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Filmmakers and Their Films


Filmmakers and Their Films

Dates: June 15 – July 20, 2019

Meets: Saturdays from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM

Location: MCC North Express 306, Highlander Accelerator 2112 North 30th Street, 3rd Floor

Instructor: Leo Adam Biga, film author-journalist-blogger (“Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”)

Registration Fee: $60.00

Register at–

https://coned.mccneb.edu/wconnect/ace/CourseStatus.awp?&course=19JUCOMM201A

There is no better way to see a film than to view it with its maker. This summer, MCC offers movie lovers the opportunity to see diverse films alongside their makers. Guests include producers, directors, writers, cinematographers, editors and actors. All the films and makers share Nebraska ties. Following each screening, the guest will discuss the film and their career and field questions from students. Don’t miss this chance to see compelling movies by Nebraskans and to intimately engage these cinema creatives in conversation.



June 15—Mike Hill
“Rush” 
Oscar-winning editor Mike Hill worked in Hollywood for many decades as one of two primary cutters on Ron Howard’s feature films. Hill shared the Academy Award for his work on “Apollo 13.” The now retired Hill will discuss his career and specifically his work on Howard’s 2013 Formula One race car drama, “Rush.” View the trailer at https://youtu.be/s43KIRThDDc

June 22—Lew Hunter and Lonnie Senstock 
“Once in a Lew Moon” 
Lew Hunter was a network television executive who wrote and produced landmark TV movies. His book about screenwriting became a bible to aspiring scenarists. A UCLA class he taught included future filmmakers. Lonnie Senstock’s documentary captures Lew’s bigger-than-life personality and appetite for life. View the trailer at https://youtu.be/tRWBq0HiArg

June 29—Mele Mason 
“I Dream of an Omaha Where” 
Documentary and network news photographer Mele Mason travels the nation and world for her work. She also trains her eye locally, “I Dream of an Omaha Where” follows the collaboration between performance artist Daniel Beaty and Omaha families affected by gun violence in the creation of an original work of theater. View the trailer at https://vimeo.com/197125222

July 6—Nebraska Filmmakers Showcase 
Sample the screen work of Nik Fackler, Omowale Akintunde, John Beasley, Camille Steed, Mauro Fiore, Tim Christian and other Nebraskans who make films. Some of these professionals will be on hand to discuss their work in front of the camera or behind the camera. 

July 13—Jim Fields 
“Preserve Me a Seat” 
During efforts to save the Indian Hills Theatre, Jim Fields documented the passion of historic preservationists, film industry professionals and movie fans. He then expanded the story to document similar efforts around the nation that turn into classic clashes between grassroots groups and big business interests. View the trailer at https://youtu.be/TtMvpFPT9BY.

July 20—Brigitte Timmerman 
“The Omaha Speaking” 
The few fluent speakers left in the Omaha Tribe are featured in this audience favorite documentary at film festivals, Brigitte Timmerman presents the urgency that fluent speakers and educators have in preserving and passing on this rich cultural legacy before it’s too late. View the trailer https://youtu.be/lFK9Sj_Olx8.

NOTES:

Visit mccneb.me/films for the list of films that will be shown. Must be 18 and older.
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South Omaha melting pot features Mayan flavors in new play at Great Plains Theatre Conference


South Omaha melting pot features Mayan flavors in new play at Great Plains Theatre Conference

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the May 2019 edition of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

Among the melting pot South Omaha subcultures.that Ellen Struve’s new play EPIC dips into is the Maya. The Omaha playwright’s original work will premier in three free performances May 29-31 at 7:30 p.m. on Metropolitan Community College’s South Omaha Campus, ITC Building 120, at 2909 Edward Babe Gomez Avenue.

EPIC is part of the PlayFest Neighborhood Tapestries program in MCC’s Great Plains Theatre Conference (GPTC). Program works are developed through community engagement that playwrights and directors do with residents. Struve met with several South Omaha groups in researching EPIC.

Abstract Mindz Collaboration was one.

“They’re an artists collective of very creative, talented young artists,” Struve said, “They have a fabulous amount of energy that sort of pops right off the walls.”

Additionally. she met with the artists behind the South Omaha Mural Project, whose works depict various South O cultures. The group’s prepping a Maya mural to be completed this year.

 

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Ellen Struve

 

Finally. Struve reached out to Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim, an organization of indigenous Mayans whose oral histories inform both the mural and EPIC.

“Witnessing people overcome trials with bravery and compassion is incredibly inspiring and certainly every one I’ve met at Comunidad Maya Pixan Oxim has done that time and time again while exhibiting an overwhelming sense of compassion,” Struve said.

“I have found there a wish for well-being for our shared humanity despite many obstacles. Executive director Luis Marcos, for example. came to America from Guatemala at 16. He taught himself English and Spanish. He’s trilingual. His people have been persecuted. There was a genocide against the Maya in the 1980s. To not only survive but to maintain such a strong sense of community and compassion and a deep appreciation for the arts is inspiring and connects with my own values and interests.”

 

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Maya community members

 

Struve already volunteered at the Maya community center when GPTC producing artistic director Kevin Lawler asked her to create an original PlayFest piece.

“I immediately thought of Luis and how much I admired Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim,” Struve said, “and asked if he would be interested in partnering with us. He was.”

The project dovetailed with related interests that bleed into Struve’s life, including a passion for immigration rights. Her play The Dairy Maid-Right examines issues about immigration in Nebraska. She’s advocated for DACA rights through the Heartland Workers Center. She interfaced with Dreamers while working at a Chicago music school. More recently, she’s discovered a Latino ancestry she never knew. She’s still deciding “how to creatively process” her own family story.

EPIC draws on the Popol Vuh – an ancient book of sacred Mayan stories – and it’s intersection with stories of first and second generation Americans.

Luis Marcos asked her to adapt it.

“It’s a beautiful epic poem I was unfamiliar with prior to working on this,” Struve said. “It tied in beautifully with the artist narratives and the idea of murals. I developed a narrative about a company of young artists creating a mural in South Omaha that turns out to be about the Popol Vuh and the way it speaks to our current moment and the ways we can make a better world.”

Struve and director Michael John Garces from Los Angeles conducted story circles with artists and Maya community members. The resulting script dramatizes ancient sagas and personal tales of South O natives, migrants and refugees who, Struve said, “are experiencing events in their lives reflective of events in the Popol Vuh. “Some of their stories are definitely impacted by the current immigration policies in the U.S.,” she said. “There are also timeless family stories of sons and daughters having second generation issues with first generation parents and timeless issues of artists coming into their own and connecting with a really important piece of art, the Popol Vuh, that is part of our hemisphere.”

 

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Popul Vuh

Struve considers the Popul Vuh “a fabulous document of a great civilization akin to the The Odyssey or the Egyptian Book of the Dead.” She even learned a Mayan language. “It has been a complete joy for me.”

Her play is in Maya, Spanish and English.

“Not only is it exciting to bring these community stories to the stage, but we’ll do it with production elements that are exciting for me to work with.”

In addition to community members acting on stage, certain things will be represented via shadow puppetry.

“I’ve always wanted to work with a puppeteer and we have a wonderful puppeteer and designer in Lynn Jeffries.”

Jeffries, who works with Garces at L.A.’s Cornerstone Theater Company, enjoys bringing the Popul Vuh to life. “It’s a fabulous story just on the level of storytelling. It’s funny and complex and has a lot of things that lend themselves to puppetry,” she said. “There’s a lot of action. It’s a very fluid mode of storytelling with multiple layers and characters who are often one thing and another at the same time.”

The production will use overhead projectors to make small shadow puppets manipulated on stage. Local artists will bring their own aesthetic to the figures.

Rather than a limitation, puppetry is a luxury.

“You can create a lot more with shadow puppetry because you can make a bunch of small things out of paper and fill the room with them,” Jeffries said.

Garces called puppetry “a wonderful theatrical device.” “Particularly for any element on stage that is supernatural,” he added, “it gives it life theatrically in a way that doesn’t feel forced as sometimes it does when people wear costumes. Audiences will accept things that puppets do and will really go on a journey with them in a way that’s harder to achieve with actors embodying those same features. Shadow puppetry allows us to more evoke things than do them. It’s quite a supple medium. I like that a lot about it.”

Technical aspects aside, Struve aims for audiences to have their curiosity peaked about Maya culture.

“I hope people learn more about the literature and the contribution the Maya community is making to make our city a more vibrant and exciting place to live.”

 

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Michael John Garces

 

Garces became familiar with Maya culture and the Popul Vuh years ago working with a theater company and writers collective in Chiapas. Mexico.

“The experience of working on Mayan-themed shows had a big impact on my career. It’s part of what led me to work at Cornerstone and it’s a reason why I embraced theater community engagement work.”

This marks the fourth time Garces has come to Omaha to flesh out a South Omaha-based play for the Great Plains festival.

“All the plays are an attempt to answer the questions, how did we get here and where do we go from here. These are vital origin questions. All these folks in the community are, like all of us, trying to figure out how to move things forward.”

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South Omaha Mural Project

 

Collecting the stories of EPIC fed his already “intense curiosity about South O denizens and allowed him to “delve much deeper into a wider range of this community where I’ve developed relationships.”

“If you’re going to be a serious theater practitioner,” he said, “you have to genuinely cultivate the part of you that is curious because if you don’t you’re just not going to have quality engagements with the subject matter you’re working on.”

There’s nothing he’d rather do than community engaged theater that grabs audiences.

“I’m very blessed to do the work I do and I’m grateful for it. It is hard work, but it’s satisfying and joyful.”

As for Struve, she said, “This has been a really humbling way to approach theater for me because my job is to serve the people who have contributed their stories and experiences to the project. It’s incredibly rewarding. It takes it out of your ego and it gives you a different kind of purpose than perhaps you had before.”

Visit http://www.gptcplays.com/playfest.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

Passion, vision, defined mission make nonprofits click


Passion, vision, defined mission make nonprofits click

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the May 2019 edition of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

Nonprofits thrive when they find a community niche no one else serves. Next comes getting influencers and supporters to catch their vision and invest in the mission.  The entrepreneurs behind the six Omaha nonprofits featured here don’t lead the largest or the most well-known organizations. But each oversees a distinct work borne of passion and vision that serves a specific population. Each entity stands apart from the crowded nonprofit field by filling a need or gap that otherwise wouldn’t be satisfied.

Sweat and soul make these nonprofits click. It all starts and ends with the people who dreamed them up. Each founder is still at the helm, refining the vision, steadying the course, and retelling the story.

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The Bike Union and Coffee

As mentoring efforts go, Bike Union and Coffee follows an unconventional path not unlike that of founder-executive director, Miah Sommer.

For starters, its human services are intentionally scaled-down to serve a handful of young people. Bigger isn’t always better the way Sommer sees it.

“There’s a point of diminishing returns,” he said. “Do we want numbers to feel good about how many we’re serving or do we want results? We’ll only grow if we feel that makes the most sense.”

Union-Coffee mentors mainly young adults who’ve aged out of foster care. Most have a history of trauma. They struggle reentering society as independent young men and women. Devoting attention to a few clients, Sommer said, “hasn’t been real popular with some funders, but I really think that’s the only way to tackle trauma. I want to make relationship-based programming. In some way that’s what I was lacking at their age – meaningful adult mentor relationships.”

Clients learn social-job skills working alongside staff and volunteers and dealing with customers at this combo repair shop and coffeehouse at 1818 Dodge Street. Experts provide GED preparation, reading comprehension, financial literacy and other services.

Mindfulness meditation and cooking-nutrition classes are offered participants.

Bike repair and coffee revenues help fund operations.

Though Sommer was never in the system, he grew up adrift and estranged. He dropped out of high school, only earning his GED at 27. He majored in history and religion at college. He turned a serious cycling passion into a retail career that spawned a recreational trek biking program for inner city youth, BUMP. It’s now part of his social entrepreneurship mentoring endeavor.

“I left my job to start this in 2015 with a month’s salary, a wife, kids and a house, so I had to make it happen. I blinded myself to all the challenges of starting a nonprofit that is also a business.”

Employment program participants are referred by Project Everlast and Bridge to Independence. Originally designed for new cohorts of four mentees to graduate every 12 months, real life dictates a looser timetable.

“Now we understand this is a for-keeps relationship we need to stay involved in. We might have five in the program right now, but ten might come through the door each week needing services. Some don’t go through the 12 months. They just aren’t ready to work on themselves or they exit early when they find another job. Others stay 16 months until they’re ready to move on.”

“Until they’re ready” is the new mantra.

There are breakthroughs and setbacks. The camaraderie and training, including peer-to-peer mentoring, keep drawing participants in.

“Some just come to hang around. Others need help with problems they’re having. Even the kids that have been fired still come back. It’s a safe place for them, It’s a place where they feel accepted. It’s like a big family.”

Illegal or threatening behaviors are not tolerated.

“Generally, those kids are weeded out at about three months,” Sommer said. “They usually end up leaving on their own free will.”

For those who stick it out, there’s no hard and fast goal.

“The programming is designed to achieve what they want to achieve. There’s no, you’ll do this, this, this and this. It’s like, where do you see yourself? It works differently for different people.”

The focus is on getting participants to overcome doubts, face fears and achieve realistic goals.

“They come from a place where they’ve been told they can’t do things or they tell themselves they can’t do things. We’re all about telling them you can do this thing. They end up with all these small victories.”

Rites of passage moments like getting a driver’s license, opening a bank account, graduating high school, getting a GED, starting college and finding steady employment are celebrated, he said, because those “are huge” considering where clients have been.

“Each is a step in the right direction and makes them feel more connected to society,” he said. “Belonging and connecting and doing things that are societal norms is real important. Everybody has a need to belong and the people we serve are no different. They want the same things everybody else does. It’s not a question of ability, it’s a question of opportunity.”

The public can support the effort just by bringing in a bike, buying coffee and interacting with participants.

“It’s great to like us on Facebook” Sommer said, “but this doesn’t work if people don’t come in.”

Just don’t confuse what happens there with charity.

“We don’t do this out of pity. We do this out of solidarity and standing on the margins with young people whose resilience to keep moving forward is pretty pronounced.”

Visit http://www.thebikeunion.org.

 

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Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue

Beth Ostdiek Smith was a 59-year-old former travel industry professional and nonprofit executive when she launched an organization poised at the intersection of food waste, hunger, access and healthy eating.

The core mission of Saving Grace Perishable Food Rescue (SGPFR) is capturing and redistributing fresh and prepared edibles – 1.6 million pounds and counting since 2013.

“We’re not taking it for us. We don’t warehouse anything,” Smith said.” As fresh as everything we get, our clients get it.”

Four refrigerated trucks wrapped in the logo of an urchin girl holding a spoon un on a tight schedule. Professional drivers-food handlers make all the pickups-deliveries.

“In this perishable food business,” she said, “you have to show up when you say you’ll show up.”

Her service redirects some metro food waste – an estimated 40 percent of food ends up in landfills – to people who need it, including an estimated 20 percent of children who otherwise go to bed hungry.

She started Grace to bridge the excess-want gap.

“I noticed there was always excess food at events. I asked around Omaha and nobody was doing food rescue at scale. I took a leap of faith and put Saving Grace together. It’s a nonprofit business that provides a charitable service to our community.”

She based it on an Arizona food rescue program–  hiring away its operations director, Judy Rydberg.

Smith’s networking has gotten hotels, conventions centers, restaurant chains, grocers and wholesale food suppliers to consistently donate their excess.

“That’s the movement we’re trying to have happen. It takes the community to do that. My expertise is really bringing people together I’m a builder and entrepreneur.”

The organization also has a mission to raise awareness around food waste and hunger. As it’s neither a pantry nor a food bank, Smith said, “it’s a different model than everybody’s used to.” It’s why she spends much time “explaining who we are and what we do.”

She recruits most food donors but more are calling her. Major recipients include pantries.

“We get the right food to them by doing a food match based on client needs. They’re not having to go out and source all this food. We bring it to them.”

Heart Ministry Center Pantry in North Omaha is a primary user. Grace will supply even more food there once the center’s expanded pantry opens.

“For some of our larger nonprofit partners we are just a small portion of the food they give out because they purchase from Food Bank of the Heartland. Others don’t qualify for the Food Bank because they’re too small and so we are their only source for food.”

Education efforts encourage people to make better choices in shopping for food in order to reduce waste.

“We’re trying to deliver those messages through our Food for Thought programs,” Smith said.

A recent program partnered with Hillside Solutions on excess food as composte.

Saving Grace is also identifying “on that whole food chain where excess should go and ways to get it to more people,” Smith said, including those who don’t quality for a panty but need food assistance.

Smith plans visiting perishable food rescues to assess what they do and envisions a national food rescue consortium for sharing best practices.

She doesn’t want o grow just for growth’s sake.

“We’ll always be lean and mean. We get a lot of in-kind donations.”

Grants tend to follow SGPFR’s clear, easy-to-track outcomes. Smith would like more multi-year grants to fund a reserve or endowment. She’s looking to build a revenue stream by partnering with a local brewer who would make beer out of excess bread and retail it.

A September 30 dinner and wine pairing at Dante Pizzeria will celebrate Saving Grace’s sixth anniversary.

Smith acknowledges her efffort is one piece in a collaborative mosaic addressing food insecurity.

“We cant be everything to everyone. We don’t do all of it. But we have a model that works for a lot of it.”

Visit savinggracefoodrescue.org.

 

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Intercultural Senior Center

After years learning how nonprofits work at One World Community Health, Carolina Padilla ran the Latino Resource Center, which assists young women and families. When some women requested services for their aging immigrant mothers isolated by language and transportation barriers, she realized the organization was ill-equipped to do so. Wanting to address this community need going unmet, she left to found the Intercultural Senior Center (ISC) in 2009 with help from the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging.

“I found what I really wanted to do,” said Padilla. “I thought, I have to do this and I’m going to make this happen whatever it takes. Then I realized I could do it.”

Working with immigrant and migrant elders appealed to Padilla because in her native Guatemala she lost her own mother at age 6 and was raised by aged aunts.

“They made my life. I always felt strongly that one day I will give back in some way.”

She also identified with the challenges newcomers face having moved to the U.S. with her husband and children. Thus, she created “a place where people share what it means coming to a different country and having to adjust to many cultural differences.”

“They come to share their thoughts and their lives.”

The center started exceedingly small – Padilla did everything herself – and operated from leased South Omaha sites always short on space.

Her mentor and former One World boss, Mary Lee Fitzsimmmons, guided the center in obtaining its 501 C3 status and finding donors.

“Great foundations have been behind us helping us grow our membership, programs and services,” Padilla said. “When we started, we focused just on the basics serving maybe five or ten people a day and 20 to 25 in a week. Right now we have 60, 80 even 100 people a day and 400 a week.”

There’s no participation or membership fee. As the numbers have grown, so has diversity, especially since ISC added senior refugees to its service outreach. On any given day, this melting pot accommodates seniors from two dozen or more nations.

Center programs include:

ESL classes

Basic computer skill classes

Health-wellness classes

Yoga

Case managed social work

A monthly pantry

Door to door transportation

Interpreters help breech language divides.

After four sites in nine years Padilla asked her board to lead a $6.3 million capital campaign to give ISC a home of its own.

“They helped me get that dream.”

ISC moved into its new 22,000 square foot home at 5545 Center Street in March after extensive remodeling to the structure. There’s more room than ISC has ever had, including dedicated spaces for classes and

private conference rooms for social services .

“I’m so happy and proud of what we have.”

More meaningful than the facilities, Padilla said, participants “have each other.” “This center gets them out of isolation. It provides opportunities to learn, to stay active. It becomes people’s second home.

“Coming here lets them see they still have so much to do. It helps them not become a burden to their families.

People are really happy here. They feel welcomed. It’s a warm place. Our staff is welcoming. They love our seniors. Sure, we have programming and a structure, but it’s more about the way people feel here.”

ISC partners create intergenerational opportunities between seniors and young people.

“We work very closely with UNO’s Service Learning program. Students come here and get involved in different activities and programs year-round. Elementary, middle and high school students participate in those projects. Youth interact with seniors making art, exercising, playing games, sharing stories.

“College and university nursing students work with seniors in our wellness program. It’s a way for students to put their skills into practice and learn what it is to be around diversity.”

Longtime ISC partner Big Garden is moving raised beds from the center’s previous site to the new location “so our seniors can garden again,” Padilla said. “We’re a grassroots organization. We depend on partnerships. Partnering allows us to better serve the community. That’s the beauty of doing things together.

“What we have built is the base and we’re just trying to get better. There’s still so many things to do to improve serving the aging population.”

She’d like to add physical therapy and additional wellness components.

Padilla is banking on ISC receiving accreditation from the National Council on Aging.

“I think this will help our organization to be seen in a different way, so we can bring more resources to the center

Though she has a staff of 18, she personally keeps close tabs on operations.

“I am hands-on in every single thing that goes on here.”

Padilla said working with seniors sparks “a new appreciation for life.”

“It’s an honor to serve this community. It’s a mission I feel. It’s not a job – it’s part of me.”

Making it all worthwhile is having octogenarians become citizens. learn to write their name, develop English fluency and earn their GED.

“That’s big and we are making that possible.”

If the center’s diversity has taught her anything, she said, it’s that “regardless of educational-cultural backgrounds and financial stability, all of our seniors have amazing stories of happiness, struggles and hard work and they all have the need to be loved and to hold someone’s hand.”

Then there’s the balancing act seniors who are transplants to America must negotiate in terms of assimilation versus holding onto native cultural identities. Padilla said the center helps promote mutual respect and understanding of cultures. It’s all about welcoming the stranger and adjusting to new ways.

“It’s difficult, but they do it.”

ISC’s August 22 World Bash fundraiser is at St Robert Bellarmine Church.

Visit http://www.interculturalseniorcenter.org.

 

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Heartland Workers Center

Guatemala native Sergio Sosa won victories for meatpackers as an Omaha Together One Community labor organizer in the early 2000s. He advised Latinos in the packing and hospitality industries in staging mass demonstrations for immigration reform. Flush with success among this constituency, he launched Heartland Workers Center (HWC)  in 2009.

“The vision was to improve the lives of Latino-Latina immigrants in the Heartland,” said Sosa, “Our strategic mission’s major programs are leadership development, workers rights and civic engagement.”

Sosa and his team of community organizers conduct their work in the streets, in people’s homes, at community centers, churches and schools.

“We do not provide services. If we do, it’s only to affect what we do for people who will be part of the solution of their own problems. Our rule number one is never do for others what they can for themselves.”

With lead organizer Abbie Kretz, Sosa “built the capacity of the center, got the trust of major funders, went from a couple employees to almost 20 and expanded from one site, in South Omaha, to offices across the state.”

The first ever South Omaha Political Convention followed in 2015. The biennial event is expected to draw 1,000 participants when it happens again November 10.

Year-round civic engagement revolves around statewide Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts that mobilize minorities to register, vote and run for elected office.

A major emphasis, Sosa said. is “bringing leaders from rural and urban areas together to think of this as one state.” “Economically,” he said, “the goal is to find investments to improve communities in terms of housing, infrastructure, education.”

Another focus is advocating immigration reform and workers rights issues in the Unicameral.

“We train people how to testify before state legislators and how the Unicameral works,” he said.

Recently, HWC activists supported bills preserving SNAP benefits and increasing worker’s wages from tips and granting protection from employer retaliation.

Before Gabriela Pedroza became a HWC organizer, Sosa said, she never even visited Lincoln. “But now she’s testified, trained others to testify and knows the ins and outs of the Unicameral. Next year she will be in charge of the Unicameral effort.

“That’s how change happens,” said Sosa, adding, “Women are becoming a major voice and catalyst for change. The traditional institutions are not reinventing themselves. That’s why they’re dying. Youth and women-led movements are spawning new institutions with grassroots political power.”

The Center cultivates new leaders. “We teach organizers where they can find leaders,” he said. “It can be through canvassing neighborhoods.” Once captured, HWC “mentors, teaches and activates them.”

On the micro level, he said, “It’s about people investing in their own neighborhoods and communities and being the agents of change themselves rather than waiting for the city to act.” South Omaha’s Brown Park had fallen into disrepair and a coalition of neighbors “are now working with leaders to fix it.”

“People have to learn how to act for themselves,” Abbie Kretz said. “Otherwise, they create dependency on organizers to do those things. It’s learning how processes and power work and building relationships with public officials and nonprofit leaders. You have more capacity and power when you do it collectively.”

In Schuyler, Nebraska, HWC-led efforts increased voter participation by the Latino majority and resulted in

four Latinos in public office, Kretz said. Parents there demanded dual language programs and “a collective of folks from the schools and the community working together got one started.”

“That’s what democracy is all about,” Sosa said. It’s a very patient work, but in the end it pays off.”

HWC has established itself with that steady work.

“By building relationships with people over time they understand who we are and what we do,” Kretz said,

“and that’s helped to build bridges versus burn them.”

“Rural Nebraska doesn’t see us as foreign outsiders coming to their small towns,” Sosa said, “because we hire people from those towns.”

Inroads for inclusive leadership and representation are happening statewide. In Columbus, HWC partners with entrenched organizations on community-wide events. Latinos in Grand Island are now part of the Nebraska State Fair planning committee. Traditional Latino celebrations and memorials are embraced by more towns as part of the fabric of life there.

“So, it’s changing,” said Sosa, who sees it as proof that “if you combine love with power, you get social justice.”

Change starts from within.

“If you don’t change you, nothing around you is going to change. You have to give yourself that permission to dream big,” he said.

Gabriela Pedroza knows from experience.

“That awakening keeps me going,” she said. “Realizing who you are and having that relationship with yourself is hard work and it takes time. But once you start, you want to do it with others. You want others to know you have more power than you think.”

Despite how polarized the U.S. is, Sosa said, “we still have open political spaces that provide an opportunity for compromise and change – and we better be active now in teaching others to do it so we don’t lose it.”

Visit http://www.heartlandworkerscenter.org.

 

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Young Black & Influential/I Be Black Girl

Omaha native Ashlei Spivey has generated two buzz-worthy black-centric empowerment movements that reflect her late mother’s passion.

“My mom and I spent a lot of time talking about, what do you want your life to mean? what does that look like? how do you create impact for folks? So I think I’ve always had that embedded in me,” said Spivey. “Growing up there was a lot of systemic inequity happening around me. There was the richness of the black community but due to racism and oppression also lack of jobs and those things.”

Her father was incarcerated most of her life.

“My mom wanted to protect me from the situation surrounding me and made sure I had every opportunity. I was fortunate to have a parent who really poured into me in a way that added value. She saw all the potential I had.”

Spivey went to college down South, returning to Omaha eight years ago following her mother’s death. “It was very sudden. That was really hard. We were very close. I came back to be the guardian to my sister, who was 12.”

Spivey’s grandmother helps raise her 5-year-old son.

Working at College Possible and Heartland Family Service led to Spivey’s current post at Peter Kiewit Foundation. Wherever she’s worked, she’s been the only or first African-American. “Thinking about empowerment for the people on the receiving end of inequity” led to Young Black & Influential (YBI) in 2015 and I Be Black Girl (iBBG) in 2017.

“YBI was created to say we can affirm black folks doing things for the black community based on our own definition. You don’t have to look, talk, have certain experiences in order to be deemed an influencer. The people we recognize may have a degree or not, may work in a corporate setting or not. may have been incarcerated or not. There’s the whole spectrum

“It’s about supporting, acknowledging and showing leadership in different ways. It’s about creating your own narrative and owning it and affirming this is who I am and no one can take that away or negate that.”

Influencers from the community are recognized at a YBI awards banquet – The next is June 30 at The Living Room in The Mastercraft.

“There are some dynamic folks doing awesome work under the radar. We also do leadership development at the grassroots level. We’ve launched a board training program to get black folks on nonprofit boards. We’re really trying to build power.”

IBBG’s name riffs off the best-selling children’s book Be Boy Buzz celebrating what black boys can be. Spivey sees IBBG as “changing narratives and creating space for black women to have access to different spaces.”

The organization “holds networking events and does programming around things that affect black women and girls,” such as a recent screening of Little.

IBBG’s advisory committee intentionally includes women  workIng in philanthropy, Spivey views it as “disrupting power structures.” “We feel like this might be a place where we are creating philanthropists that don’t look like Omaha’s very old, white, male philanthropists now.”

An IBBG Giving Circle with a goal of $10,000 raised $50,000. In May, IBBG is awarding $35,000 in grants to innovative approaches that advance black girls and women. Grant awards will be made annually. New Giving Circle donations are being accepted.

The funding, Spivey said, “is all about making possible seats at the table and building an institution you have to check in with before you do service delivery or interventions for black women and girls in the community.”

Both IBBG and YBI are tapping into “a restored pride in being black, in how we take care of community and how we make decisions about community,” she said. “This is a way people can engage and add value with whatever their investment in the community is.”

Adding stability to these changemaker efforts is fiscal sponsor Women’s Fund of Omaha. “They have been great partners. Allyship is important.”

Spivey’s exploring the addition of entrepreneurship and youth leadership development programs.

“My energy and effort is really building power that not only addresses racism but other intersecting isms people may encounter based on their identity,”

She feels her movements align well with where Black America’s arrived.

“Our people have always wanted to pursue their own vision of success and to help raise up our community. The issue has been access, resources and opportunity – that’s what it’s about. Now people are reenergized on how to have ownership over their community.

“A lot of young leaders are not concerned with assimilating or wanting to perpetuate patriarchy. They want to do things radically different and I think radical change is key. We were always ready – we just didn’t know we were ready. Now people are focused on that collective agenda on how things can be black-led.”

IBBG hosts a June 23 celebratory event at The Venue.

Visit http://www.ibbgomaha.com and http://www.ybiomaha.com.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

The Lucky Coin: How a Vietnam War memento is helping American military return home safe from overseas deployment


The Lucky Coin

How a Vietnam War memento is helping American military return home safe from overseas deployment

 

photos by Bill Sitzmann

story by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the May-June edition of Omaha Magazine (https://omahamagazine.com/articles/the-lucky-coin)

 

 

In the aftermath of the 1969 Tet  Offensive, U.S. Marine Pat Peterson found a Vietnamese coin on the ground while serving a tour of duty in the Vietnam War. The date on the coin was 1966—the same year he graduated from Holy Name High School in Omaha. That persuaded Peterson to adopt the memento as a personal good luck charm. He carried it with his dog tags.

As the runt of his infantry squad, Peterson was often lowered by his ankles to inspect openings in underground tunnels. If he saw mounds of steaming hot food below, the tunnel was in active use by Viet Cong. Then they would pull him out and toss grenades inside. One time, after the grenades dropped, screaming women and children fled from the other end of the tunnel. That image—and other horrors—seared into his mind.

He battled post-traumatic stress from Vietnam for the rest of his life. But Peterson was a fighter; he endured, even surviving a bout with cancer.

The coin got Peterson safely home in 1970. He punched a hole in it and wore it on his keychain. He threw himself into veterans affairs. Two decades elapsed before he passed the coin to another serviceman going off to fight in the Gulf War.

So began a tradition that saw him give the coin to deploying servicemen—always on the condition they bring it back. They all did.

Homecoming and a Funeral

The last recipient to return with the coin was National Guardsman Cody Rauch, who carried it to Iraq and Afghanistan while deployed with the U.S. Army.

Now, the coin is in the hands of its latest recipient, Air Force officer Dave Shonegal.

Rauch returned the coin to Peterson in 2017. The coin’s owner passed away the following year. Peterson was 70 when he died from a brain hemorrhage in December. Rauch came to pay his respects. At the reception following the funeral at Holy Name Church, he said, “It got back to its rightful owner in time, and that’s what’s important.”

Rauch also recounted his part in the coin story. He was on leave between tours when, by chance, he and his mates ended up at Nifty Bar on the Radial Highway. The neighborhood watering hole was such a regular hangout for Peterson that a brass plate with his name engraved in it is screwed into the bar at his traditional spot.

The two men met as strangers. By the time the gregarious Peterson swapped war stories with Rauch, and everyone had washed down salutary beers and shots, they were buddies. Peterson offered his coin with the usual stipulation, “Bring it back in one piece.”

“Do you mean bring myself back in one piece, or the coin?” Rauch asked Peterson.

“Hopefully both,” Peterson replied.

Rauch accepted.

Supporting Fellow Soldiers

Peterson’s concern for active duty or retired military extended to serving as a Veterans of Foreign Wars post commander (VFW Post 2503) and as a volunteer services representative at the VA Hospital.

“He was very active in everything veterans,” says Teresa Burks, Peterson’s longtime partner who has worked as a nurse at the hospital for 32 years. “He cared deeply about veterans. He would come to the hospital for a veterans service meeting and stay there for two hours afterward just going around talking to people. ‘Hey, are they treating you right? Anything I can do?’ It was pretty cool.”

Although Teresa and Peterson never married, her son Jed Burks considered him his stepfather. Jed’s children called Peterson “Papa Pat.”

Peterson’s devotion to loved ones was rivaled only by his commitment to fellow vets.

“He would go to the end of the world to especially help another military member,” Jed says. “If he couldn’t help you, he knew enough people to direct you to whatever you needed. It didn’t matter.”

Peterson proudly wore his patriotism—bedecking himself and car with American flag symbols. His father Bernie Peterson was a wounded World War II veteran.

“You knew from way down the road that Pat was coming your way,” recalls Jed, whose oldest daughter may be entering the military in a year.

Peterson’s goodwill went beyond vets.

“He seemed to hone into people who needed help,” Teresa says. “If he knew of someone having trouble paying their utilities, he would give them some money. If somebody asked him for two dollars, he’d give them two dollars even it was his last two dollars. He was very generous.”

When it came to vets, no request was too much.

“He made sure, if anybody had surplus medical equipment, he’d get it to the VA—wheelchairs, walkers, canes,” she says.

Peterson and a fellow Marine veteran, Nick Sloan (who died in 2015), organized an annual Marine Corps birthday party at Nifty that packed the joint. The Nov. 10 bash celebrated the birth of the Marine Corps.

The Coin’s Journey Continues

The coin tradition was another aspect of Peterson’s giving.

“I thought it was a huge rite of passage to send it off with somebody else and then to get it back,” Teresa says. “I thought it was beautiful. He didn’t brag about it or anything. If he heard about somebody going, he would approach them and ask, ‘Can I give this to you as long as you bring it back?’ He felt like it was a good luck charm. But it wasn’t something he kept to himself—he shared it. It was part of his nature to care and share.”

At his standing-room-only funeral Mass, Teresa shared the tale of handing the coin off to those bound for overseas duty and her desire to continue the tradition in his memory. A nephew, Eric Peterson, knew a friend, Dave Shonegal, who was set to leave for Afghanistan in March on his sixth deployment. The nephew connected Shonegal with Teresa.

Dave Shonegal, who currently has coin

Dave Shonegal, the current keeper of the lucky coin

“She asked me if I wanted to keep on the tradition,” Shonegal says, “and I told her, ‘I’m honored to even be asked to do something like this. I’ll gladly accept this, take it on my trip, and bring it back.’

Shonegal is the coin’s seventh recipient in a tradition now spanning multiple generations, different military branches, and various theaters of war.

Teresa entrusted it to Shonegal on Feb. 16 at a going-away party at American Legion Post 374 in Millard.

The legacy he inherited is not lost on him.

“We’re talking 50 years. I don’t think I’ve heard of anything like this that longstanding, especially getting passed onto strangers,” he says. “It’s kind of crazy, but at the same time really cool. A responsibility comes with it. It’s now my responsibility to carry on this tradition. There’s a  little nervousness about that. I don’t want to be the one that loses it after all these years.”

Shonegal says the legacy will continue after his return from deployment.

“It’s something I hope that, even after I give it back, continues for as long as it can—until we’re done deploying or there’s just nobody left to give it to,” he says. “It’s a really neat story and something I really feel needs to be shared as much as possible.”

Teresa agrees.

“I feel honored, absolutely honored,” she says, “and very, very proud. Pat would be proud.”

She says it was important for her to convey to Shonegal what kind of man Peterson was “because he’s carrying a piece of Pat with him.”

“I told him, ‘I want you to know who you’re carrying,’” she says.

The Legacy of a Lucky Coin

Shonegal is sure he and Peterson would have made fast friends.

“He was for the vets, and I can always stand with a guy like that,” Shonegal says. “That’s really where I feel like I’m heading. When I hang up the uniform, my next purpose is to help veterans in many of their situations.”

Jed learned about the coin in the wake of  Peterson’s death, and it only confirmed what he already knew about his stepfather.

“Learning about the coin was awesome,” he says, “but it didn’t change anything for me because that was him. Not one part of the story of the coin surprised me because he always went above and beyond the call of duty to pay it forward to military members.

“For me, it embodied what Pat was about—taking care of people. That good luck coin got him through Vietnam, and that’s why he passed it on—to take care of others. For me, it showed that even when you’re done [serving], you’re not done. You still take care of your brothers and sisters in the military. It’s a family.”

Inspired by Peterson’s example, Jed began practicing mindfulness.

“I’ve changed a lot of things about myself as far as showing more gratitude, telling people I’m proud of them, thanking them for being part of my life—things that Pat did and that I didn’t tell him enough,” Jed says.

He’s also taken a cue from Peterson’s charity.

“There have been multiple times when I thought, I wish I could help, but I can only do this,’” he says. “Well, why not only just do that? Maybe that’s more than enough. To me, it might be small, but to somebody else it might be huge.”

Meanwhile, Teresa is keeping Peterson’s legacy and wishes alive through the coin. After traveling around the world multiple times, surviving dangerous treks, and escaping so many life-and-death firefights, she says there is still plenty of life left in this memento from the Vietnam War.

“It was very important to him to keep it going, so I’m not going to let it go,” Teresa says.

She suspects many of us carry a protective token.   

“Maybe you don’t know what your good luck charm is,” she says. “If you do, hold that piece dear and share it with others.”

An internment for Pat Peterson is pending at Omaha National Cemetery. The date was not confirmed when this edition of Omaha Magazine went to press.


This article first appeared in the May 2019 edition of 60PLUS in Omaha MagazineTo receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Vietnamese coin

George Haecker’s Design for Living: “Trying to understand what a building wants to be.”


George Haecker

 

George Haecker’s Design for Living 

“Trying to understand what a building wants to be.”

photos by Bill Sitzmann and provided

story by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the May 2019 edition of Omaha Home Magazine (https://omahamagazine.com/articles/george-haeckers-design-for-living)

Don’t look for ostentatious displays in the work of award-winning Omaha architect George Haecker. He’s a form-follows-function man, whether designing residential, commercial, or civic projects. Above all, his organic approach tries “to avoid cliches,” he says.

“The architectural world is just inundated with cliches,” he says. “I think architecture is way too important as a physical presence in our world, city, and neighborhoods to be trendy. I think the manifestation of it needs to be mature and careful and, hopefully, timeless. It’s public sculpture, whether you like it or not.”

Haecker strives for subdued, not showy, answers to whatever a project’s needs are.

“The thing I bring is, ultimately, an originality to the solution but not an artificial imposition of a style or a big statement,” he says. “I don’t look for the finished product to show off in any way. It might subtly, but you kind of have to look at it twice to say, ‘Well, that’s something different.’ I don’t like to shout and yell and just grab your attention. I want it to be more comfortable and, of course, livable.”

Haecker communes with the unborn structure by “trying to understand what a building wants to be.”

“Every project has a context, a location, an owner, a program, and a need, and the architect’s thought is to try to meld, digest, and mix that all together,” he says. “All kinds of factors influence the result, including budget.”

Brandzel Cottage in Fremont, Nebraska

Brandzel Cottage in Fremont, Nebraska

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate, whose brother Foster Woods Haecker and son Alex Haecker are also architects, broadened his own vision working for firms in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas Virgin Islands, and New York.

“I didn’t leave Nebraska to leave Nebraska,” he says. “I like it here very much for many reasons. But, in your youth, you have an itch to look at different things, and that variety of geography and mentors was extremely valuable.”

A job offer from Dana Larson Roubal & Associates (DLR) lured him back to Nebraska in 1968. By the early 1970s, he became a founder of the Omaha office of BVH Architecture. During his nearly half-century run as a principal and part-owner, leading architectural periodicals published his work, he earned numerous awards from the American Institute of Architects, and he received The Harry F. Cunningham Gold Medal from AIA Nebraska in 2006 (the highest honor that AIA Nebraska bestows upon an individual).

He took a hand in such signature public projects as the Gene Leahy Mall and the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.

Historic renovation work is a big segment of BVH’s portfolio, and he was part of teams that repurposed Omaha’s Union Station and Union Pacific’s Harriman building.

An activist in the preservation community for many years, he successfully campaigned to save the Omaha Building downtown. He also wrote the preface for the 1977 book Omaha City Architecture.

His enduring residential works include private homes in and out of Nebraska. Perhaps his personal favorite is the Woods Cottage in Madeline Island, Wisconsin.

Woods Cottage in Madeline Island, Wisconsin

Interior of Woods Cottage in Madeline Island, Wisconsin

Woods Cottage in Madeline Island, Wisconsin

Front of Woods Cottage in Madeline Island, Wisconsin

“It’s a traditional lake-shore cottage with low-pitched shingle roofs, big overhangs, a big screened-in porch,” Haecker says. “All the siding and windows are real wood with real mullions. There’s no drywall in it. It’s all natural materials inside and out, so it has a real warmth to it. It fits into its environment.”

Another out-of-state favorite is the Keene residence in Crested Butte, Colorado.

“That was a very special challenge,” he says. “That historic town has strict design guidelines for roof pitches, proportions, and windows. My objective was to design a house that fit into that historic environment with the articulation of the floor plan, the pitches of the roofs and the selection of materials. The Keene house is, really, pretty contemporary when you stand back and look at it, but you don’t see it as an intrusion when you drive down the street or you’re inside it.”

Keene Residence, left

Keene Residence

Keene residence in Crested Butte, Colorado

Keene residence in Crested Butte, Colorado

Back home in the Omaha metro, the Matthews residence in Elkhorn’s Skyline Ranches presented the challenge of a new house in a new development.

“It’s a bigger house—pretty grand really in scale and square footage with a big dining room, great room, and game room,” he says. “The topography there was very much a part of it. It’s on a very steep site, so the house steps down the hill with the living levels. It’s somewhat dramatic but not glaring in its forms and colors and materials.” 

Then there’s the Liakos residence in southwest Omaha. He didn’t touch the street facade of this house inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School. But in the back living quarters, he designed a new family kitchen, a new dining room, and a new master bedroom.

Liakos residence in southwest Omaha

Liakos residence in southwest Omaha

“The way the old morphs into the new is what’s kind of fun with that house,” he says. “It’s got big clerestory windows with a lot of light shining in. I like a lot of light, so I use clerestory windows to reach up into the sky and bring light inside.”

He also designed a screened-in porch and deck for the property.

Whatever the project, it’s the architect’s intuitive, interpretive expression of the client’s program.

“Sometimes all the pieces come together with the owner and the site and the budget, and it’s just a joyful passage, and sometimes it doesn’t work at all,” Haecker says. “They’re hiring you, in the end, to bring your perspective and talent and aesthetic into a compatible solution that they’re comfortable with. If you just blindly do what the client wants, you’re just going to end up with, probably, a mediocre solution.”

It’s a delicate dance. “Without being overt about it, the architect needs to gently influence the client to do this or that,” he says.

Matthews residence, Elkhorn Nebraska

Matthews residence, Elkhorn Nebraska

After working most of his career in his own firm, he’s now in independent practice.

Like a lot of architecture shops, he says, BVH “started out loosely organized with unspoken philosophies. Then, as we got bigger, more structure crept in and it morphed from a spiritual camaraderie to a business with a board, policy manuals, schedules, payrolls, insurance. That happens to every firm. I just didn’t fit anymore with the structure of the thing. It was just time to step away from that.”

Today, he enjoys his well-earned autonomy working from a home studio in the 1929 Memorial Park Tudor he shares with wife, Judy. It’s the only home the couple has ever owned. The studio, which he added on, is filled with overhead windows that stream in light. A large drafting table is its centerpiece.

“I still draw by hand,” Haecker says. “A few of us do, but it’s a dying breed.”

He also writes and paints in his sanctuary of a studio space that’s filled with books, maquettes, and artwork.

The three-story home has undergone several other tweaks by his design, including adding bay windows in the living room and a study and sunroom in the back.

Haecker is a collaborating architect with The Architectural Offices in Omaha. He works up conceptual designs for the practice. He also partners on projects with his son, Alex.

In a career spanning six decades, Haecker’s pretty much done it all in terms of architectural types.

“It’s happened that way, and happily so,” he says. “I do like the variety—everything from a bridge to a lake cottage—that I’ve done and been involved with.”   


Visit georgehaecker.com for more information.

This article was printed in the May 2019 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Spellman dacha, Niobrara, Nebraska

Spellman dacha, Niobrara, Nebraska

Adrian Martinez primed to take next step in leading Big Red back to respectability

April 16, 2019 Leave a comment

With all the love coming to Adrian Martinez heading into his second year at the helm of a Nebraska football team that year two coach Scott Frost is trying to mold into a contender, anticipation is running high. Martinez showed enough as an 18-year-old true freshman in leading a 4-8 team that came on strong late season that he’s a serious Heisman candidate in 2019 in many people’s eyes. The hype machine is in full gear. Expectations in Big Red Land tend to get out of hand. But this is not your average young man. He appears to have the smarts, the physical tools and the desire to be the best player in Lincoln in a generation. And this marriage between player, system and coaches – head man Scott Frost, QB coach Mark Verduzco and offensive coordinator Troy Walters – truly appears to be a match made in heaven. 

Adrian Martinez primed to take next step in leading Big Red back to respectability
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally appeared in El Perico (el-perico.com)
A year ago Husker football fans were on an anticipatory high when Nebraska lured back native son and program legend Scott Frost as head coach after he led Central Florida to an unbeaten season.
Frost then fanned the flames by promptly landing highly sought-after dual-threat quarterback Adrian Martinez to lead the uptempo spread offense the hot new coach brought. As an 18-year-old true freshman, Martinez beat-out redshirt freshman and fellow Californian Trestan Gebbia for the starting QB job.
Though NU had a past QB (Taylor Martinez) with the same last surname, Adrian Martinez is believed to be the first Husker trigger-man of Hispanic heritage.
“I think it’s something that can make me unique,” Martinez said of his ethnicity. “Also, it’s something I wear with pride. A lot of people that are Hispanic, including my grandparents and other family members, take a lot of pride in me having the Martinez name on my back. I try to carry that and do it justice.”
The only heritage Frost was concerned about was Martinez being the program’s first franchise player since Ndamukong Suh. With Martinez as the foundation and spark-plug, NU sought to recapture glory after only 19 wins in three years under previous coach Mike Riley. NU’s slide from college football elite to also-ran has seen it go two decades without a conference title. The once solid program has shuffled through five head coaches and staffs in this unstable span.
While year one of the Frost-Martinez rebuilding era didn’t go to plan in terms of wins-losses (4-8), the coach, the team and the star showed enough flashes of excellence that hopes are high for 2019. So high that some even peg Martinez, who set school records en route to passing for 2,617 yards and rushing for 629 more in 11 games, as a Heisman Trophy candidate. If he stays healthy, analysts project NU posting a winning mark, contending for the Big 10 West Division title and going bowling for the first time since 2016.
 
Image result for adrian martinez nebraska  Image result for adrian martinez nebraska  Image result for adrian martinez nebraska
 
It’s a lot to put on the shoulders of a 6-2, 220-pound sophomore with but one Division I season under his belt. Yet one thing Martinez has shown is a maturity beyond his years. The calm way he handles himself in interviews, at practices, on the sideline or in the heat of action is a characteristic oft-referred to by coaches and teammates. It goes back to his days at Clovis West High School In Fresno, where he helped coach the team rather than sulk while rehabbing an injury as a senior.
“I owe a lot to my parents and to my family as a whole for the way they brought me up and taught me how to go about things,” Martinez said. “Whether that be in school or talking to the every day person, it didn’t matter. There’s a right and there’s a wrong and there’s a fine line and my parents really taught me all about that.”
Back home, he didn’t think it was anything “special or unique” when his parents’ friends praised his wise-for-his-age demeanor. That changed during the recruiting process and his ballyhooed arrival in Lincoln.
“Then it started being pointed out more by people I didn’t know,” he said. “I take it as a high compliment and I think my parents do as well. I want to continue to be like that. I want to continue to exhibit those type of traits and just continue to make my parents proud.”
In a press conference to open spring football practice  this month, Frost referred to Martinez’s continued progress in the offense under the guidance of QB coach Mark Verduzco. Frost also said that as a former Big Red QB himself, he’s trying to help Martinez navigate everything, good and bad, that comes with holding the signal-calling job in the glare of Husker Nation.
As for Martinez, the confidence he radiates is a function of his preparation.
“I think confidence truly comes from the work you put in day in and day out,” he said, “and if you truly believe you’re putting in enough work and you’re doing things the right way, then you’ll get the outcomes that you think you deserve and obviously earn.”
Despite his youth and inexperience, he’s seemingly never blinked in the face of of expectations or adversity.
“The confidence just came from working with Coach Verduzco and Coach Frost every day during fall camp, during spring ball, really putting in the time to try and learn the playbook and getting as good as I possibly could to be there for my teammates. That just translated into on-the-field confidence and obviously over time as I started to play a little bit more and gained a little bit more experience that confidence just grew.”
Though NU struggled mightily during an 0-6 start, the team remained cohesive and finished a strong 4-2 the second half of the year. That resilience, Martinez said, “really speaks to the character of the coaches and the quality of players we have here at Nebraska.”
“Things could have went differently. Things could have fallen apart there when things weren’t going our way. But we stuck together. The coaches kept believing in us, which I think is the most important thing. They didn’t try to degrade us or break us down. They wanted us to get better, We’re a team, we’re in it together. I think that point is what came across to the players and eventually over time we truly formed that bond and began forming that chemistry and finally put it out there on the field.”
Year two of the Frost regime and of Offensive Coordinator Troy Walters’ breakneck system is expected to start much smoother and reap more success. All eyes will be on Martinez to make things happen from the get-go. He denies feeling any pressure though.
“I would say pressure isn’t anything I’ve ever felt and I don”t feel it right now. I’m just confident we’re going to get the job done. I have faith in the people around me.”
Despite the loss of key offensive players to graduation in receiver Stanley Morgan, running back Devine Ozigbo and lineman Nick Gates, he believes enough returnees and newcomers will step up as new cogs.
After so much hype leading into last year, harsh reality quickly set in when the team opened 0-6. Whatever growing up the already mentally strong Martinez had to do, he did it on the fly, under great scrutiny.
“The toughest thing was going through that losing stretch. I encountered some things I wasn’t anticipating. Often I think you have this dream or image in your mind of how things are supposed to go, and a lot of times it doesn’t happen that way. But that’s nothing new. You have to learn to adjust and keep pushing forward.”
Nobody wants a repeat of last year’s disappointment and that’s why Martinez and his mates are taking lessons from what transpired in 2018.
“I truly believe things do happen for a reason and I think the experiences we went through last year will help us a ton going into this year. We experienced some tough losses and we know why we lost those games. Having that experience for the guys is going to be huge in just learning how to win.”
if anything, he said, the bumps in the road that occurred only fuel what the team wants to get done.
“If having the season we did at a place like Nebraska last year doesn’t motivate you to do better, I don’t know what will. I think this group of guys and me are hungrier than ever and we have some high expectations.”
 Image result for adrian martinez nebraska  Image result for adrian martinez nebraska  
Martinez likes the evolution he’s made in his own performance.
“I really believe I got better with each game. But I would say the Purdue game (a 42-28 loss) was probably a tipping point for me. It was a tough game with lot of penalties. I threw a critical interception there. But I felt confident with my ability to throw the ball and I think from that point there I felt there wasn’t a throw or a read I couldn’t make. It was just a matter of doing it effectively and doing it on time.”
Improvement, he said, needs to come in certain game situations where his decision-making and execution can make the difference between a bust or a big play.
“I think the part that can always use the most improvement is situationally – being better in all situations of the game. Knowing when to throw the ball here, knowing what the time is, being better with my reads, being quicker. I think you can never know too much about the offense. It means really diving into the playbook and spending time in the film room and that’s  something I can improve on a lot from last year.”
After missing his final high school season and then going winless midway through his rookie college campaign, he doesn’t take anything for granted.
“You can’t be complacent. I don’t want this team to be and in no way do I want myself to be. I just have to keep that attitude and fall back on those people around me at the end of the day.”
Leadership is another area he’s looking to improve.
“You have to show up every day. Your effort has to be there. You have to be a leader, not only by example, but you have to have somewhat of a voice and make sure people are pulling their weight and you’re pulling your own.”
Martinez’s belief in himself is second only to his belief in quarterback guru Mark Verduzco, who came with Frost from Central Florida.

“I’m so appreciative of a guy like Coach Verduzco who really pushes me to be great on the football field. But he’s there for academics, for personal life, for everything. I couldn’t ask for a better coach and a better man to help guide me through this pretty critical process in my life.
“There’s always something I can improve on and Coach Verduzco makes sure I’m a aware of that and the fact that I can get better each day. The fact of the matter is we went 4-8 last year. I had some moments that were good, but I also had some moments that were bad. There’s a lot to get better at. There’s a lot of things still out there to accomplish. That’s really what drives me.”
Spring practice concludes with the April 13 Spring Game. Big Red opens the regular season at home August 31 versus South Alabama.
Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

The greening of the OPPD board bodes for a more clean energy focused utility


The greening of the OPPD board bodes for a more clean energy focused utility

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the April 2019 edition of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

Polls show most Americans are now sold on climate change as real and requiring action. Thus, green’s no longer the new red bait.

Consistent with the public’s reset on greater environmental stewardship, the Omaha Public Power District’s board of directors has a new green majority after this last election cycle. Newly elected directors Eric Williams, Janece Mollhoff and Amanda Bogner have joined holdovers Rick Yoder and Craig Moody as ardent clean energy advocates. It’s not as if this potential voting bloc is so far apart from the other three directors, led by chair Anne McGuire. Indeed, there’s consensus to continue OPPD’s already impressive gains on the renewables front. Differences come down on how far, how fast the utility goes from here.

Regardless of where OPPD lands in its push toward renewables, it’s clear this billion dollar company reflects its customers micro energy concerns. Now that environmental engagement is cool, more folks are doing their part to reduce emissions by driving electric cars. More homes and businesses are going solar or using programmable timers to conserve usage,

Green-minded measures like these are one answer. But until entire communities and industries switch from fossil fuels reliance to clean energy sources pollutants and waste will leak out. The big frontier for sweeping impact is as close as the local electric utility. OPPD serves hundreds of thousands of customers in 13 counties with an energy profile mix that, while on an ever more renewable trajectory, is still largely dependent on coal-fired generating plants that release carbon.

“Utilities are clearly at the forefront of figuring out how we can have a reliable and affordable electricity energy system while mitigating and adapting to climate change,” Craig Moody said. “It’s difficult but probably the most important work I will do in my lifetime.”

 

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OPPD’s made clean energy a top priority through strategic directives set by its publicly elected board.

Moody, managing principal at sustainability consulting firm Verdis Group, feels he represents a broad cross-section of ratepayers in Subdistrict 5..

“Nobody wants pollution. But people also want a measured, deliberate, socially just transition to clean energy,” he said. “The reality in this state is that our economy is driven by agriculture, which can only happen with fertile soil, clean water and clean air.”

He sees rural constituents perhaps even more climate change-attuned than their urban counterparts.

“They get it. They see the risks. I mean, look at the flooding. It’s here now.”

Anne McGuire, representing Subdivision 2, has served on the board since 1996 and she said the utility’s made renewables a focus for 20 years. OPPD set its first hard renewable energy goal in 2010.

“Our goal was 10 percent renewable by 2020,” she said. “Everybody thought that was crazy. But we surpassed that last year at about 33 percent. At the end of 2019 we’re going to be about 40 percent renewable energy. It’s gotten less expensive to put up wind towers. They’re more efficient now, so it became far more viable and cost effective. We’ve always said we will adopt at the pace we can afford.”

“It’s gone much faster than most anyone really anticipated,” Moody said.

With carbon emission controls, LED street lights and a new community solar program,” Moody said, “we’re ahead of many other utilities when it comes to the pace at which we’ve continued to adopt renewables.” “I’m proud of how quickly it’s happened. Part of what we are trying to figure out as a utility is what’s next.”

 

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McGuire and Janece Mollhoff, who both have nursing backgrounds, echo health concerns over pollutants. Health and safety concerns extend to decommissioning the Fort Calhoun Station nuclear plant and the frequent flood threat posed to the Nebraska City Station.

McGuire feels the new board members will help move OPPD forward.

“They’re very engaged, very educated, very socially public-minded, and they know a lot about climate change,” she said. “So this will help us even more in bringing on more sustainable things.”

Moody sees things the board as a whole must address.

“Most electric utilities are seeing pretty flat if not declining growth as measured by demand from customers’ need for kilowatt hours. Ours is growing primarily due to data center activity in Papillion. So how we manage and meet that new demand while continuing to reduce carbon emissions is one of our bigger challenges in the coming years.”

He senses “alignment” by the board on the longterm vision for renewables. “The nuances are about pace and what that transition looks like from where we are today to what that vision is. We need to ensure a good amount of study and analysis goes into making decisions about how we will achieve that vision.”

Even seemingly small items like emissions measures – carbon intensity versus carbon ratio – are up for debate.

Agreeing on the particulars must happen within the board’s mandate of keeping energy affordable and reliable while maintaining environmental sensitivity. Easier said than done in a field dependent on both old and still developing new technologies and wide fluctuations in energy demands on the grid.

“It is a really difficult balancing act,” Moody said. “We often describe it as pulling levers. By focusing more on one issue, it’s going to create pressure on maintaining other aspects.”

Said McGuire, “You have to balance the scales. This is where we work on reaching compromises. It’s recognizing the fact you have to look at the entire company when you make changes.”

Balancing scales means tempering expectations.

Mollhoff (Subdivision 7) wants OPPD “to move away as quickly as possible from fossil fuels” but concedes that goal is subject to “fiscal responsibilities and making sure we’re not jeopardizing rates and our bottom-line.” She said the board must deliberately review and revise the 15 strategic directives previous boards put into place. “It’s too important we maintain stability to turn those all upside down and make it hard for staff and management to comply.”

Moody agrees, saying. “With an industry like this you don’t want to constantly be sending management new directions and be zig-zagging all over the place. That’s unhealthy, inefficient and not productive.”

Eric Williams (Subdivision 6), a natural resource planner at the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District, also believes due diligence serves the utility well.

“It’s not as if there could be an agenda item next month to vote on one hundred percent renewable energy. That is not how a utility operates, nor should it. There are a number of different times when different pieces will be up for public discussion. Those 15 strategic directives work together. All are very critical to the discussion about what is the total percentage of energy generated from renewable sources and how we’re going to continue increasing that.”

Williams views the board’s job as “working to understand this really complicated and complex set of parameters that guide how the utility operates, ways where we can make improvement and strategies we can use to work toward more clean energy. There’s a balancing between the different directives. For example, you could immediately jump to 100 percent clean energy, but that might be in conflict with cost effectiveness goals we currently have based on the price of technology available today.”

‘It’s easy to say we want to have a hundred percent clean energy and there are utilities – Mid-American and Xcel – who have said that. But if you ask them specifically how they’re going to get there I don’t think they have specific answers yet because transitioning to a hundred percent clean energy economy is a very long process. A lot of the technology we will need has not yet been developed.”

Amanda Bogner (Subdivision 1), an engineer by trade, knows this territory well.

“I would like to see OPPD’s renewable capacity increase to meet 100 percent of electric demand with renewables. This will become feasible as utility-scale energy storage becomes economically viable,” said Bogner, whose business Energy Studio makes buildings more energy efficient.

Bogner is concerned that two bills introduced in the Nebraska Legislature, LB 155 and LB 700, “will undermine our state’s potential to generate wind energy.” “Wind energy is a huge economic opportunity for our state. We need legislative action to encourage more wind energy development, not create roadblocks.”

While “wind and solar technologies are available in abundance in Nebraska,” Williams said, “they are intermittent, which is used as a criticism often of clean energy.” Williams regards such criticism as “a short-sighted view of how utilities function in general,” adding, “A utility is made of a number of generation assets all operating at different times, with different capacities, from different original energy sources and providing different benefits to the grid.”

Whatever the issue, the directives drive the change.

“In my view the most important job of our board is to get those strategic directives right,” Moody said. “Everything else the organization does flows into those strategic directives. Management is without question getting good guidance from those directives and often refers back to them as they think about what they’re doing.”

Anne McGuire describes the directives as “a living, breathing document we’ll alway revisit.” Added McGuire, “It’s important to have that broad policy because things are always changing. There’s going to be new technologies. These broad policies allow us as a company to be flexible when dealing with change.”

OPPD has an innovation team tasked with future solutions. Whether present or future-directed, Williams said “the board is responsible for understanding all of the different values of the district to provide affordable and reliable and environmentally sensitive energy and to make decisions guiding the district towards getting to those outcomes over time.” That means “understanding the technologies available.”

Williams said those technologies include clean energy generation at the utility-scale. It also mean distributed energy production, such as solar or wind, vent-metered at a house or business with excess sent back to the grid. There’s also energy storage with batteries, demand management programs and smart business maps.

“All of those work together to get a picture of the total generation and demand at the utility,” he said. “I am particularly interested in seeing us move toward more clean energy and more efficiency and becoming a part of and a leader in the new energy economy. But we do need to keep in mind we have come a long way and there are things that take awhile to transition.”

As more clean energy comes online, there’s bound to be displacement.

“We need to make sure as we transition we’re creating growth in other parts of the economy that fill the gap for skills and jobs lost in that transition,” said Janece Mollhoff. “I think it’s an important part of our work.”

Subdivision 4 director Rick Yoder  a Nebraska Business Development Center consultant, champions Nebraska taking more advantage of the new energy economy.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to distribute the benefits of business to landowners around rural areas of Nebraska,” Yoder said. “I represent seven of the 13 counties OPPD has from Sarpy County all the way to the Kansas line. There are plenty of acres there. We are losing out in terms of job growth, business impact by not being more aggressive in pursuing the clean energy economy. The opportunity is there to invest in energy efficiency, housing and the construction jobs that would make that happen.”

 

 

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Eric Williams advocates a big picture view as well.

“I think the board is generally in agreement that we should continue to develop clean resources in our state that have benefit to the locations where they’re constructed as well as the ratepayers in the utility.”

Mollhoff regards wind farms good investments, whether OPPD builds them or enters purchase power agreements with third parties, as long as it’s “wind sited in places that meet demand without having to invest too much more in infrastructure, transmission and distribution lines.” For example, she said, “bringing wind energy here from the Sandhills doesn’t make sense.”

The volatile nature of agriculture and climate, Yoder said, makes the case for urgency.

“We’ve seen prices go up and down and major floods. There’s land that does not always offer a strong income for the landowners. This is a great opportunity to diversify and to make our system more reliable and more resilient than it already is. OPPD and other utilities along the Missouri River should by now recognize the risk associated with recurring flood waters. A central hub and spoke system is not as resilient, reliable or risk-less as distributed energy generation.”

How OPPD’s adapting to the new energy economy depends on what lens you look through.

“If you use a Nebraska-only lens,” Yoder said, “I think OPPD is on the leading edge. It’s exciting the energy sector is transforming with the greatest wealth creation opportunity in my lifetime. The new technologies will enable us to extract resources rich to Nebraska that don’t run out – wind and solar. They have to be managed appropriately and we still have some technical issues we have to watch out for.

“But OPPD has certainly installed a ton of wind or partnered with companies installing wind here, I don’t just mean power purchase agreements with companies that install wind towers. There’s also the new Sarpy County resident (Facebook) building wind to offset the coal it purchases from OPPD. So wind expansion is happening because of OPPD above and beyond everybody else in the state, and that’s a good thing.

“OPPD is slower on solar, but I think now that it’s got its toe in the water it’s going to see the advantages there.”

Williams describes the community solar program coming online in April as “an opportunity for people to participate in local community clean energy even if they can’t install it directly on their home.”

Compared to nearby states and the country. Yoder believes Nebraska is “lagging” in new tech adoption.

“I think we’re losing economically because of it. Some people don’t use that as a measure. They use environmental measures. In either case, there’s a real urgency to make some change.”

Yoder calls for reducing “the amount of bureaucracy it takes to install solar for households and small businesses.” “The cost of when someone puts in solar is argued unfairly as a disadvantage to other users in the system. We’re working on what is the right rate for that user to pay to stay connected to the grid.”

Whatever the technology, Williams said, “we need to make sure we’re looking long-term while providing stability and certainty in the short-term.” He cautioned, “You want to be careful about saying something about a long-term vision without having fully understood the steps necessary to get there.”

Mollhoff describes a push-pull at work. “Management’s being pushed by entities like Facebook that want renewables,” she said, “and it’s important to recognize that management will respond to external forces probably as much as they’ll respond to the board. I want to make sure that whatever we do as a board we don’t tip that balance and put us on a path that isn’t sustainable or reliable. W

“e’re not trying to micromanage and yet we want them to move in a certain direction. It’s really the most we can do. We set rates and these strategic directives, but we don’t run the organization. We have to let management and staff do their jobs in a way that meets those strategic directives.”

 

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So how well poised is OPPD to make bigger strides in clean energy?

“That’s where we have the greatest need for discussion between board and management,” Yoder said. “They’re much closer to the actual changes and smarter about the time and resources needed to make the change than the board.”

Yoder said unless or until the board sets more specific clean energy directives, “we don’t have those policies pushing management right now.” He added, “That’s really where the board has an opportunity to more deeply engage and I think we all recognize that’s what we need to do. The change we’re talking about is seen as disruptive, but I think there is an organizational culture change happening.”

Underpinning any change, Yoder said, “we have to have the right data to make decisions.” He feels comprehensive data “hasn’t always been” available. “So we’re asking for larger time spans for the reporting and better measures of what’s being reported. That will allow us to make better policy decisions.”

Another area he’d like OPPD to explore is “shaping the load by working with customers to reduce when they choose to use electricity, so that demand that requires generation is spread out more evenly.” Doing that, he said, will take “a more modernized distribution system, which will require an investment.”

“The real tension for the board and management is where does the money come from, how do we do this, what is the return on investment if we choose to encourage more people to manage their load. Not everybody’s going to want to do that, so how do we find technologies that put in a default option for users.”

A more pro-active approach would be a start.

“As a utility we have not demonstrated an interest in helping people save their energy costs,” Yoder said. “The Austin, Texas electric utility raised its rate but worked with ratepayers to reduce the amount of energy they use, so monthly bills ended up the same. We could do that here if we chose to compete on efficiency rather than on price. When you compete on efficiency you compete on technologies, know-how, building practices. You’re no longer just a utility – you partner with the sectors of the economy for community betterment.”

Then there are meeting restrictions imposed by state Sunshine laws and differing agendas..

“We work the best we can through the meetings we set up,” Yoder said. “It is a struggle. But there’s a good amount of collegiality. I think we all have the same vision of where we’re going. The struggle we have is some of us are more focused on the outcome and others on the process to get there. Some understand it takes several steps to get to where we want to go and others, like     myself, want to see it happen now.

“It’s a tough tension.”

Moody cites the fluidity of new tech and impinging climate change as making everything move faster. “The utility industry historically has been pretty slow to change,” he said, “because it takes a lot of time, study, energy, resources, money to put in new transmission- distribution, to build new generating plants. That meant it went very slow. It’s not slow any longer.”

Something McGuire doesn’t want lost in all this is the “valued” work done by OPPD employees who operate the coal fired units that still energize the district. “They’re the ones that really keep the lights on 24/7 and we have to respect them and their important role in this,” she said “If we didn’t have that we wouldn’t have the reliable resilient energy we have right now.”

As the utility prepares for a greener future, McGuire said, “There’s discussion and compromise, but in the end we’re all after the same goal, and we all respect each other. This is not Congress.”

Moving forward, Moody said, “it will be a collaborative effort by those some describe as the green majority and the other members of the board and management.”

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

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