Tag Archives: LFS

Setting the Example

October 20, 2018 by
Photography by provided

Stacy Martin knows she stepped into big shoes this past spring when she took over the leadership of Lutheran Family Services.

After all, the previous president and CEO, Ruth Heinrichs, spent most of her career—41 years from start to finish—holding the reins of the organization that positively impacts the lives of people throughout Nebraska and Council Bluffs with behavioral health, and child and community services. 

Still, Martin, who was born in Omaha and returned in April after several years as the executive vice president of programs at Lutheran Services Florida in Tampa, acknowledges she is not, and cannot be, Heinrichs. 

She has her own strengths and methods of leading that she is confident will continue to move LFS, which celebrated 125 years in 2017, into new areas of growth and impact. 

“I don’t pretend to fit into Ruth’s shoes; the path she forged was best for LFS and great for the history of the organization,” Martin says of Heinrichs, who announced her retirement in the summer of 2017. “It’s my goal to maintain the caliber of professionalism and continue to provide services of great quality. I don’t waste my energy on what I can’t change.”

Martin, who has dedicated her professional life to helping others, grew up in Kansas and graduated summa cum laude from Sterling College in Sterling, Kansas, with a Bachelor of Arts in English and secondary education. She earned an MBA from Eastern University in Pennsylvania and a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, where she was a presidential fellow.

In her role as executive vice president of programs at LSF, she oversaw a team of 600 and a budget of $50 million delivering programs that include child welfare, guardianship, immigration and refugee services, housing, youth shelters, sexual abuse treatment, and behavioral health services. With more than 1,500 employees and an annual budget of $220 million, LSF is one of the largest social service organizations in Florida.

Prior to this position, she served as the organization’s chief communications and development officer, and before that, was a vice president at Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Service and the director of Policy and Advocacy for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Washington, D.C.

She returned regularly to Omaha through her husband’s work as a health economist. When they started looking for opportunities in the Midwest last year, they chose Omaha so Martin could be closer to her mother and other family members still in Kansas.

And while she admits she didn’t necessarily foresee a future in nonprofit leadership when she first started, she credits “amazing mentors” over the course of her career who encouraged her and helped her ascend the steps up the leadership ladder along the way. 

“All I can be is my best, most authentic self, and I believe we all can lead from any chair,” Martin says. “I know we can improve as an organization by being our best every day. I know I’m not the smartest person in the room, but it’s my goal to help encourage others to shine.”

And in her first few months at Lutheran Family Services, Martin says she sees ample opportunity for growth across the organization. 

“Lutheran Family Services has a firm foundation with dedicated staff that is willing to change and grow with the organization,” Martin says. “We all share a common faith-based goal to strengthen our skills to have an impact toward the common good. I see opportunity around every corner.”


Visit lfsneb.org for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Weaving the Safety Net

September 6, 2014 by and

It’s just depressing, to be honest.

Every hour or so, another email comes. Sometimes, it’s every 45 minutes.
A child has been removed from their home. He isn’t safe there. She’s been
neglected. Sometimes it’s several children, and their caregiver was arrested or is
too drunk to care for them. Sometimes their adults are fighting and the children
are in the crossfire.

The children need a place to stay. Right Now. It doesn’t matter that it’s 2:00 am.

Jessyca Vandercoy oversees Permanency and Well-Being Programs for Children
at Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska (LFS). She sees the emails come in. It breaks
her heart. Because far too often, there’s no good place for the child to stay.

“We have 61 licensed foster families and another 10 more waiting for final approval. Our families are always fostering children,” Vandercoy says. “Sometimes they can take another child. Often they simply can’t because there are no more beds. And it’s just wrenching to see the lists of kids with nowhere to go.”

So what happens to those children when there’s no foster home available for them? It varies. Local foster care providers like LFS regularly receive a status report on children and teenagers still needing placement who have no or limited options. On the one summer day that we looked, there were 23 children on the list. Many were teenagers living in emergency shelters. Others were under 10, living in group homes. One was only three years old. The hope is always that a child will be able to move into a foster home near his or her school, but once that option is exhausted, the next step is changing schools.  And probably not for the first time. Many children lose count of how many schools they’ve attended.

Despite caring social workers, case managers, and well-intentioned care givers, this is no way for a child to live, especially a child who has been removed from the home by no fault of his or her own.  Children generally end up as wards of the state because, in some way, their adults have failed them.

“It’s traumatic enough for the child to go through the experience of being removed from their home,” Vandercoy says. “But then to compound that trauma by then not having anyone willing to take them in….” Her voice trails off as she shakes her head. “It’s just rough.”

Vandercoy would know. She was once in foster care herself and is now the mother of children adopted from foster care. “These children matter,” she says. “They are part of our community and deserve to be safe and loved. One day they will be adults, and we need
to do everything we can to help them be well-adjusted and happy.”

 

If you are interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent through
Lutheran Family Services, call 402-661-7100.  Or email the foster care team at LFS at
fostercare@lfsneb.org.  A new foster parent licensing class begins in September

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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.

“I Just Want Someone to Love Me”

November 1, 2013 by

I’ve worked at Lutheran Family Services for well over three years now, and I can pinpoint my toughest day at work.

It was the day I was interviewing foster children for a fundraising video. At the time, I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be. I could have done a better job preparing myself. But I didn’t.

So I walked into the conference room and started interviewing “wards of the state,” one by one.

What struck me the most was that they were just kids, not statistics. Kids, very similar to my own children. Attractive, smart, funny—really delightful to be around.

One young man had worn nice slacks and a tie because, as he put it, “I just want to look nice.” This was the same boy who shyly told me about coming in second in a free-throw contest just that afternoon. Later, he admitted how much he liked to play football and really wanted to be on a team, but he couldn’t because there was no one to take him to practice. As a football mom at the time, that just broke my heart. How could there be no one willing to make that commitment to this child who was obviously an athlete?

Another beautiful young woman talked about her frustration with her education. Because she had been moved from one foster home to another, one school to another (she had lost track of how many), she was a year behind in high school. She should have been preparing to graduate, she told me, but all of the moves had set her that far back. She couldn’t decide whether she wanted to be a nurse or go into the military. I suggested being a nurse in the military. She thought that was a great idea. “I’m going to have a bright future,” she told me.

The kids talked about being taken out of their homes because they weren’t cared for properly. Being in foster care is not their fault. They’ve lost the only home they know, and many times they lose their siblings, too. Few foster homes can take sibling groups. Despite efforts to help siblings stay in touch, it’s a challenge.

While the goal is always reunification with family, it’s not always possible. And once these children become eligible for adoption, the goal then becomes finding the right permanent family. Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska operates a program that searches a child’s history to find that one relative, teacher, or neighbor who might be willing to provide loving permanency.

I realized that if every parent could sit where I sat that day, all of these children would already have homes. We often hear of the numbers of children in Nebraska’s foster care system, but for their own safety, we don’t always see the faces or hear their stories. But the simple message from each one of them was the same, “I just want someone to love me.”

Can you imagine your own child feeling that way? I couldn’t either. So, on that tough day at work, when all I wanted to do was take home every child I had talked with, I went back to my office, and I wept for them. And I wished with all of my being that the right family for each of those beautiful children was just a few steps away from making their dreams come true.

November is National Adoption Month. If you are interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent, or foster child adoption, please call Lutheran Family Services at 402-661-7100 or e-mail: fostercare@lfsneb.org.

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.

Sibling Harmony

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bev Carlson

I had an interesting conversation recently with a friend, a father of three. He was talking about his two oldest children, both incredibly talented musicians. The son can play just about any instrument. The daughter has a voice like an angel.

“It’s just such a shame they refuse to perform together,” he said. When I asked why, he shrugged and said, “They just can’t stop fighting.”

His response surprised me. My guess? These kids will grow out of it. This was a family that exuded harmony on almost every level. Very engaged, involved parents. Bright, accomplished children. But siblings that, for now, could barely get along. Ever.

I understand sibling conflict. I really do. I have a younger brother, emphasis on “younger” because “little” stopped working when he hit six feet or so. Now, at 6’5”, he’s an officer in the U.S. Navy who carries a wide command and a powerful presence.

Well, I clearly recall back to the days when I could push him around at will. Of course, I was the ONLY one who could do so. If anyone else even looked at him like they were going to tease him or bully him, they had to get through me first—and that simply wasn’t happening. We were four years apart, and even though he could irritate me just by walking into my bedroom, he was still my little brother, and that meant I had his back.

I still do.

“Relationships that never really gelled in childhood only grow more distant with time…I hear friends talk about it a lot, and it makes me sad. I don’t want that for my children.”

It’s not that way for a lot of siblings—adult or otherwise. Relationships that never really gelled in childhood only grow more distant with time. Brothers and sisters who experience mutual trauma walk away from the conflict and each other. Siblings with oil-and-water personalities determine that it’s not worth the effort to find a balance, especially once the parental connection is gone. I hear friends talk about it a lot, and it makes me sad. I don’t want that for my children.

I really don’t know any of the secrets of creating sibling harmony, but I do claim a couple of kids who, for the most part, get along and enjoy each other. I love to hear their conversations about books or teachers or issues. Video games and YouTube videos are other common topics. They brag about each other when they think I’m not listening. They have their moments when they genuinely annoy one another, but I rarely have to intervene.

Maybe it’s helped that they’ve heard since day one that they are expected to look out for each other. “You guys run in nearly the same circles,” they’ve heard from me. “You have a better idea of whether the kids you’re hanging out with are nice or not.” They attend each other’s events and performances. They partner up on amusement rides. They are generally encouraged to help each other when they can. “Because,” as they hear from me, “you are lifetime friends.”

I may have just gotten lucky with the personality mix of my two, but I also took some advice that I got when they were very small. Now that they are young teenagers, I believe it might be paying off.

Here are some expert suggestions from Scholastic.com:

  • Avoid comparisons. Nothing causes more short- and long-term damage to the sibling dynamic than comparing academic or extracurricular achievements. Give honest, specific feedback and support each of your children toward their individual strengths and the skills each needs to strive for. Don’t ever stack them against each other.
  • Intervene when they argue, but be selective. There’s a big difference between fighting and problem solving. Rather than letting them always duke it out, teach them cooperation and conflict-resolution skills, like taking turns.
  • Introduce meaningful apologies. Rather than forcing an angry child to say he’s sorry, which will only produce an insincere apology, let him cool down first. Then talk to him about how to make amends for hurting another person’s feelings.

As it usually is, starting early and being consistent is key. And children also benefit when they see their parents model warm and loving relationships with their own siblings. But for the most part, some discontent with a brother or sister is simply part of growing up and provides a training ground for finding your voice.

Oh, and one last thing. Tell all of your children how much you love them. All the time. A child who feels well-loved has fewer reasons to lash out at their siblings.