. It was the most incredible thing.”

Andy, too, seemed to connect with them in unexpected ways. “Last Christmas, we went to the cemetery to visit him,” she says. “I thought ‘Give me something from Andy, God.’ That night, we had a party, and a neighbor brought over a journal where other people had written about memories of Andy.”

These little moments strengthened Cindy’s faith and helped her see that everything would be all right again. Then again, the addition of two more precious gifts took her mind off the grief, too.

“We assumed it was just going to be the three of us.” But John and Cindy talked about having another child. Certainly, they viewed adding another child to their family differently after Andy’s passing. “Another person to love and lose,” Cindy says. Nevertheless, it was a chance they were willing to take.

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In 2005, they heard about a young girl looking to give her baby up for adoption. “[Will] was born, and in six months, we had a new baby…We hadn’t really planned on it. It just kind of happened.” Another surprise took shape when Cindy found out she was pregnant. “I turned 40 and learned I was pregnant with Jamie. John and I were both like, ‘Two little ones in diapers? We can’t handle this!’” But Jamie, like Will, was a blessing in disguise. Cindy jokes that they finally got a “little princess” after all boys.

“We feel truly blessed,” Cindy says. “Yes, we lost my son and my mom, but there are situations much worse. We’re glad to have a loving family.”

For others grieving the loss of family members, Cindy has some good advice: “I would recommend that you let your family be there for you and understand that grief is a lifelong process…I realized that I couldn’t do it on my own, and that realization made me feel so much better. Just let people help you. Talk to families with similar losses. The sadness won’t go away, but the hopelessness will.”

As for her mom and Andy, Cindy smiles. “I know we’ll see them again.”

Homes for Heroes

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When mortgage loan officer Michael Petrovich with The Private Mortgage Group in Omaha was offered the chance to work with the national Homes for Heroes program, he says it seemed like a perfect opportunity to show his thanks to those we depend on.

The program—which uses the tagline ‘Service Deserves Its Rewards’—offers discounts on real estate-related services to active and retired military, police officers, firefighters, teachers, and other civil servants that serve our communities and our country.

“My dad was a fireman for years with the Omaha Fire Department, and a good friend of mine’s dad is a retired Omaha police officer,” Petrovich says. “I also have a lot of friends in the military. [The program] sounded like an opportunity to help out a lot of friends and family, and this was an area I felt I could really make a difference…saving them some money when buying a home.”

Petrovich says as a Homes for Heroes affiliate member, he offers “hero” homebuyers free home appraisals, which are often required for home purchases and refinances handled by his firm. Waiving the fee saves the homebuyer $400. Fellow Private Mortgage Group employees Pete Coen and Jeremy Wilhelm are also affiliate members.

“[The program] sounded like an opportunity to help out a lot of friends and family, and this was an area I felt I could really make a difference.” – Michael Petrovich, The Private Mortgage Group

“We can offer the discounts to any qualifying client in the Omaha/Fremont territory we cover. All they need to do is sign up on the Homes for Heroes website, and it directs them to all the affiliates in the area,” Petrovich explains.

Real estate agents make up a large number of HFH affliliate members nationally. Locally, Prudential Ambassador Real Estate agents Michelle Gustafson, Gary Gernhart, Mamie Jackson, and Matt Anderson are affiliates. “We know the agents [at Prudential], and we’ve worked together to offer clients the HFH discounts. It’s been a team effort,” Petrovich adds.

The Homes for Heroes program was first created in 2002 by a group of lenders and Realtors in Minneapolis in response to the tragic events of 9/11. Petrovich was among the first Homes for Heroes affiliate members in Nebraska, joining in November 2012 when the program first launched in Omaha. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit, comprised of Realtors, lenders, and other real estate-related service providers, now has approximately 750 affiliates nationwide serving homeowners in 44 states.

Steve Minino, a Realtor with NP Dodge Real Estate, is another Homes for Heroes affliate in Omaha. Along with Realtors Deb and Mark Hopkins (all part of the Hopkins Home Team), Minino got involved when he learned about the program on the local news.

“We saw the advantages right away and jumped on board…being able to help our local heroes while getting some great exposure for us,” he says. “It was definitely a win-win situation.

“My family also has a long tradition of members serving in the Marine Corps. We liked the idea of helping out family and friends who serve and who could really benefit.”

“We saw the advantages right away and jumped on board…being able to help our local heroes while getting some great exposure for us. It was definitely a win-win situation.” – Steve Minino, NP Dodge Real Estate

As an affiliate, Minino says he offers 25 percent of his sales commission back toward the purchase process for Homes for Heroes clients. “This money is typically applied toward the closing costs being paid by the homebuyer,” he says. “If the buyer is not responsible for closing costs, then the money is donated to a charity of their choice.”

Minino also donates another five percent of his commission directly back to the Homes for Heroes organization, which they use to fund other projects, including the rehabing of homes to accommodate injured veterans.

“We’re currently working with several Heroes clients, and we hope to grow that number in the next six months or so.”

Millard Public Schools teacher Stephanie Poltack and her fiancé, Aaron Mackel, recently purchased a home together in West Omaha and took advantage of discounts offered by several local Homes for Heroes affliliates. “My Realtor, Judy Kramer with Prudential, told me about [Homes for Heroes] and referred me,” Poltack says. “Through the program, we received closing-cost assistance and got a discounted home inspection, and The Private Mortgage Group gave us a free home appraisal. I believe we saved $1,325 in all.

“Being a first-year teacher and a first-time homeowner, I’m very appreciative of all the help we received…It meant everything to us,” Poltack adds. “We were able to use the money saved to go out and buy a washer and dryer. It’s a great program, and I think if more people were aware of it, more would take advantage of it.”

“Being a first-year teacher and a first-time homeowner, I’m very appreciative of all the help we received…It meant everything to [my fiancé and me].” – Stephanie Poltack, teacher

Nationally, several media outlets and Hollywood celebrities have helped publicize the good works being done by Homes for Heroes’ affiliates nationwide, including Sean Hannity with Fox News, actor Gary Sinise, and the Orlando Magic basketball franchise. However, the nonprofit has grown primarily through word of mouth via the internet and news media.

Petrovich says one of the goals of the Omaha-area affiliates is to raise awareness of the Homes for Heroes program in Nebraska and encourage participation by our local heroes.

“We’re getting together to discuss ways to advertise,” he said. “We’ve placed ads in the Fremont paper, hung posters in firehouses and around town…We want our civil servants and military to know we support them and say thank you for serving our country and our community.”

Family Success Story: The Dotsons

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Date night” is not a term often used in the Dotson household; however, “family” is. After 11 years of marriage, David and Susie Dotson have experienced more than any parents should, but they still find time to come together as a family and cherish the moments they have. “Our marriage has shaped us to be better parents,” Susie explains.

“Strength” is another word thrown around a lot when discussing the Dotsons. Their first child, Noah, was born with autism. “He suffered from anxiety [when he heard] any loud noise growing up. He didn’t develop his speech to explain his fears and anxiety until around age 4.” Susie became focused on trying to help Noah by going to autism events, getting involved in discussion groups, and doing her own research. The Millard Public Schools district was able to get Noah started with homebound help at age 2, and eventually into Halo, a gifted learning program at Wheeler Elementary School, where he continues to build his communication skills.

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A couple years after Noah’s birth, Lily was born five weeks early and had to stay in the NICU for two weeks. She went home on a heart monitor and eventually grew into a healthy baby girl. Five years later, however, Lily was suddenly diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of cancer common in childhood and characterized by the overproduction of immature white blood cells in the bone marrow.

Susie remembers the day they found out. “I felt all summer long that something wasn’t right with her. I had mother’s intuition.” After complaining of stomach aches and her legs hurting when she played sports, Susie took Lily out of gymnastics, soccer, and swimming. She thought the schedule may have been too daunting for her little girl. “After a couple of weeks into school, I noticed bruising,” she says, “After about two weeks of the bruising getting worse and showing up in places that you normally don’t bruise, I made an appointment.”

“I feel like we are still figuring it all out. There are days that are not pretty. One of my favorite quotes for my family is, ‘We may not have it all together, but together, we have it all.’” – Susie Dotson

The night before Lily’s doctor’s appointment, Susie decided to google her daughter’s symptoms. Every result came back the same: cancer. Susie’s heart sank. “I took a photo of her eating breakfast before school that morning, knowing that this is what a normal day looked like before cancer.” Later that day, after five minutes of examining Lily, their pediatrician told Susie that her daughter had cancer and needed to go to the emergency room immediately. “Within 24 hours, she started blood transfusions, chemo, spinal tap, and a bone marrow scan. She has had over a dozen platelet and whole blood transfusions. She was put on high risk and only a 40 percent chance of making it the first year. She is now up to 65-70 percent.”

Lily’s fight not only took a toll on her but also on the Dotson’s marriage and Susie’s relationship with Noah. “Communication is key, and we are slowly finding that. During the heavy treatment, it was very hard to have a meaningful relationship [with David or Noah] with the high demands of Lily’s cancer treatment. But we are now learning how to heal as a married couple. I’m also loving my ‘Noah time.’ I feel like I missed a whole year of his life. I missed him.”

Lily’s treatment doesn’t end until January 2014, but the heavy treatment portion concluded last July. Lily can now do daily chemo treatments at home and go to school.20130407_bs_0015 Medium Copy

While life is far less stressful than it was a year ago, Susie says, “No matter what day it is, cancer doesn’t let you forget you’re fighting it. Once your family is hit by cancer, you are constantly in the battle…You never get to leave the battlefield.” The Dotsons still find time to be a normal family, with Lily dressing up the family Maltese, Santana, and Noah writing letters to the family beta fish: Patrick, Sandy, Rainbow Buddy, and Red Nose Clown Nose. And maybe soon, Susie and David will finally get that date night.

“I feel like we are still figuring it all out. There are days that are not pretty. One of my favorite quotes for my family is, ‘We may not have it all together, but together, we have it all.’”