Tag Archives: Executive Director

Chris Cook

March 3, 2016 by
Photography by Scott Drickey

This is an open letter to the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art’s new executive director.

Mr. Cook,

Welcome to The Cornhusker State and The Big ‘O.’ And welcome to beef country, tornado alley, and the heartland. All packaged, of course, in the warm embrace that is “The Good Life.”

Run.

If you didn’t catch my Morse-coded pen clicks when I interviewed you last October, your first month in town, that’s my only advice to you as a fellow transplant: Run. Run back to Florida, back to Miami and Cannonball and all the great things you did there in innovative forms of cultural production and education to advance critical discourse and understanding of contemporary art.

Look, I get it. The Bemis Center’s executive director position is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You’re 40, ready to make your mark at an internationally renowned artist-in-residence program. But believe me when I tell you this: Omaha will husk your heart and butter it and consume every last morsel of it, and then you’ll never be able to feel whole outside of this town again.

The ice age of January will be underway when this article is printed. And you’ll also have one of the organization’s fabled annual art auctions under your belt. By then you’ll have a manic sense of community and belonging…

That’s just the prairie fever kicking in. It has something to do with the wind and isolation.You’ll soon find out. Then again, you seemed to already have at least a Wikipedia’s grasp of our climate:

“I’m certainly looking forward to four true seasons and rotating the wardrobe and dusting off my winter driving skills for sure,” you joked with me on that false autumn day.

It was all I could do to keep from laughing. “Four seasons.” Good one. You’re going to need that sense of humor to survive our dry (as in wry) climate. As for the seasons, there are only two: too hot and too cold.

But you knew that. You’ve dabbled in Midwestern affairs curating at the Sioux City Art Center, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, and the Salina Art Center in Salina, Kansas.

“Returning to this part of the country is returning to an old friend,” you confessed. “I seem not to be able to get away from the Missouri River.”

But you’re not here to rekindle old relationships, are you? You’re here to make new ones.

“I’m trying to download as much information as possible in terms of the history of the organization [the Bemis Center], so I can try to better understand the context here,” you said. “And it’s also a period of establishing relationships and asking relevant and sometimes critical questions to better understand where we are and where we need to go as
an organization.”

Well, at least you have your job. Because the way I see it, if you’re reading this and you’re still in Omaha, it’s already too late. You’re now one of us. Go ahead, try and run.

“It’s not just about the Bemis, and it’s not just about the history and legacy that the organization has,” you said. “It’s about a certain quality of life one can have in Omaha. I’ve finally seen the light.”

Visit bemiscenter.org to learn more.

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Completely KIDS

August 27, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Imagine you’re a child. You spend eight hours at school every weekday, and you return home to an empty house every night. Sometimes, your only meal is the lunch provided at school. Your parents work day and night to provide for your family, but it’s never enough. Meanwhile, you have homework that you desperately need help with, but there’s no one around to help you. You want to talk about school, the friends you’ve made, or your latest art project, but you’re alone.

This is the life of many children in the low-income neighborhoods of the Omaha community. But it doesn’t have to be.

Completely KIDS is determined to make sure it isn’t. Enriching activities, help with homework, nutritious snacks, and people to talk to for guidance—these are all things the nonprofit organization offers to youth and families through after-school and family strengthening programs.

The organization was formerly Camp Fire USA Midlands Council, a nonprofit founded in 1920 as a club for girls and young women. In the 1970s and ’80s, the program admitted boys and young men, reaching out to the needs of the underserved through after-school activities in North and South Omaha. Now, Completely KIDS—which disaffiliated from the national Camp Fire organization in 2011 to keep its funds within the Omaha community—serves more than 2,000 youth from pre-kindergarten through high school, as well as their families.

Penny Parker, executive director of Completely KIDS, has devoted her professional career to serving children and families. Previously, she worked with American Red Cross, the Nebraska Department of Social Services, Child Saving Institute, and Douglas County Social Services.

“I think that’s why I feel responsible and passionate about working here, because I know the direct effects of doing this job.” – Lisset Hernandez, program coordinator

“My prior employment focused on working with children who were already involved in the child welfare system, and I wanted to work at an agency where I could work with children to keep them out of the system,” she explains. That’s why she applied for the position with Completely KIDS, which she’s occupied for 22 years now.

Parker believes Omaha needs Completely KIDS because it offers out-of-school programming and family outreach services in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the community. “We provide opportunities for children and families that they would not otherwise experience, [as well as] programming to children who reside in homeless shelters. We [also] provide 385 weekend backpacks of food for children in our programs who may have little or no food to eat on the weekend.”

Making a difference in the lives of youth and families is what Parker thinks is the most important aspect of the organization’s work. If you ask her what her favorite memory of working with Completely KIDS is, she can list several: “The children who tell me that participating in one of our activities is the best day of their life; the youth who have graduated from our program and come to work for us; the children who had to beg for food before they got involved in our weekend food program; the teen who said that we saved her life…”

Lisset Hernandez, program coordinator at Field Club Elementary School for Completely KIDS, can certainly attest to the organization’s impact on the lives of youth, as she herself was helped by the program.

“It was long, long ago,” she says. “I was invited by one of my close friends in fifth grade. She told me about this program, and, of course, it was about a place to hang out other than home.”

Hernandez says Completely KIDS aided her more on a personal level than on a resource level. “Hispanic parents tend to be more at work to make ends meet than with their kids. I know Hispanic parents view this as giving children the necessities—food, clothing, and shelter. But it’s not enough. Youth need guidance,” she explains. “I think this is what [this program] was to me and many of the other youth.”

Today, Hernandez is a senior at the University of Phoenix, where she’s working toward a bachelor’s degree in health administration. She’s also a mother to a 2-year-old son, Nazim. She believes her life has gone in a good direction because of the support she received from Completely Kids during her youth.

“Never in a million years did I think I would have ended up working with my community in this manner…I am very happy to be doing what changed my life growing up,” she says. “I think that’s why I feel responsible and passionate about working here, because I know the direct effects of doing this job.”

Even if she doesn’t work directly for Completely KIDS in the future, Hernandez plans to remain involved with the organization. “I would love to keep volunteering and donating because I know what their intentions are…I really would love to help them become nationally known and be able to serve more youth citywide.”

“I thought I could stop in and see if I could volunteer…I’m starting my 13th year volunteering, and boy, I tell you there’s something about seeing kids working together and seeing those lightbulbs go on when they’re playing chess.” – Lynn Gray, volunteer

Lynn Gray, a special needs paraprofessional at Millard West High School in the Millard Public Schools district, began volunteering with Completely KIDS more than a decade ago after learning about their mission.

Back in 2001, Gray read an article in the Omaha World-Herald about Completely KIDS. “I thought I could stop in and see if I could volunteer,” he says. Shortly after, he began working with the nonprofit, helping kids with their homework and doing activities with them.

Although he and his wife, Cindy, don’t have children of their own, Gray loves working with kids and always has. As a student at University of Nebraska-Lincoln years ago, he helped with a special needs swimming program through Lincoln Parks & Recreation.

These days, Gray volunteers playing chess with Completely KIDS youth. Gray learned how to play chess when he was 11, and it’s a passion he loves to share. “I read that they were playing chess in schools and how important it was for growing children, so I thought it would be neat to implement into the program.”

It’s not a formal chess club, of course. Gray says it’s just for fun. “Working together is a major benefit of chess. For some kids, they learn decision-making and problem-solving; others learn patience.” One of the things he enjoys the most is watching the older, more experienced chess players help the younger, newer kids just learning the game.

“I’m starting my 13th year volunteering, and boy, I tell you there’s something about seeing kids working together and seeing those lightbulbs go on when they’re playing chess…I’ve got so many memories,” Gray adds. “I’m just very thankful for this opportunity with Completely KIDS.”

Volunteers, as well as donations, are always needed to continue providing quality programs for youth and families in the community. Events, like the upcoming Big Red Tailgate, which will be held Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. at Embassy Suites La Vista (12520 Westport Pkwy.), are major fundraisers for the organization. For more information about Completely KIDS, visit completelykids.org or call 402-397-5809.

Nancy Wilson-Hintz

January 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

NOVA Treatment Community’s mission is to be passionate about providing treatment services, education programs, and foster care services for children, adolescents, adults, and families, as well as help empower individuals and families to experience a life without substance use, family turmoil, and other problems that adversely affect their lives. This is a mission that NOVA’s newest executive director, Nancy Wilson-Hintz, is excited to be a part of.

The Omaha native and Daniel J. Gross Catholic High School alumna has always loved volunteer work, feeling it’s important to give back to the community in which she lives. Her favorite volunteer work is anything involving advocacy for those who are unable to advocate for themselves—especially working with vulnerable children and adults. Such advocacy led to her graduation from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a bachelor’s degree from the College of Public Affairs and Community Services/Criminal Justice and into volunteering with the Nebraska Foster Care Review Office, which oversees child abuse and neglect cases in the child welfare and court systems.

“It is an honor to work with all of the devoted professional people who make it possible for individuals seeking empowerment to have that opportunity.”

Wilson-Hintz worked as a juvenile probation officer and then an adult probation officer for Nebraska State Probation until 1998 when she switched to the nonprofit world. She became the founder and first executive director for CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocate) of Douglas County, a nonprofit organization that advocates for abused and neglected children in the foster care system. CASA volunteers act as a child’s voice in and out of the courtroom, ensuring that the child is receiving all necessary services.

She explains that she chose the nonprofit career path because she believes strongly in “working for the greater good.”In 2006, Wilson-Hintz was asked to be on the NOVA Board of Directors by another board member who was also a CASA volunteer. “Serving on the NOVA Board of Directors provided me with great insight into the workings and mission of the organization. It also helped in transitioning to the NOVA executive director position last fall and taking over the legacy of Eleanor Devlin, NOVA’s founder and executive director of almost 30 years.”

NOVA—which stands for New Options, Values, and Achievements—is a treatment community with adolescent and adult residential programs for substance abuse and mental health problems, outpatient and intensive outpatient services, and foster care services for those who need the support and tools to live a safe, comfortable life.

Wilson-Hintz with NOVA dog, Chance.

Wilson-Hintz with NOVA dog, Chance.

As executive director, Wilson-Hintz says she looks forward to increasing public awareness and funding sources regarding the variety of behavioral health programs and services NOVA offers. “I’m [also] looking forward to networking with NOVA staff, board of directors, funders, and other community organizations that provide behavioral health services,” she says. “It is an honor to work with all of the devoted professional people who make it possible for individuals seeking empowerment to have that opportunity.”

One such devoted “professional” at NOVA with whom Wilson-Hintz works is actually a rescued Border Collie named Chance, who lives with one of NOVA’s Youth Residential Supervisors. “[Chance] was adopted from the Humane Society twice and then returned to the Nebraska Border Collie Rescue, where he lived in foster care for four months before NOVA’s staff adopted him,” she explains.

Chance was named such because he, too, was given a second chance in life to find a loving family and a safe home, which Wilson-Hintz believes makes him a perfect mascot for the organization. As someone who has always thought animals to be extremely helpful in therapy, Wilson-Hintz says that Chance has done an outstanding job making the kids who come to NOVA’s facility feel at home. “He runs to the door to greet the kids each morning, then checks in with staff and spends almost his whole time with the kids…He brings a sense of peace, love, and devotion to the NOVA community.”

“My ultimate goal is to save children and adults from falling through system cracks by ensuring that no one is denied behavioral health services.”

Second chances aren’t just for Chance and the people who come to NOVA though. Wilson-Hintz also displays her faith in second chances in her personal life, as she has adopted three dogs—Petey, Monty, and Jackie—and given them a loving home with her and husband Michael Hintz.

Wilson-Hintz adopted Petey, a 12-year-old Norfolk Terrier, from the Nebraska Humane Society when he was 3 after he was found sick and suffering from a gunshot wound on an Iowa highway in the middle of winter. But she says, he has fully recovered and has been her “inseparable buddy” ever since.

She found Monty, a 6-year-old Miniature Pinscher/Terrier mix, tied up to a dilapidated trailer in a small Nebraska town two years ago. “He was living in deplorable conditions, and it broke my heart to see the hurt and desperation in his eyes,” she says. “I asked if I could have Monty, and the owner agreed to let me take him.” She had planned to take Monty to the Humane Society, but when she brought him home, she fell in love with him.

Today, Wilson-Hintz and Monty are volunteers with Domesti-PUPS, a nonprofit organization that provides service dogs, pet therapy programs, classroom dogs, and educational programs. “Monty and I currently go to a nursing home monthly to visit the residents there. Troubled adults and children quickly connect with Monty because, I believe, they instinctively know that he understands them.”20130108_bs_0027 copy

Her most recent addition was Jackie, a 2-year-old English Setter/Lab mix, whom she adopted from the Humane Society after being her foster parent for two weeks. “Jackie was one of the nine rescued pups from a breeder in Illinois. She was not socialized to humans and extremely fearful of everyone and everything. What I thought would just be a short foster care situation ended up being a permanent one.” According to Wilson-Hintz, Jackie’s social skills have gotten so good that she now acts just like a normal puppy, which means lots of destroyed remotes, cell phones, and shoes for Wilson-Hintz and her husband. But they’re always patient in working with her and enjoy watching her progress.

With such compassion for those who need help, both human and animal alike, there’s no doubt that Wilson-Hintz will continue to expand and better NOVA’s services as executive director. Over the next year specifically, she plans to focus on foster care awareness and foster parent recruitment, as there is a continuous need for stable homes for abused and neglected children who can’t live with their biological families. Although NOVA currently provides foster care homes and family support services, there’s also a great need to increase community outreach, which is why Wilson-Hintz is making foster care awareness one of her top priorities.

She has several plans for NOVA’s future as well. Her two main goals for the next five to 10 years are to broaden financial opportunities and increase program stability by building on past successes and implementing new forward-thinking options. “My ultimate goal is to save children and adults from falling through system cracks by ensuring that no one is denied behavioral health services simply because they do not qualify for funding through the state or other programs, do not have insurance, or are not able to pay out-of-pocket expenses.”