Passion, Hope and Change- North Omaha


The unknown entails a broad mix of emotions. But whether it fills us with anxiety or makes us excited for the future, one thing is certain: it leaves us completely unsure of the road ahead. My Spring Break began at the trailhead of this unknown path, generating within me that simultaneous sense of nervousness and anticipation. As the week unfolded though, I began to realize the power of the unknown to open our hearts to new and deeply enriching experiences.

The first major unknown on this trip was my co-coordinator, Lauren. Before being paired together, Lauren and I only knew each other vaguely through the coordinator orientation process, which was also new to us considering that neither of us had coordinated in the past. Additionally, we were assigned to a trip that was, in and of itself,an unknown. The North Omaha immersion trip is one that is fully planned by its two student coordinators. And while this offers those students the unique opportunity to make that trip all their own, it also comes with a fair amount of stress and pressure since there is no set schedule, contact site, or guidelines. It’s safe to say that the anxiety aspect of the unknown was the predominating feeling throughout most of the planning process.

Another unknown was our service trip group. We found out at the first group meeting that our group was extremely small, just Lauren, myself, and two other students. Having been a part of much larger groups on our past trips, Lauren and I felt the pressure amplify intensely because we wanted more than anything for our participants to have a meaningful experience, but we worried that this small group of strangers would struggle to connect.

We forged ahead in the planning process though, using the resources andpeople at the SCSJ to get in contact with individuals and organizations in the North Omaha community to set up visits, tours, and volunteering. As we neared the departure date, much of the anxiety remained, but some of it had given way to genuine excitement. I did my best to open my heart to whatever form this trip would take and devoted myself to being as present as possible to the experiences and people I would encounter. Doing so gave me a sense of relief and calm heading into this week of service.

Throughout our time together, I believe that our group collectively overcame our anxieties and replaced them with resolve to immerse ourselves fully into this community. We learned about the history of our city, engaged in deep conversation with the people of North Omaha, visited historical sites, participated in various service activities, and then gathered in the evenings for reflections, in which we felt our hearts both totally energized and totally broken by what we had witnessed throughout the day. It was during these nightly reflections when I began to see the trip that Lauren and I had planned begin to resonate with the group as something so important and inspiring.

Community

            One particularly inspiring aspect of the trip for me was the way in which it seemed to come full-circle, giving us a historical and cultural background of North Omaha, introducing us to the realities of North Omaha today, and finally giving us a sense of all that North Omaha can be in the future. We often talked about the distinct sense of hope that seemed to permeate this community. North Omaha has had its share of hard times, especially during the civil rights era, but even extending into the recent years with a reputation for violence, drugs, and poverty. However, everyone we talked to had such genuine faith in their neighbors and their home. They were so hopeful that North Omaha could again become the vibrant, open community that it had once been.

One specific individual who reflected this hope so perfectly was Krehauna Dotzler. We met Krehauna at the ABIDE Network student center, where she plans and executes a bustling after-school and summer program for area kids. Krehauna is one of 14 children. Her parents started ABIDE years ago, when they felt a call from God to leave their comfortable lives in upper-class West Omaha and directly address the problems facing inner-city Omaha. Now as a 21 year old, Krehauna is a part of carrying on that legacy that her father started, serving as a light to her community and helping the dream of a renewed North Omaha to be realized.

In fact, Krehauna is part of ABIDE’s “lighthouse” program. ABIDE has identified what it considers to be the most at-risk neighborhoods in Omaha, in terms of crime, violence, and general fear and unease within the residents. Its mission is to install a “lighthouse” in each of these neighborhoods. The goal of the lighthouse is to encourage a friendly neighborhood environment through events like block parties, driveway basketball games for neighborhood kids, summer cookouts, delivering treats, Christmas caroling, and other such simple actions to encourage neighborly spirit. Krehauna referred to it as “loving on your neighbors.” She and a few women her age currently live in one of these lighthouses. She took us to see her house after we toured the ABIDE center, and our entire group understood immediately both the personal fulfillment that the lighthouse program gave these women, as well as the genuine love and fellowship that they extended toward their neighborhood.

The best part? The lighthouses are working! Krehauna told us that she and others at ABIDE have been approached by local police, who tell them that crime and violence rates in neighborhoods with lighthouses have decreased significantly. Their actions are helping to instill love, good-will and pride in the people of these neighborhoods, which has begun to show itself in incredibly positive ways. There are currently 23 active lighthouses, and several in the process of being renovated and/or selecting a resident family. One day, ABIDE hopes to have a lighthouse in every one of its target neighborhoods.

Oh wait, I lied… the best part is that Krehauna is 21 years old!! Here is a girl only a few years older than many of us, working her way through college, not only getting her degree, but making an exceptional impact in a community that is so close to her heart. The passion that she exuded was inspiring and helped everyone in our group to experience that same feeling of hope for North Omaha that we had been hearing about all week.

In many ways, our small group and the trip we undertook was like the North Omaha community. Both were a group of loving, passionate people heading into a time of many unknowns. And in the same way that our group was able to push through these unknowns and experience the spirit of North Omaha and adopt a sense of solidarity with and hope for its members and its future, we know that the same lies ahead for them. In all of the unknown, some things are certain regarding North Omaha: its people are passionate; its community is strong; and change is coming its way. And when we can open our hearts to that passion and community, we can truly invite that experience of change to bring us toward a better future, for ourselves and for our neighbors.

 

Sam Stoupa

College of Arts and Sciences 2018

 

The SCSJ blogs are meant to be a place for Creighton students, faculty, staff, alumni/ae, and friends to reflect on their experiences with programs sponsored by the office or related to its mission. The views expressed in these reflections, and all other blogs found on or linked to from this website, are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of Creighton University, the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice (SCSJ), or any of the University’s affiliates. The University and the SCSJ are not responsible for the actions, content, accuracy, or opinions expressed in these blogs.