Tag Archives: responsibility

Strike Zone and MVP4Life

March 14, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Learning life skills through baseball.” This is the tagline for MVP4Life, a new nonprofit organization aimed at keeping Omaha’s youth in school and helping them succeed in life. MVP4Life has joined forces with Strike Zone Omaha to form school programs, camps and clinics, coaches’ clinics, and the Upper Deck League.

The goal of MVP4Life is to instill a sense of work ethic and teach kids about the importance of contributing to the community. It’s not just about baseball. It’s about producing a rewarding program that encourages kids to work together.

Joe Siwa and Teri Cissell, partners at Strike Zone Omaha, realized the need for after-school programs in the community. It was Cissell who thought up the idea behind MVP4Life. As the nonprofit’s director, she has been working hard on the program for about a year and a half and says it’s almost ready to launch. “We have it where we want it to be and now want to hit the ground running,” Cissell says.

Over eight weeks, the school program will teach life skills to fifth through eighth graders. The goal is for students to graduate from MVP4Life with a set of essential life skills. “This is a full-circle program,” Siwa says. “Everything is connected with helping these kids become more productive citizens in life. We are giving them that foundation to live upon.”

“We’ve put a lot of thought into this and have really built a strong program,” says Cissell. Cissell and Siwa have created a complete curriculum based on the HOMERUNS life skills: Handle diversity, Overcome challenges, Make good decisions, Encouragement and leadership, Responsibility and respect, Understand and accept situations, Nurture self-esteem and confidence, and Stay focused on personal goals.

“Research shows that if kids are kept in organized school activities, they do much better in school and in life,” Cissell says. “Douglas County Sheriff’s department did research that determined if we could keep just 10 percent of male students from dropping out of high school, we could save Nebraska taxpayers $65 million per year.”

The nonprofit also includes the Upper Deck League, a competitive league for college players in their offseason. These players mentor youth on how to be successful college athletes, as well as attend a leadership conference in exchange for playing in the Upper Deck League. Siwa stresses the importance of giving back to the community and hopes that these 120 college baseball players are passing on a strong work ethic to the kids.

“Our job is to get these kids involved and teach them how to listen to instruction, take criticism, and gain a work ethic. We want to put a desire into these kids…great things happen when you work hard,” Siwa says.

The program will begin in the Omaha Public Schools and filter out to the rest of
the community.

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For the Love of Pets

December 12, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Animals are a huge deal in this house!” exclaims Kim Hanusek of Bennington, mom to Samantha, 9, and Leigha, 6.  She’s also a second-grade teacher at Pine Creek Elementary in the Bennington Public Schools district. Kim is always eager to visit about the eight animals (yes, eight!) that complete her extended family.

“First off, we have Tucker, 3, a purebred Boxer,” shares Kim. “My family has been raising Boxers for 20 years, and my sister and I grew up showing Boxers in 4-H. I have shown Tucker locally at shows in Lincoln and Omaha, but now he’s a ‘finished champion,’ which means he’s just a coach potato.

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“Then we have Piggy, a French Bulldog who’s 4 and also a purebred. We got him from a breeder, and he actually looks like a pig.”

Kim goes on to describe her three feline friends. Callie, a domestic shorthair Calico, was adopted from the Nebraska Humane Society seven years ago (which makes her the most senior pet of the household).

Diamond, 4, is a Ragdoll, a domestic breed known for its gigantic size and limp body. “The kids like to hold him like a baby, and he’s so flexible, he folds up in half.”

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Then there’s Lily (age unknown), a domestic shorthair stray the family took in a couple years ago. “Another teacher spotted her in the snow on the playground one day, and I took her home. We didn’t intend to keep her,” Kim confesses, “but [Leigha] had been asking for a cat of her own, and we were trying to get her to stop chewing on her blanket. I told her, ‘Little girls that chew on blankets don’t have their own cats.’ It worked like a charm,” Kim recalls with a laugh.

The family also has two hamsters—gifts to the girls from their father, Brian, for Valentine’s Day last year.

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And just what does Dad think of all the animals in the house? “He grew up in a home where the dog stayed outside most of the time,” says Kim. “Then he found me and met my family…He had to become an animal lover out of necessity! Now, he travels to dog shows with us and willingly goes along with it all. Truly, he loves seeing the enjoyment the girls get out of [the animals].”

Last, there’s Coty, an 18-year-old paint horse that Kim got while in college. The family boards Coty at The Farm at Butterflat Creek in Bennington. “I did a little breakaway roping on her when she was young, but I was never successful,” Kim recalls. “She’s pretty ornery, but she’s turned out to be a great family pet. The girls and I ride her…both girls took riding lessons this summer. Samantha hopes to ride competitively one day.”

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Samantha plans to begin showing Boxers next summer in 4-H Junior Showmanship competitions as well, Kim shares proudly.

“My hopes are that both girls will show or train dogs in 4-H and more competitively in AKC-sanctioned shows when they get older,” she adds. “There’s a lot of enjoyment and pride that comes when you work hard and bond with a pet. The possibilities are endless with dog/owner activities. They might move on to dog agility, confirmation [breed judging], obedience, therapy dogs, and/or working with our breed-specific rescue group.”

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While the family pets are teaching her girls lessons about hard work and responsibility—they help clean cages, take the dogs to obedience classes, make sure all the animals are watered and fed daily, and other duties—Kim says they’re teaching them lessons in humanity as well.

“They’re learning that the animals depend on them…that all animals need love and attention, and that playtime is a requirement of pet ownership, too. They’re learning that animals feel…and they’re all unique. Samantha, especially, has taken a real interest in learning about the differences in dog breeds and their temperaments and behavior.”

The family has also done some work with a dog rescue club, which has allowed the girls to see how some pet owners treat pets as disposable. “I want them to understand that pet ownership is a commitment, and you don’t get rid of a pet because you’re bored with them or so you can get another. It’s not temporary,” adds Kim.

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Having so many pets does offer its challenges, Kim admits. The family has to budget for yearly vaccinations and heartworm pills, boarding and farrier fees, vet bills, and of course, pet food and supplies. All the expenses can add up. Taking any trip can also be a hassle. “We always have to ask, ‘Who’s going to take care of the animals?’ before we can go anywhere.”

Recently, Kim and Brian approached the girls about taking a vacation to Disneyland. The girls’ response? “They told us they wanted to go to New Orleans where they make Pitbulls & Parolees or to the Florida Everglades to see where Gator Boys is shot.” These are two Animal Planet shows the family watches together. A love of animals is ingrained in them for life, Kim says.

“A lot of what we do revolves around the animals, especially the dogs. They join us for fire-pit nights with the neighbors…they sleep in our bed…they’re there for just about everything.” And that’s just how the Hanuseks like it.

When is the Right Time for a Family Pet?

August 16, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

So you just had kids. During the first couple years of raising toddlers, you were under a lot of stress and had a fairly unpredictable schedule. But now that they’re in school, you’ve gotten into a comfortable routine—breakfast, take the kids to school, go to work, pick the kids up from school, eat dinner, go to bed. It’s about this time that you might be thinking, “Hey, we should get a family pet!”

But how do you know if a pet is a good idea? And what kind of pet should you get to fit your family’s lifestyle? Well, there are actually several things to consider before adding a pet to your family.

The first is whether or not you have time you can devote to a pet. “Time is the best judge,” says Cathy Guinane, training and behavior coordinator with the Nebraska Humane Society, who works with owners of new pets regularly. “A family has to have time for an animal. They can’t be gone all the time.”

Guinane, herself, adopted four dogs—three terrier mixes and one poodle mix—and personally prefers to get pets in the summer. “It’s easier to potty-train a puppy or younger dog when the weather is nice. [And] more people are outside in the summer, so there’s more time for walks.”

“The answer is different for each family,” adds Tera Bruegger, director and adoption coordinator with Hearts United for Animals, a no-kill shelter, sanctuary, and animal welfare organization in Auburn, Neb. “One time that can be difficult, however, is around the holidays.” Bruegger says that holiday preparations, leaving town, and constantly having guests over aren’t beneficial to the transition of adding a pet to the family because there’s not enough time to establish a routine.

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“A lot of thought and discussion should go into this life-changing decision,” explains Bruegger. Feeding, grooming, exercise, medical expenses, your home—all of these things must be considered before taking on a new pet.

Always evaluate your home before getting a pet. Do you have a house or a condo that you’ve bought, or are you renting an apartment?

If you have a permanent residence, you’re in pretty good shape. (If you have a yard, that’s even better, especially if you’re thinking about getting a dog.) You’ll just have to get used to the idea of your pet possibly destroying wood floors and carpet, scratching doors and cabinetry, and chewing furniture. But hey, you’ve had kids. You’ve already accepted the fact that your house will show some wear and tear, right?

If you’re renting, however, you’ll want to check with your landlord because you might not be allowed to have a pet; and if you are, there are often breed and weight restrictions, as well as pet deposits and monthly fees. Apartments are getting a lot better about allowing pets, but adopting a giant Great Dane might be better if you held off until you have a permanent residence.

The big one, though, is whether or not you can afford to own a pet. Purchasing and adopting both cost at least a couple hundred dollars, depending on the breed and age. Then, there’s spaying and neutering, which are highly recommended by vets. Don’t forget licensing, rabies shots, and annual check-ups and vaccines. And just like kids, always keep in mind that there could be a medical emergency, like a broken leg.

So what kind of pet is best for your family? Well, that depends on your schedule and whether or not you’re looking for a long-term companion for your family.

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Smaller animals—fish, birds, reptiles, rodents—require much less time, space, and interaction than a cat or dog. “They’re good for teaching kids responsibility,” says Guinane. In fact, if you’re not sure about whether your family is ready to handle the responsibility of a larger pet, it might be good to start with one of these. Beware, though. These pets have shorter lifespans and may upset younger kids when they die.

With a cat or dog, more time and effort is needed. Both animals crave interaction, whether it’s a walk around the neighborhood, playing with toys, or simple petting.

Cats are the more independent of the two, explains Guinane. Although they do still need some attention, cats won’t feel the same sense of abandonment a dog will if your family is out of the house a lot. Cats do, however, require a litter box (unless you train your cat to go outside or in the toilet), which will need to be cleaned on a regular basis. Also, most cats don’t do well with roughhousing.

“If you’re looking for a quieter pet that is fairly easy to take care of, cats can make great companions,” says Bruegger.

On the other hand, dogs are very playful and make great family companions. “A dog will love everyone and can handle the activities of an active household,” says Guinane. Not to mention, if you have children who are physically disabled, a dog can provide extra support.

“Dogs can bring so much happiness to a home,” Bruegger adds.  “Some people believe you live longer with dogs, as you are happier, and you may be healthier since you may get more exercise walking the dog.”

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Age is also something to think about with cats and dogs. Kittens and puppies are fragile and require training, but they’re also much more social. “They can grow up with the kids and the activity of the household,” says Guinane. The problem? “They get into everything and chew a lot!”

With an older cat or dog, you have the luxury of only having to train the animal to get used to your home, as they already know basic commands and are potty-trained. “They may be a bit more laid-back or have less energy, which can be appealing to many people,” explains Bruegger. Just make sure you choose an older pet wisely because some of them may not have been around kids before. Usually, animals that haven’t been around small kids find them frightening because their movements are so fast and unpredictable, which can be especially hard on an older animal.

“[An older animal] may also have more health issues,” adds Guinane. “They may not be as game to play and be touched when they don’t feel well.”

Nevertheless, whatever type and age of animal you choose for your new family pet, both Guinane and Bruegger recommend that you adopt from a shelter or rescue instead of going to a pet store.

“Animals at shelters need a home,” says Guinane. “Sometimes, they just need another chance.” The Nebraska Humane Society works closely with people looking to adopt and tries to find the best possible match, depending on personality types, lifestyle, and location restraints.

Hearts United for Animals has a similar process, though they take it a step farther by doing a home visit before selecting matches. “Adopting from a shelter or rescue means you’re not supporting puppy mills [with] inhumane conditions…For many, the thought of providing a home to an animal that needs one fills their hearts with joy, and the bond built with a rescue pet can be second to none.”

The Hancock Menagerie

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Chris and Kim Hancock and their kids, Trevor, 13, and Sydney, 11, are an active family. “There’s always something going on,” Kim says. The kids go to school in the Omaha Public Schools district; Trevor plays baseball for Keystone, and Sydney swims with the Metro Omaha Swim Team.

With the kids so involved in extracurricular activities and Chris and Kim both working full-time jobs, it’s hard for the family to catch a moment together. “After we get back home from everything, it’s late by the time we eat, so we all kind of separate and go off to do our own things.”

But one thing brings them together during their hectic schedule—the love for their family pets.

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Ernie

The Hancocks have four pets: a Russian tortoise named Henrietta, a guinea pig named Ernie, a hamster named Pooh Bear, and a Boxer named Bella.

Bella was the family’s first pet. Chris had always wanted a Boxer, so when he and Kim found Bella on Craigslist, they felt like she was meant to be theirs. “Right when we got her, she got super sick with pneumonia, and we nursed her back to health,” Kim explains. “She’s been our baby ever since.”

Being like another child in the family is the reason why Bella’s inoperable cancer diagnosis hit home so hard. “We found out last year,” Kim says. “They could’ve done an expensive biopsy and leg reconstruction, but we decided instead of putting her through treatments and all of the pain that we would just enjoy the time we still have with her. As long as she seems happy, that’s enough for us.” She adds that Bella used to sleep in a kennel, but the moment they heard about her cancer, she began sleeping in bed with her and Chris.

Bella

Bella

With Henrietta, Trevor’s tortoise, Kim says they got her after “his fish committed suicide,” she laughs. “We wanted something that wouldn’t die so easily, so we did some research and learned that tortoises have long lives. They’re also low-maintenance.”

Ernie the guinea pig and Pooh Bear the hamster came along after Sydney got familiar with her friends’ pets and wanted some of her own. “She actually had another guinea pig and hamster before now, but they passed, so these are the new ones,” Kim says.

“Our rule with getting the kids pets has always been that they have to be able to hold them comfortably at the pet store and not get squeamish; otherwise we won’t buy them.” That’s because, in the Hancock family, the kids are the primary caretakers of the pets. “They clean out the cages once a month, make sure the animals are fed, let us know when food supply is getting low—they’re completely responsible.”

Pooh Bear

Pooh Bear

Sydney, especially, is very nurturing of her pets. “On Mother’s Day, she made a comment about how she wanted to get herself something because she thinks she’s a mother to her pets,” Kim says. “She also keeps cages for them down in the basement all the time because she’s very concerned about tornadoes.”

Kim didn’t realize how much Sydney loves her pets until after her first guinea pig passed away. “She cried and cried, and she truly mourned her pet like it was a family member or her child. I don’t want to say it’s funny, but there’s something very sweet about how emotional she gets.”

Apparently, Sydney also has a tendency to throw elaborate funerals for each of the family’s lost pets. “She plans the burial. We have a service with speeches where we each say something special about the pet, and then there are flowers and songs. She even bakes a cake for a little reception after. They don’t last long, but they’re very…quirky,” Kim laughs.

Henrietta

Henrietta

Kim thinks that having pets really makes their family feel more complete and teaches her children valuable lessons. “It helps the kids understand responsibility. They learn how to show love and take care of something other than themselves.

“I think having pets makes us a little less selfish.”

Curfew

Curfew establishes freedom and trust. It’s one of the many building blocks to adulthood. Getting that taste of freedom is what every teenager craves. It’s a huge responsibility, but that is what makes freedom so worth it.

As for my own curfew, my parents are very laidback. They don’t have a set time for me to be home. The important thing to them is that they know where I am at all times. My parents have placed a tremendous amount of trust in me, and I would never disobey them. I enjoy having the freedom of no curfew with few exceptions, and I don’t want that privilege to be revoked.

Of course, on school nights, there is a curfew. My parents don’t want me to stay out late on a school night, unless it is for a school event. During the summer, they don’t mind me being out as long as, again, they know what I am doing at all times.

I think it’s important for teenagers to have some freedom with friends. It gives them a taste of what it would be like to live on their own. They also have to manage that responsibility of earning or building on the trust of their parents.

Curfew is important, especially for teenagers. It’s another responsibility to manage, but it’s a stepping-stone to adulthood and making bigger, independent choices in life. Having some rules set in place as the foundation and building trust is a good idea. Freedom is important to teenagers, and it prepares them for the future.

Halston Belcastro is a student at Millard West High School.