Tag Archives: South Omaha

2017 May/June Family & More

May 1, 2017 by and

Farmers Markets
Gardening season is open in Omaha, and those desiring to eat fresh produce without digging in the dirt themselves will find plenty of options around the area. Along with produce, shoppers will find artisan cheeses, farm-raised meats, freshly baked breads, assorted treats, and even craft items.

  • Aksarben Village (67th and Center streets): 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays starting May 7.
  • Benson (4343 N. 52nd St.): 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays starting May 6.
  • Council Bluffs (Bayliss Park in Council Bluffs): 4:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Thursdays starting May 4.
  • Gifford Park (33rd and California streets): 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Fridays starting June 3.
  • Florence Mill (9102 N. 30th St.): 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays starting June 4.
  • Old Market (11th and Jackson streets): 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays starting May 6.
  • Papillion (Washington St. and Lincoln Road): 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Wednesdays starting May 31.
  • Village Pointe (168th and Dodge streets): 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays starting May 6.

Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder’s Weekend: May 5-7 at CenturyLinkCenter, 455 N. 10th St. Shareholders in the company created by Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffett can learn about their year’s earnings at this annual meeting, which brings thousands of people to Omaha from around the world. The weekend events include the “Invest in Yourself” 5K run on May 7, a bridge tournament, shopping at various stores associated with Berkshire Hathaway, and much more.
berkshirehathaway.com

Cinco de Mayo parade: May 6 along 24th St. from D to L streets. This dazzling parade—one of the largest Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the Midwest—features floats, marching bands, and more. Rain or shine. 9 a.m. Admission: free. info@cincodemayoomaha.com.
cincodemayoomaha.com

Renaissance Festival of Nebraska: May 6-7, 13-14 at Bellevue Berry & Pumpkin Ranch, 11001 S. 48th St. Step back in time to the days of knights in shining armor with full contact sword play and equestrian jousting, six unique performance locations, 100+ costumed characters, and free make-and-take crafts for kids. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Admission: $13 adults, $8 children (12 and under). 402-331-5500.
renfestnebraska.com

SECOND Annual Food Truck Rodeo Spring Edition: May 20 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. The second annual Omaha Food Truck Rodeo will be held all day Saturday, giving attendees the entire day to sample the fine foods from local food trucks. There will be 15-20 food trucks, along with a DJ, beer garden, multiple outdoor bars, and outdoor seating on Military Avenue in Benson. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Free. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

Celebrate CB: May 12-20 in Council Bluffs (various locations). Hop across the river for a full week of festivities. Opening night includes a free concert by Taxi Driver. The last day includes a parade followed by a day of music, kids’ activities, and a carnival. Friday’s big event, Barbecue in the Bluffs, has been chosen as one of 50 events for the Kansas City Barbeque Society’s Great American Cookout, which will inform and entertain people who enjoy learning more about barbecuing and grilling on all levels. 712-396-2494.
celebratecb.com

Vintage Market Days of Omaha: May 12-14 at Chance Ridge Event Center, 506 Skyline Road. This upscale, vintage-inspired market hosts more than 100 vendors with original art, antiques, handmade treasures, jewelry, and clothing. The event also includes live music and food trucks. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday/Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $10 Friday (early buying event); $5 Saturday/Sunday; free for children 12 and under. Tickets good for re-entry all weekend. 918-955-6215.
omaha.vintagemarketdays.com

Florence Days: May 13-14 in downtown Florence, 30th St. between State St. and I-680 N. This area, once its own town, was annexed by Omaha 100 years ago but still retains its own small-town feeling. Events held in conjunction with this festival include a parade, art displays, talks at the historic Florence Mill, a melodrama, and more. 402-451-4737.
historicflorence.org

An Evening with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson: May 15 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. During his lecture, the award-winning astrophysicist will answer questions from the audience and talk about topics in his new book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, which will also be given to each audience member. 7 p.m. Tickets: $65-$225. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Helicopter Day: May 27 at Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum, 28210 West Park Highway. Visitors can watch while helicopters fly over the horizon and land right in front of them. Inside the museum, visitors can participate in a drone workshop and family-friendly activities. 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. Admission: $12 adults; $11 senior citizens, active/retired/veteran military; $6 children (4-12); free for children (3 and under). 402-944-3100.
sacmuseum.org

Memorial Day Weekend: May 27-29 at Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, 3701 S. 10th St. The zoo will offer special entertainment, including bounce houses, airbrush tattoos, and animal presentations. The first 800 people to walk through the gates will receive a free patriotic gift. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $19.95 adults (ages 12 and older), $13.95 children (ages 3-11), free for members and children 2 and under. $1 discount for seniors (age 65 and older) or active military members and their children. 402-733-8400.
omahazoo.com

Taste of Omaha: June 2-4 at the Omaha riverfront. Omaha’s annual outdoor summer food event showcases outstanding restaurants, live entertainment, and family fun. Activities will take place daily at the Heartland of America Park, Lewis & Clark Landing, and River’s Edge Park. Times vary. Admission: free, but tickets must be purchased for food and carnival rides. 402-346-5412.
showofficeonline.com

Countryside Village Art Fair: June 3-4 at Countryside Village Shopping Center, 8722 Countryside Plaza. This fair showcases a mix of styles, perspectives, and media. The artwork selection inspires casual visitors to start art collections, and connoisseurs to add to existing collections. Established in 1969, the Countryside Village Art Fair is a cornerstone of the art world in Omaha. Admission: free. 402-391-2200.
countryside-village.com

Annual Veterans Appreciation Rally: June 4 at the North Omaha Airport, 11919 N. 72nd St. This family-friendly event features classic cars, motorcycles, and airplanes on display to honor veterans. Activities include raffles and skydiving shows. Airplanes begin flying at noon, weather permitting. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission: free, but a $5 donation is requested. 402-714-4269.
facebook.com/heroesoftheheartlandfoundation

Omaha’s Ninth Annual Largest Pizza Review: June 6 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. Pizza will be available from around 15 different restaurants for pizza lovers to sample and vote for their favorites. Judging will be conducted by Food & Spirits Magazine’s panel of judges, also featuring live music. A portion of proceeds go to scholarships for culinary students at the Institute for the Culinary Arts at Metro Community College. 6:30 p.m. Tickets: $15. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

St. Lucia Italian Festival: June 8-11 at Lewis & Clark Landing, 515 N. Riverfront Drive. Omaha’s Italian community celebrates Italian culture with this annual festival. Events include a bocce ball tournament, cannoli-eating contest, entertainment by the Santa Lucia festival band and others, and plenty of food. Admission: free, but tickets required for food and carnival rides. 5 p.m.-11 p.m. June 8, 5 p.m.-midnight June 9, noon-midnight June 10, and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. June 11. 402-342-6632
santaluciafestival.com

Omaha Beer Fest: June 9-10 at Horsemen’s Park, 6303 Q St. Hundreds of American craft beers, 80 breweries, live music, a homebrewer expo, VIP lounge, food vendors, contests, and more. Rain or shine. 5 p.m.-9 p.m. June 9 and 2 p.m.-7 p.m. June 10. Admission: general admission $35 in advance, $45 at the door; VIP $55 in advance, $65 at the door. Designated drivers pay $10 at the door. 402-731-2900.
omahabeerfest.com

Junkstock: June 9-11 at Sycamore Farms, 1150 River Road Dr. This three-day festival features vintage finds, unique antiques, and artisan food and goods. Help celebrate the fifth year of Junkstock, featuring more than 150 vendors and 15 food trucks, along with a variety of bands playing on the Junkstock Stage throughout the weekend. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $8 online, $10 at the gate, $20 for weekend pass, free for children (12 and under). 402-765-8651.
junkstock.com

Omaha Summer Arts Festival: June 9-11 along Farnam St. from 10th to 15th streets. The festival features 135 of the nation’s finest visual artists, a stage with continuous musical performances, a hands-on children’s fair, and a wide variety of food vendors. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. June 9 and 10, and 11a.m.-5 p.m. June 11. Admission: free. 402-345-5401.
summerarts.org

Sand in the City: June 9-11 at Baxter Arena, 2425 S. 67th St. On Friday, 12 corporate teams will compete to build extravagant sand sculptures. On Saturday and Sunday, visitors can vote for their favorite sculpture, build their own sandcastle, play in the kids’ zone, and hear live entertainment. All proceeds benefit the Nebraska Children’s Home Society. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. June 9, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. June 10, and 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. June 11. Admission: free. 402-451-0787.
sandinthecityomaha.com

College World Series Opening Day: June 16 at TD Ameritrade Park, 1200 Mike Fahey St. Before the series starts, come to the park for a day full of events, including team autograph sessions, practices, Olympic-style opening ceremonies, a concert, and fireworks. Times vary. Admission: free. 402-554-4422
cwsomaha.com

College World Series: June 17-27/28 at TD Ameritrade Park, 1200 Mike Fahey St. One of Omaha’s biggest traditions returns for the 67th time. Baseball fans of all ages can enjoy Fan Fest, a NCAA-sanctioned festival that includes giveaways, interactive games, and special appearances. Times and ticket prices vary. 402-554-4422
cwsomaha.com

Bank of the West Celebrates America 2017: June 30 at Memorial Park, 6605 Underwood Ave. Bring blankets or chairs and relax in the park while celebrating with thousands of others at the 27th annual pre-Fourth of July tradition—featuring a concert and fireworks show. This year’s headlining act is Kool and the Gang. Admission: free. 6 p.m.-10 p.m.
celebratesamerica.com


This calendar is published as shown in the print edition

We welcome you to submit events to our print calendar. Please email event details and a 300 ppi photograph three months in advance to: editintern@omahamagazine.com


*Event times and details may change. Check with venue or event organizer to confirm.

Birrieria El Chalan

January 3, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Step inside Birrieria El Chalan, and the sizzle of grilled meat along with the aromatic scents of cumin, chiles, and other spices are the first signs that Mexican food fans are in for a treat. And once they start digging into a plate of tacos, tortas, or tostadas, they will realize this place is not about Tex-Mex, fusion, or modern Mexican. Instead, the focus is on homestyle, traditional food that, for the most part, is flavorful and done well.

Although there is nothing fancy about the outside or inside of the small, locally owned spot near 24th and J streets in South Omaha. The spare, simple restaurant is a fun, casual, and welcoming place to eat.

El Chalan serves many of the classic favorites one would expect at a Mexican restaurant, but it also offers cuisine from the state of Jalisco in west-central Mexico. Dishes such as birria, a spicy, savory stew made with goat or beef are popular among many patrons. For our recent first-time visit to the restaurant, my dining partner and I skipped the specialties and stuck to more familiar fare.

Complimentary chips and salsa are a great way to start. I could have sat there all day munching on the crispy tortilla chips and fiery red salsa. Medium spicy with a hint of smokiness, the salsa is terrific both as a dip and drizzled on nearly everything. Equally addictive is the house-made guacamole. Slightly chunky with chopped onion, tomato, and cilantro, it boasts a salty, spicy, citrusy balance.

The kitchen does amazing things with tacos, too. My dining partner, a former South O resident who has eaten tacos all over the neighborhood, said they are the best he has tried locally. Diners can choose from more than a half-dozen meat options, ranging from marinated pork to beef tongue. We went with carne asada (grilled steak) tacos.

Warm corn tortillas, soft yet sturdy, hold a generous amount of tender, seasoned steak chopped into small pieces, dressed with onion and cilantro. Diners can add accompanying garnishes of sliced radish, lime, and a blistered whole jalapeño for added texture and flavor.

Tortas, a popular Mexican sandwich, are offered with a choice of meat, topped with lettuce, avocado, pickled jalapeño, and other ingredients on an oval-shaped roll with a pillowy interior and grilled exterior. We tried a torta con lomo (pork loin sandwich). The meat was tender and flavorful, but the bun started falling apart under the weight of all the filling before we could finish.

I’m a huge fan of chile relleno—a poblano pepper stuffed with mild white cheese, battered, and then fried until golden brown—but the restaurant’s version missed the mark for me. A zesty tomato-based sauce drowned the pepper, making the breading soggy. And I thought the sauce was too thin and watery. The entree comes with fluffy seasoned rice and creamy refried beans.

The restaurant takes cash only, but you won’t need much. Tacos cost $2; entrees run about $8. Despite the shortcomings, our overall dining experience was satisfying. Those looking for a casual, low-key spot that highlights traditional flavors of Mexico will find it at Birrieria El Chalan.

Rating:

Food- 3.5 stars

Service- 3 stars

Ambiance- 2 stars

Price- $

Overall- 3.5 stars

Visit http://Facebook.com/pages/birrieria-el-chalan/168661723148405 for more information.

This article was printed in the Jan/Feb 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Marlin Briscoe

December 29, 2016 by
Photography by Contributed

Omaha native Marlin Briscoe made history in 1968 as the NFL’s first black starting quarterback. His success as a signal-caller carried huge symbolic and practical weight by disproving the then-popular misconception that blacks lacked the intelligence and leadership to play the position.

The same racist thinking not only applied to quarterbacks but to other so-called thinking-man positions on the field (center, safety, middle linebacker) and on the sidelines (head coach, general manager).

briscoe4Even in those racially fraught times, Briscoe’s myth-busting feat went largely unnoticed. So did the rest of the story. After overcoming resistance from coaches and management to even get the chance to play QB, he performed well at the spot during his rookie professional season, never to be given the opportunity to play it again. That hurt. But just as he overcame obstacles his whole life, he set about winning on his own terms by learning an entirely new position—wide receiver—in the space of a month and going on to a long, accomplished pro career. He made history a second time by being part of a suit that found the NFL guilty of anti-trust violations. The resulting ruling, in favor of players, ushered in the free agency era.

After retiring, Briscoe faced his biggest personal hurdle when a serious crack-cocaine addiction took him to the bottom of a downward spiral before he beat that demon, too.

Now, nearly a half-century since making history and a quarter-century since regaining sobriety, Briscoe’s story is finally getting its due. His 2002 autobiography spurred interest in his tale. Major media outlets have featured his story. Modern-day black quarterbacks have credited his pioneering path, and several lauded him in video tributes played at an event titled “An Evening with the Magician,” held in his honor in September at Omaha’s Baxter Arena. A life-size statue of his likeness was dedicated at the tribute event. Also in the fall of 2016, he received the Tom Osborne Leadership Award. In December he was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Now, he’s preparing to watch actor Lyriq Bent portray him in a major motion picture about his life, The Magician, set to film this spring.

If the movie, produced by his old Omaha University teammate-turned-actor John Beasley, is a hit, it will bring Briscoe’s role as a civil rights soldier to a much wider audience than ever before. Now in his early 70s, Briscoe fully appreciates all that has led up to this moment. He has no doubt he’s ready for whatever may come. Growing up in South Omaha’s melting pot, no-nonsense mentors and peers steeled him for life’s vagaries. Fierce competition toughened him.

“The training I grew up with was the best training any young man or woman could have,” Briscoe says.

On playing fields and courts, in streets and classrooms, he found an inner resolve that served him well through life’s ups and downs.

“That’s where I learned resilience—from my mom, my sister, and all my mentors, and neighbors. They all had this type of mentality and grit. It rubbed off on me and some of the kids I grew up with. It prepared me for anything. If I had not learned core values from growing up where I did, the things I did, the obstacles I overcame would never have happened.”

His cousin Bob Rose and Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson’s oldest brother Josh Gibson were among a cadre of local coaches who inspired youngsters of Briscoe’s generation. 

briscoe1

“You had to go through them if you wanted to do something wrong, and you didn’t want to go through them,” Briscoe says. “Our mentors were down at the Northside Y, at Kellom School, Kountze Park, St. Benedict’s. They cared about where we were going in life.”

When Briscoe was bullied as boy, Rose gave him a “magic box” filled with the tools of various sports—a baseball, football, basketball, and boxing gloves—with the admonition that if he mastered these, he wouldn’t be bothered. He did and wasn’t. The magic box became the gateway for the Magician to do his thing.

Briscoe grew up respecting adults, all adults, even winos, hustlers, and prostitutes.

“They told you to do something, you did it, and went on about your business,” he says.

He conducted himself in a way that in turn earned him respect as a young leader. Virtually all the athletic teams he played on growing up consisted primarily of white players, which meant his entire athletic life he was advancing diversity. Long before he found immortality with the Broncos, he was the first black quarterback on youth teams, at South High, and then at Omaha University (now known as UNO).

Though he lived in South Omaha, Briscoe made a point of going to the proving grounds of North Omaha, where there were even more great athletes and a particular endurance test and rite of passage.

“Off Bedford [Avenue] by Adams Park, there used to be The Hills. It was like the barrier and motivational place where top ballplayers like Gale Sayers and myself would go and work out. Sometimes, I would be up there early in the morning by myself running those hills. I always tell young people today, ‘It is what you do when nobody sees you that defines and determines your work ethic and how you will turn out.’

briscoe3

“There were plenty of guys with more ability than myself—who were bigger, stronger, faster—and while they worked hard when eyes were on them, they slacked off when they were alone. A lot of guys who never made it regretted not putting out the effort to match their ability.”

Briscoe might never have made history if not for some good fortune. He started at quarterback for Omaha University his sophomore and junior years, putting up good numbers and earning the nickname “Magician” for an uncanny ability to escape trouble and extend plays with highlight reel throws and runs. Just before what was supposed to be his senior year, 1966, he got undercut in an all-star basketball game at Bryant Center and took a hard spill. He went numb and was rushed to the hospital, where doctors decreed he was injury-free. He started the ’66 season football opener versus Idaho State with no ill effects. He had a monster game. Then, late in the contest, he took a hit that caused his neck to swell. When rushed to the ER this time, X-rays revealed a fractured vertebra. He’d competed with a broken neck.

Doctors told him his days playing contact sports were over. He accepted the harsh news and dived into his studies, ready to move on with life sans football. Then during a medical checkup, tests confirmed his bones recalcified, and he was cleared to play again. He got a medical hardship waiver from the NAIA and went on to have a huge senior season in 1967, earning small college All-American honors and getting picked in the 14th round of the NFL draft.

He’s convinced he wouldn’t have taken snaps in Denver, which drafted him as a defensive back, if he hadn’t negotiated his own contract to include a clause he be given a three-day tryout at quarterback. He so dazzled the media and the public during the open practices that once the season began and Denver QBs went down due to injury or were benched for poor play, he got his shot and ran with it.

Briscoe’s larger-than-himself magic enabled him to make history in a crucible year for America—a year of riots, anti-war protests, assassinations, and civil rights struggles.

“For some reason, divine intervention maybe, it just seemed the stars were aligned in 1968 for a black man to break the barrier at that position,” he says. “It just seems 1968 was the pivotal year for all African-Americans, for all Americans period. For me to do it in ’68 is just eerie, the way that happened.”

So much of his NFL experience, he says, involved fighting “injustices.” Released by Denver and denied playing quarterback again, he excelled at a new position. Blackballed by the league for challenging its power, he won a hard-fought battle for himself and fellow players.

He insists he was not resentful for being shortchanged at quarterback.

“I wasn’t bitter, I was disappointed,” he says. “When you’re bitter, you give up, you take all this stuff personally, and you quit. I tell young people, ‘You’re going to have disappointments, and you’re going to be treated unfairly, but you can’t be bitter about it.’ Instead, you roll up your sleeves and fight whatever negative things come your way. Plan A doesn’t work? You go to Plan B. Life is just that way.”

Only after walking away from the game to be a broker in Los Angeles did he meet a foe—crack cocaine—that got the better of him. Before his recovery, he lost everything: his home, his fortune, his family. 

briscoe5“Here I was on a park bench trying to get some sleep in the heart of L.A. after owning homes and property,” he says.

What was so maddening about it is that he had done everything right. “It was not like I left the game with nothing,” he says. “I left the game correctly, sitting on easy street. I had wise investments. I prepared to leave the game by going to school and getting additional degrees. I was not hurt. I was in perfect physical condition.”

But in the vacuum of his post-athletic life, without the daily disciplines of workouts and team dynamics, he slipped into an unhealthy lifestyle.

“I let my guard down. I wasn’t really prepared for the L.A. scene because my whole life was always about precision, being responsible,” he says. “Then, when I didn’t have to meet all these different obligations and being single, I wasn’t rooted in one direction—I was just partying. You know, bring it on.”

No one who knew Briscoe before could believe he was in the grip of something that controlled him so completely, least of all himself.

“I had been a player rep. I was the one they always came to just as I was when I was a kid. I was the one people always came to for sage advice. And I never did drugs in the NFL,” Briscoe says.

But there he was, enslaved to a habit he couldn’t kick. Through it all, even losing his Super Bowl rings as collateral for a bank loan, he never forgot who he was inside and what he had done. Though homeless, penniless, and stuck in a jail cell when Doug Williams became the first black quarterback to lead a team to an NFL title, Briscoe felt he shared in that victory, too.

“I felt proud on one hand, and disappointed in myself on the other hand,” he says.

He sank lower than he ever thought possible, but he came back to whip that challenge, too: “The thing is, I always knew I would let go of that descent. I always knew and prayed I’d get back to that person all Omaha knew as this accomplished individual who conquered the NFL and enjoyed all these triumphs. The people that knew me are so elated now I’ve overcome my post-career meltdown because I had been a champion for them, fighting the NFL. I was always fighting for them and fighting for myself. I put myself in positions as a player where my voice could be heard.”

Even though it was decades ago, he believes defying and defeating the NFL’s monied interests left a blemish on his career that got further stained when he was traded several times as persona non grata.

“I’m not bragging or anything, but if I had been any other player, I guarantee you, I’d have been in the NFL Hall of Fame a long time ago. Nobody had ever done it—making history as the first black starting quarterback. People don’t realize I was also the first black holder on extra points. Counting cornerback and wide receiver, I played four different positions in the NFL, and I’m not sure anybody did that before. Then you add in the fact I made All-Pro as a receiver within two years of switching positions and went on to win two Super Bowls.”

Efforts are underway to rectify his absence as a Canton inductee via a write-in campaign to the Hall’s Veterans Committee.

Just as Briscoe wasn’t bitter about being shut out from playing quarterback after his rookie year, he wasn’t bitter that other blacks followed him into the league at that position.

“If I had not succeeded in 1968, James Harris would not have gotten drafted by the Bills as a quarterback out of Grambling in 1969. If I would have failed, they would have brought James in as a tight end. But the fact I was a litmus test and succeeded, they could take a chance on a black quarterback, and James was drafted.

“Ironically, he and I ended up being roommates in Buffalo. We knew each other’s plight. We would have conversations after practice. I would tell him different things that were going to happen to him and to be prepared for them.”

While Briscoe is known as the first black starting QB, another black man, Willie Thrower, briefly got into two games as a QB with the Bears 15 years before Briscoe’s experience with the Broncos. High off his rookie year success, Briscoe had a chance meeting with Thrower in Chicago. The two men hit it off.

briscoe6Briscoe, Harris, Doug Williams, and Warren Moon have formed an organization called The Field General that uses the still-exclusive legacy of the black quarterback to educate and inspire young people. Blacks still comprise but a fraction of the professional QB ranks. The same is true of head coaches, coordinators, and general managers. That fact, combined with the journey each man had to make to get to those rarified places, reveals just how far the nation and league still have to go.

Never in his wildest dreams did Briscoe imagine his story would get so much attention this many years after he played.

“It just goes to show that, if you never give up, a lot of these things will come your way. Sometimes things come late, like this movie project about my life,” he says.

Briscoe says he only agreed to let his story be told in a movie if it stayed true to who he is and to what happened.

“It’s not for self-gratification,” he says. “It’s hopefully as an inspiration for others that you can overcome any obstacle if you really want it. I look back on my life and see what it can do for others. It’s not just a football movie. If it were, I probably wouldn’t be a part of that interpretation of my life. My life is a lot more than just football.”

He’s sure the movie’s message of “if you never give up, you’ve got a chance” will resonate with diverse audiences. He’s proud to be living proof that anything can happen when you keep fighting.


Visit marlinbriscoemovie.com for more information.

This article was printed in the January/February 2017 edition of 60Plus in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Omaha’s Summer Festivals

May 5, 2016 by
Photography by contributed

Nothing brings back fond memories like festival season, with the incessant summer heat carrying vivid recollections of outdoor parties. No need to reminisce when we can take you back ourselves. Here are some of our favorite festivals that have prevailed over the years.

Arbor-Day1

Arbor Day

April 29-May 1, Nebraska City, Nebraska

Not every celebration can boast an entire holiday dedicated to the preservation of trees. In 1872, an estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska, marking the first Arbor Day in American history. But you don’t have to be a tree hugger to enjoy the 260-acre expanse of orchards on the Arbor Day Farm. Though many of the original orchards and estate structures still stand, Arbor Day Farm offers contemporary attractions such as interactive exhibits, hiking trails, and a 50-foot treehouse.

Cinco De Mayo festivities along S. 24th St.

Cinco De Mayo festivities along S. 24th St.

Cinco De Mayo

May 5-8, 24th and L streets

A lively tradition full of community spirit, South Omaha’s Cinco De Mayo celebration dates back to the 1970s. Whether it’s the thrill of the bull races or the harmonious melodies of the Mariachi, memories of Cinco De Mayo are strong recollections that seem to stand the test of time. Sample some delectable food and honor the city’s rich, Mexican heritage, all whilst having fiesta flashbacks.

Food Trucks abound at the RIverfront during Taste.

Food Trucks abound at the RIverfront during Taste.

Taste of Omaha

June 3-5, Heartland of America Park and Lewis and Clark Landing

Omaha was just beginning to be known for food other than steaks in 1997, when Taste of Omaha began. These days, attendees can discover some of the finest restaurants in the area. They can taste the specialty dishes of local eateries, meet local chefs and enjoy live music performances across the festival’s multiple stages.

People admire art from all over the nation at OSAF.

People admire art from all over the nation at OSAF.

Omaha Summer Arts Festival

June 10-12, Farnam Street from 10th to 15th streets

This festival started in 1975 with visual arts lining the streets outside the courthouse. Today, Farnam Street is decorated with national performers and giddy children with painted faces, as well as the 135 juried artists that have gathered from around the globe. An ever-changing landscape that manages to uphold a memorable Omaha tradition, the Summer Arts Festival is not to be missed.

Bocce, anyone?

Bocce, anyone?

Santa Lucia

June 9-12, Lewis and Clark Landing

Most of us weren’t born in noble, Roman families…but we can certainly pretend. With Italian music at our fingertips and a queen coronation to look forward to, Omaha’s Santa Lucia festival has given us a celebration to enjoy time and time again. Whether it’s the annual feast or the image of the Santa Lucia statue that prevails in your mind, this festival is one full of tradition and poignant memories.

ShakespeareWide2

Shakespeare on the Green

June 23-30, Elmwood Park

Marking the fourth centennial of Shakespeare’s death, Shakespeare on the Green’s 30th anniversary continues to engage, educate, and entertain. Though the idea for an outdoor Shakespeare festival in Omaha wasn’t conceived until the early ‘80s, many of us have immersed ourselves in the talented performances and natural beauty of Elmwood Park over the years. Don’t miss this year’s literary workshops or the annual sonnet contest.

   

You Know You’ve Lived in Omaha A Long Time

October 15, 2015 by
  1. Johnny Carson hosting a show on WOW-TV in 1950 called The Squirrel’s Nest. The Omaha show was the television debut for the Nebraska native who went on to national stardom as a late-night TV host.  Remember when Carson took a microphone onto the ledge of the county courthouse to interview the pigeons?  He wanted to give their side of the controversy surrounding pigeon’s loitering on the ledges.
  2. You followed your nose to South Omaha. The neighborhood was malodorous because of nearby stockyards. Some neighbors referred to it as “the smell of money.”  Nicknamed “The Magic City” in the 1890s, South Omaha is an historical and culturally diverse area with eclectic neighborhoods like Little Italy and Little Bohemia.  Each year Cinco De Mayo adds fun and music to the streets.
  3. The Omar Baking Company near 43rd and Nicholas streets filled the neighborhood with sniff-worthy aroma by delivering bread door to door. You may remember the jingle:  “I’m the Omar man, (tap, tap, tap). Knocking at your door (rappa tap tap). When you taste my bread (mmmm boy!), you’re gonna want more (rappa tap tap).” The building is now used for offices and events.
  4. Perhaps your brush with fame was graduating from Westside High School in 1959 with actor Nick Nolte, eventually named People Magazine’s 1992 Sexiest Man Alive. Or living nearby when Jane and Peter Fonda resided with their aunt on Izard Street. You may have gone to UNO with Peter or cruised Dodge Street with Jane.
  5. You might have tasted the world’s first TV dinner (98 cents each) in the 1950s, introduced by Omaha brothers Gilbert and W. Clarke Swanson. The package was designed to look like a TV set at a time when only 20 percent of American homes had a television.  The TV dinner’s aluminum tray ended up in the Smithsonian Institute in 1986 as an American cultural milestone.The Swanson name lives on in Omaha on W. Clarke Swanson Public Library, Swanson Elementary School, Creighton’s W. Clarke Swanson Hall, and Durham Museum’s Swanson Gallery.
  6. The Orpheum, a movie theater built in 1927 as a burlesque theater, closed in 1971. Maybe you were there in January 17, 1975, for the renovated theater’s grand reopening. We know you weren’t there in 1971 for the last movie shown; the theater was empty.
  7. The Indian Hills movie theater built in 1961 near 84th and Dodge streets was called “the hat box” because of its shape. Perhaps you were among the people who tried to save the wide-screen Super-Cinerama theater building before it was torn down in 2001.
  8. The Cooper theater near 15th and Douglas streets, a former “bastion of bump” (burlesque) when its name was The Moon, was a place to see movies until it was demolished in 1975.

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The Cottages

July 23, 2014 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

When newly engaged Ryan Ratigan and fiancé Khilah Butler decided that their downtown apartment wasn’t cutting it any more, most might assume a move out west was in order.  Not for these two.

Butler happened to have attended the Young Professionals Summit put on by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. The event featured a tour of South Omaha given by artist Larry Ferguson, a photographer whose studio is on Vinton Street. She knew she was on to something.

“We knew we wanted to look at the Vinton area,” says Butler. “It has a true neighborhood feel.”

Ratigan agreed that the area’s rich cultural history makes for a unique neighborhood vibe. And the location was a bit away from the bustle of downtown while still being close to the heart of the city.
Butler is a manager at the First National Bank contact center while Ratigan is an attorney. His office is located downtown, but he also often works from home.

After surveying the area for possible houses the couple found their home in The Cottages, situated between Vinton, Spring, 21st, and 22nd streets.

“There are only three stoplights between here and Downtown,” says Ratigan. “You can’t beat that.”

The Cottages were recently purchased by Harvest Development and endured an extreme facelift. Built in the 1890s, the homes were originally used for immigrant meat packers, mostly Korean, working in the stockyards.

According to Autumn Gibson, the director of property management, about half of the 20 rental homes are still up for grabs at the just-opened Cottages.

“We are hoping to entice those who are interested in not only a more urban feel, but also in being a part of the revival of Vinton Street,” Gibson says.

The homes are 1½ stories and can be found in several sizes. Though the homes have been redone from top to bottom, they still evoke a bygone era.

“I like that it’s an older home,” says Ratigan, “but they kept all the original hard wood floors and charm. You can tell that there is great respect for the area that is being preserved.”

The young couple was also looking for outdoor space. The two try to spend as much time as they can hiking and camping; spending weekends by the Platte River, at Indian Cave State Park, and at Hitchcock Park.

Their two-bedroom, two-bath home comes complete with both front and back decks, plus a shared green space. Now they don’t have to hop in the car to become one with nature.

“It’s much more peaceful here and we have a spot to sit outside,” adds Butler.

It comes as no surprise that younger families are finding their way to the Vinton area. It is in a time of revival, says Ferguson. Harvest Development’s renovation of The Cottages and the new families moving in are only part of something much bigger. His studio has been on 17th and Vinton since 1983, and Ferguson has spent the last 30 years watching the area grow.

“When I arrived in the 1980s, Vinton was dead,” Ferguson says. “There were vacant places, property values were depressed, very few people—it was in a state of serious decline.”

Now the street boasts numerous eateries, galleries, beauty salons, carnicerias, and a super mercado. Not to mention the Apollon, which is a new hot spot to experience visual art, theatrical performances, music, and gourmet food.

“When you see big businesses putting money into neighborhoods, you know things are going up,” says Ferguson.

Councilman Garry Gernandt feels that The Cottages is a vital link to the neighborhood’s rebound.
“It creates a good mix to an area that has been in new stages of revitalization for the last few years,” says Gernandt.
Ratigan and Butler are excited to be a part of that mix.

“The positivity of this area is underrated,” says Butler. “It’s very family friendly and a great part of town.”

South Omaha’s 24th Street

May 2, 2014 by
Photography by Keith Binder

The story of South Omaha—past or present—has always been the story of the American immigrant experience. Boom, bust, cultural conflict. Poverty, cultural ascension, cultural assimilation. Social issues, sure. But genuine vibrancy and character, too—an energy so many communities try and fail to replicate with facades.

“I think it is misunderstood, it has a different flavor but different can be beautiful,” says Marcos Mora, president of LatPro Studios as well as a promoter of Passport to South Omaha, a new campaign to revitalize and grow this part of the city.

Even on a cold, windy day the South 24th Historic District in South Omaha is buzzing with people, traffic—something that makes for great street ambiance. During the lunch hour, street vendors can be seen selling items like tacos and treats—authentic Mexican cuisine. One thing is for certain; you can feel the sense of pride and community. The energy is high and residents are friendly and making small talk with each other.

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With a new generation of Hispanics making South Omaha their home, the area once dubbed the “Magic City” for its speed of growth during the American Industrial Revolution is undergoing its own revolution. Still, some thoughtful planning was needed to harness this organic burst of energy.

“We looked at the Old Market, Benson, Dundee to see how they we’re doing it,” he says. “We want to change the perception.”

One example of change: “You can still get the traditional Mexican cuisine but also new Latin dishes you couldn’t find before,'” Mora says.

With new colorful flavor on the block, coordinators of the annual Cinco de Mayo festival thought it was only natural to center the event on something we all love: Food. “Food, Fun, and Fiesta” showcases local restaurants and food vendors with the first ever Spice of South O. Free entertainment, a carnival, and a parade that is one of the biggest in the Midwest attracts people from as far as South Dakota, Kansas, and Missouri.

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The town square, Plaza de la Raza, or “gathering place for the people,” is the heart of the area. Looking from the northwest corner of 24th and N streets, the rich history of the street comes to life. Among other feasts for the eyes: The colored tile-lined sidewalks and park benches and the towering figure of the great economic generator in the early life of this region—the Livestock Exchange Building.

Events celebrate the incredible cultural diversity of the neighborhood, an amalgam of 125 years of Polish, Czech, German, and Mexican heritages. Created mostly in the boom years between 1890 and 1910, 33 buildings are recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.

Some cultures can only be seen now in the names of structures such as the J.V. Vacek building, which now holds retail bays.

The signs of the more recent residents are seen more in paint than stone; in murals covering the sides, tops, and fronts of buildings. Legend of the Volcanoes Popocatepetl & Iztaccihuatl, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and revolutionaries Emil Zapata and Pancho Villa are depicted with vibrant colors.

In its fifth year, La Veinticuatro Walking Tour hopes to educate the public on the importance of preserving and restoring older districts. Although not an Omaha native, Vince Furlong, tour coordinator for La Veinticuatro, has a passion for cities with historical significance. Furlong leads several tours a month to help promote revitalization of this part of the city.

Local businesses like The World of Pottery and Bievenidos a la Plaza Latina bring to life the story of the current residents’ heritage by showcasing folk art imported from the Guadalajara area displayed in an outdoor plaza type atmosphere found in Latin America. As a destination business, World of Pottery has customers from around the Midwest.

Some of the customers, though, just come to remember old times.

“One women from Auburn described a time she drove out the now front doors of the World of Pottery in a new car with her dad,” Furlong says. “This was back in the 50s when it was H&H Chevrolet.”

Petersen & Michelsen Hardware is another stop on the La Veinticuatro tour. There, one is swept back in time by memorabilia from the stockyards in the form of pictures, old packaging, and uniforms. Dan Boland, owner of Petersen & Michelsen Hardware, tells guests about the 120-year history of the store; the oldest business on the street.

All traces of the once-bustling meatpacking hub are not completely lost. In between answering the phone and helping customers, Boland points out an item in one of the store’s aisles. It’s a hydraulic drain flusher that meatpacking plants order from his store from around the country.

In his store—as in all of South Omaha—the new and old, the antiquated and modern, blend together into a rich tapestry.

“South Omaha is still so vibrant,” Boland says. “My dad and grandpa both called this the Magic City, and I still have to agree.”

Winter Is Coming

December 2, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The day after Christmas 2011 coincided with the eight-year anniversary of the day Matt and Kim Mixan first met. At the skating rink on 10th and Howard streets, a small group of their friends quietly encouraged Matt to go through with the afternoon’s plan: proposing to Kim. “It was something I’d been wanting to do for years,” he explains. “I’d always planned that spot, that day, that event, for three years in a row, and it never panned out.”

“At lunch, he was downing the margaritas,” Kim recalls. “I was like, what is going on?” The nerves didn’t go away. It took several laps around the crowded rink and Kim wanting to stop due to bruised ankles from the skates before Matt coaxed her to the center of the ice. With their friends surrounding them, he got down on one knee and said, “I couldn’t think of a better place to do this than on our eight-year anniversary with people who love us.” Laughing, Kim asked a couple times if he was serious, then answered, “Yeah, okay!”

Of course, it’s not strictly necessary to be prepared with that level of commitment before enjoying the ConAgra Foods Ice Skating Rink, and you don’t have to plan for three years. As of Sat., Dec. 14, all that’s really required is a five-dollar bill for admission and skates, because who has those? On the weekends, night owls and lovebirds alike can skate till midnight. Wear an elf hat and feel good about yourself, because 100 percent of proceeds go to Food Bank for the Heartland. The donations translated into 1.3 million meals last year, according to event manager Vic Gutman of Vic Gutman & Associates.

Still, the rink’s varying hours can get a little tricky to keep in mind. If you just want to soak up some holiday cheer already, Downtown’s Holiday Lights Festival is in full swing from Thanksgiving evening until about a week after the New Year. What that means in English is the trees along the Gene Leahy Mall are lit by more than a million fairy lights every night. As are six blocks of 24th Street in North Omaha. And six blocks of 24th Street in South Omaha. Soak up even more nostalgia and stop by the Mall around 7 p.m. on Saturdays. Choral groups, ranging from youth to professional, will regale passersby with holiday tunes for an hour.

But sometimes standing around admiring sparkling lights isn’t that appealing because, you know, winter. It’s cold. Get thee to Beer Corner USA on 36th and Farnam streets for Holiday Beerfest. This is a one-time deal on Sat., Dec. 7, and it’s from 1–5 p.m. (drinking in the afternoon? Psh, it’s the holidays. Also, good prep for long-planned proposals, apparently). The seasonal-brew-sampling fest has been going on for the past seven years, so get your tickets early ($22 in advance, $27 at the door) and drink your way through 100 or so winter brews and three separate bars: Crescent Moon, Huber-Haus, and Max and Joe’s. “Winter beers,” explains Michael Perdue, manager of the attached bottle shop, Beertopia, “are darker, use more roasted malt, and there might be some spice as well—cinnamon, cardamom. We’ll have a lot of porters, stouts, some strong English ales, too.”

What is beer without a little snack? The Old Market Candy Shop officially has its annual offering of pumpkin pie fudge. Owner Jeff Jorgensen promises that egg nog fudge is not far behind. Sometimes they have ribbon candy too, but don’t hold your breath. It may or may not be available when you go. Of course, right next door to the Candy Shop is Downtown’s permanent homage to Christmas, Tannenbaum Christmas Shop, also owned by Jorgensen.

Consider working off the chocolate with an amble along Farnam Street near 33rd. The shop windows at Midtown Crossing are decorated once again for Miracle on Farnam, a series of intricate holiday displays. More than 20 sponsors have designed these nostalgia-inducing, shadow-box-like tableaus. The windows housing animated pieces in particular call to mind postcards of old-fashioned toy shop windows decked out for the season.

It makes for quite a romantic stroll in the evening, by the way. No ice skates required. And let’s be real, you don’t want to be that guy who stole someone else’s proposal technique anyway.

The Perfect Cuisine for El Día de los Muertos

August 29, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

El Día de los Muertos is right around the corner, and what better way to celebrate the Day of the Dead than with food? Keep an eye out for sugar skulls as you sample some of the best Mexican cuisine in Omaha along 24th Street.

La Michoacana (24th and E)

José Gaytan, owner of the small café La Michoacana, is hard-pressed to choose just one favorite from his menu but finally narrows it down. “For me,” he says, “the nachos are wonderful. The pico de gallo on them is made fresh every day.” As are all the meats. But if you’re looking for La Michoacana’s standout contribution to the South Omaha Mexican cuisine scene, skip the hot bar and go straight to the frozen cabinet by the cash register. A sign requests in Spanish that patrons allow an employee to open it. Ask for a mango paleta, or popsicle. It costs $1 and is made with milk, fruit, and not much else. The texture is smooth rather than icy, and the taste is creamy and not as shockingly sweet as frozen treats you’ll find elsewhere. It also melts with surprising speed the instant you step into sunlight, so plan on eating it quickly. No wonder they don’t want you standing over the freezer with the lid open.

Popsicles from La Michoacana.

Popsicles from La Michoacana.

Dos de Oros (24th and G)

“¿Cambio para el veinte?” One of the regulars at the Dos de Oros food truck taps another customer on the shoulder to remind him to get his change. There’s always a small crowd milling around the truck, patrons chatting as they wait in line or wait to order, so you’ll have plenty of time to study the menu on the whiteboard. If you’re okay with a bit of heat, try the chorizo burrito, a flavor you won’t find at a fast-food joint. Ladle some salsa verde over your plate, and grab a Mexican Coke from the cooler in the front of the truck. A bottle opener specifically for the sugar-cane soda swings in the breeze. These burritos are about half the size of the monsters at Chipotle or Qdoba, but for $3 and a great spicy flavor, who’s complaining?

El Ranchito (24th and H)

As tiny as its name suggests, El Ranchito keeps only a few picnic-cloth-covered tables in its café. Its menu has some standard lunch prices of $8 or $9 an entrée, but you can make a cheaper meal out of the tacos at $1.35 or the zopes (also known as sope) for $1.75. These soft, corn flour (or masa) tortillas are fried and then served open-faced with savory meat, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. If you’re feeling brave, order the lengua zope. The seared beef tongue is tender, salty, and smoky. But consider ordering it for carryout—the telenovelas on that small TV in the corner can get loud.

Beef-tongue zope at El Ranchito is tender and smoky.

Beef-tongue zope at El Ranchito is tender and smoky.

Jacobo’s Grocery (24th and L)

The queue by the deli counter at the back of Jacobo’s Grocery is long but steadily moving. Kerry Hoiberg waits patiently for two quarts of what she calls the best salsa in town. She drives down regularly from the Field Club neighborhood to stock up on the grocery store’s salsa and homemade chips. “I like supporting local, but at a farmers market, a pint would cost about $5,” she says. “Here, it’s made fresh every day, and a quart is $3.25.” She also buys a small cup of hot sauce for 40 cents, saying she’ll mix it in later to spice up the mild pico de gallo.

The deli also serves an array of hot lunches, such as empanadas and chimichangas, but it just might be the pastry case at the end that will capture your attention. Order something at random, and you’ll be fine. The guayaba pastry, for example, costs 70 cents, is unbelievably flaky, and filled with guava jelly. You’ll make a mess eating it, but you won’t care.

There are plenty of hot lunch options at Jacobo's Grocery on 24th Street.

There are plenty of hot lunch options at Jacobo’s Grocery on 24th Street.

El Rinconcito (23rd and N)

El Rinconcito translates roughly into “the little out-of-the-way corner,” and it certainly is off the beaten path. However, it’s worth leaving South Omaha’s main drag of 24th Street for a place that serves breakfast all day. For around $9, you can have two huevos estrellados (fried eggs), a few strips of tocino (bacon), a caramelized plantain, refried beans, cheese, and three tortillas served in a tablewarmer. A little extra gets you coffee.

Most of these places don’t take credit or check, so no matter where you intend to observe el Día de los Muertos, come properly prepared with cash. That and an empty stomach are all you need to enjoy the flavors of South Omaha.

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.