Together Omaha

The Junior League of Omaha is thrilled to be working with our community partners! This year, the League is partnering with Heart Ministry Center, The Big Garden, No More Empty Pots, The Union for Contemporary Arts, and Together Omaha. This blog entry will discuss one of our partners, Together Omaha.

Together was founded by the leaders of Countryside Community Church, Dundee Presbyterian, Temple Israel, Kountze Memorial Lutheran, Trinity Cathedral, First United Methodist, St. Cecilia’s Cathedral, and many others in response to the 1975 tornado that swept through Omaha. The leaders decided to make Together a permanent resource, focused on providing food, clothing and shelter to local residents. 

Together now also provides case management, financial and employment assistance, financial education assistance, navigation services, furniture, bus tickets, and identification. Together’s mission is to prevent and end homelessness in the Omaha community, with a focus on its core values of hope, dignity, compassion, excellence, and diversity. 

Together offers several programs aimed at reducing homelessness, including the Horizons Program, assistance with rent, utilities, and deposits, obtaining identification, transportation, and the Choice Pantry. The Horizons Program provides eligible households with outreach, case management, and assistance in obtaining benefits, which may include: health care services, daily living services, personal finance planning services, transportation services, fiduciary and payee services, legal services, child care services, and housing counseling services. Together may also provide Horizons Program participants with assistance in paying rent, utilities, and deposits. 

Together issues vouchers to aid in obtaining state-issued identification, including a valid ID or a certified birth certificate. They also provide eligible participants free MAT bus passes until the participants receive their first paycheck. The Choice Pantry provides 20-30 meals, including breakfast, meat, fruit, vegetables, and more. Participants may visit the pantry once every 30 days.

Together is a valuable partner in providing important resources to community members. The League looks forward to an educational partnership!

Heart Ministry Center

The Junior League of Omaha is thrilled to be working with our community partners! This year, the League is partnering with Heart Ministry Center, The Big Garden, No More Empty Pots, The Union for Contemporary Arts, and Together Omaha. This blog series will take a closer look at each of the League’s community partners and discuss who they are, what they do, and why we’ve chosen to partner with each organization.

Heart Ministry Center began as the Sacred Heart Human Needs Door Ministry. They are based in North Omaha, and focus on providing essentials such as food, clothing, and shelter. They began as a small organization focusing on the families of children attending Sacred Heart, but overtime have expanded their reach, notably becoming the first “choice” pantry in Omaha that allowed the public to choose their own foods, and expanding the services they provide. 

According to their website, more than thirty-three percent of Heart Ministry Center’s clients are children, and ten percent are seniors. Over forty-six percent of their clients are below the poverty line. They provide meals for more than 60,000 families and medical assistance for more than 2,000 individuals each year, and estimate that within the last twelve months, they have provided case work and social services for over 6,800 individuals. 

Heart Ministry Center provides a lot of excellent services to the community. Their programs include the Choice Food Pantry, the Laura and Dan Monen Healthcare Clinic, the Fresh Start Job Placement Program, and the Gary L. Maag Dental Clinic, as well as other programs. The Choice Food Pantry was the first pantry in Omaha that allows families to choose their own foods. The Laura and Dan Monen Healthcare Clinic, in partnership with Creighton University, provides free basic medical care, and accepts walk-in patients. 

The Fresh Start Job Placement Program teaches job skills including workplace communication and customer service skills to members of the community, and assists in job placement for its graduates. The Gary L. Maag Dental Clinic partners with volunteer dentists to provide dental care, as well as extractions and fillings, and is available by appointment only. Heart Ministry Center also provides other services including meeting with case managers to meet other needs, working with local attorneys to provide free legal advice, and hosting special events throughout the year such as holiday parties, back-to-school events, health screenings, and block parties.

Heart Ministry Center is a wonderful organization that provides a lot of valuable resources to the community, including not only the ability to choose the foods they receive from the pantry, but access to basic health care, as well as job training skills. The League looks forward to an educational partnership!

The Big Garden

The Junior League of Omaha is thrilled to be working with our community partners! This year, the League is partnering with Heart Ministry Center, The Big Garden, No More Empty Pots, The Union for Contemporary Arts, and Together Omaha. This blog will discuss our partnership with  The Big Garden.

The Big Garden was created by United Methodist Ministries in 2005 as a new program. The goal was to create 12 community gardens over the following five years. They went on to create 26 gardens in Omaha over the following five years, in addition to a sister project, The Big Rural Garden. There is now a network of over 150 community gardens in Omaha, as well as small communities in Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas.

The Big Garden’s mission is to “cultivate food security by developing community gardens, creating opportunities to serve, and providing education on issues related to hunger.” They are unique in both the large number of sites, as well as their emphasis on local partnerships. Community agencies own the land where all Big Garden sites are located, and the Big Garden partners with sites to assist with initial start-up costs, ongoing program support, garden and nutrition classes for children, and by brokering collaborative relationships in the community.

The Big Garden has several valuable programs. These include providing online gardening education, community gardens, Growing Gardeners Workshops, the New Roots internship, Grow-Your-Own, Farm to School, and Garden to Table. The online gardening education was an adaptation of some of their education programs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. They also provide other online resources, such as recipes, a list of recommended reading, and a skill library that includes information on various topics such as how to start seeds at home, a guide to edible wild plants, and more. 

The Growing Gardeners Workshop is provided each season, and is low-cost, available to budding gardeners of all ages, and is open regardless of availability to pay. There are four educational tracks that the workshops cover: urban ag school, herbal medicine cabinet, culinary & nutrition, and craft & lifestyle. The New Roots internship is a 12-week summer internship for young adults interested in organic gardening, food security, local food, and working with children. The interns receive training in gardening, food security and classroom management and often go on to have careers in these fields. Grow-Your-Own, Farm to School, and Garden to Table are all programs that teach students how to grow, tend, harvest, cook, and preserve the produce they grow. Grow-Your-Own classes are held at The Big Garden, while Farm to School and Garden to Table are held at school gardens. 

The Big Garden is a fantastic organization that provides a lot of valuable training to community members interested in learning to grow their own produce. The League looks forward to a fruitful partnership!

Undesign the Redline Recap Blog

On June 25, the Junior League of Omaha had the honor of hosting the first virtual tour of The Union for Contemporary Art’s Undesign the Redline exhibit. Led by Susan Stroesser, a volunteer of The Union, and Paige Reitz, deputy director of The Union, our members had the opportunity to learn about the history of the redline in Omaha and the lasting impact that we can see today.

According to The Union, “Beginning in 1936, the neighborhoods of Omaha’s Near North and South sides were systematically segregated from the rest of the city by means of prohibitive and discriminatory home lending practices. In Omaha, and cities across the country, red lines were literally drawn on city maps by the federally-funded Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, identifying predominantly African-American and immigrant communities as “hazardous” and unfit for investment.

Systemic challenges today, like inequalities in housing, education, income, criminal justice and health are far from separate issues. These challenges are rooted in a deep and entangled history of policies, practices and processes that remain unrevealed and misunderstood. As new forces begin to transform cities and towns, decisions about interconnected challenges are therefore often made ‘in the dark.’”

The virtual training enabled League members to have meaningful conversations that encourage us to continue learning and growing as a League. It also provided us with a connection to the communities that we are predominantly serving in our new Hunger and Access to Healthy Foods focus area. Of our five current community partners, all five are in the top ten zip codes of poverty in Omaha, and two of them are in the number two spot. All of these community partners are located in areas that were previously redlined.

Historic Omaha Redlining Map

Below are comments from a few attendee’s experience. “I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to virtually tour the Union for Contemporary Art and learn about structural racism in both its current and historical context within our community. The virtual docents were incredibly knowledgeable in leading discussion and providing relevant resources. These critical conversations are necessary within the Junior League of Omaha, and I am glad that our members are committed to growing and learning. It is clear that we can do better, and experiences like this offer us an opportunity to expand our understanding and better serve our community moving forward.” – Anne Bowen, Placement Chair

“Omaha has a history similar to so many cities of similar size – and lots of our members have no idea how much racism is a part of that history. The Union’s Undesign the Red Line training helped us learn about the intersections between red lining, public school segregation, public transportation, food deserts, and a lack of healthcare facilities in both north and south Omaha. For many of our members, it was the first time these issues had ever been discussed, and the Union does such an incredible job addressing the topics that no matter where you are on the journey, there is something for everyone. I loved how the Q&A at the end allowed of members the chance to share stories and connect their own lived experiences to the content of the exhibit. It was especially helpful to have Paige in the training to provide research in the chat for us as topics came up.” – Stephanie Kidd, Diversity and Inclusion Chair

“The ‘Undesign the Redline’ event was incredibly timely and insightful. This event proactively addressed and educated membership on systemic race issues. The speaker provided a detailed history of segregation and racism within the Omaha community and a few league members shared their personal stories which further demonstrated the persistent nature of the issue. The educational impact of this event is meaningful and it was one of my favorite JLO events as a result!” – Sophia Petrow, Done in a Day Vice Chair

Shannon Lang, Hunger & Access to Healthy Foods Chair