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Completely Commited

(page 2 of 5)


CHOOSING THE RIGHT COLORS

“HI! WELCOME! I’M JOE.

I’ll be your guide today.”
 

It’s a common enough greeting, but those words are anything but common when spoken by a 12-year-old.
 

Joe has been in the Completely KIDS program for half of his life. He’s about to transition from one of the agency’s schools to another, from Liberty Elementary School to Marrs Magnet Middle School.
 

“Joe is our best ambassador,” said Completely KIDS executive director Penny Parker. “That’s why we have him do our tours. He’s our kid extraordinaire.”
 

He didn’t want to talk much about family; I learned only that Joe now lives with his aunt and baby sister after his grandmother passed away last year.
 

It’s a reticence that is, sadly, shared among many of the youth served in the program, but that very reluctance goes a long way in explaining why Completely KIDS is so vitally important to Joe and thousands of Omaha kids just like him.
 

 “I have friends here that I can talk to,” he explained. “The kids, Miss Sarah, all the other adults; they guide me.”
 

“Miss Sarah” is Sarah Tulipana, a Completely KIDS program coordinator who just finished her master’s degree in social work at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
 

“There have been some tough things that you’ve had to go through,” Tulipana said in turning to Joe. That’s when his eyes dimmed for the fleetest of moments, a touching reminder that his otherwise sunny disposition is a success story in its own right.
 

The young man with the perpetual smile wants to either play professional soccer or become a meteorologist.
 

“I’m pretty much a weather nerd,” Joe said with a self-deprecating shrug. “I don’t know why, but I just got hooked on it a couple years ago. I watch the Weather Channel all the time. Weather is on my computer 24/7.”
 

Tulipana knows there is always a danger of alternate forecasts as her friend, the aspiring weatherman, enters his teen years. The allure of the street is strong.
 

“I’ve known Joe since he was a second-grader,” Tulipana said. “He’s an amazing kid and such a success story for us. He knows how to make the right decisions despite all the pressures out there.”
 

Even the most tender of relationships can be marred by occasional storm clouds. A Completely KIDS spring soccer tournament found Joe’s Liberty team squaring off against a rival, one coached by Tulipana.
 

“She was crazy,” Joe beamed as Tulipana shot back a gasp of mock indignation.
 

The discussion then quickly devolved into a spirited debate– one that I sensed was a replay of many predecessors– about a particularly acrobatic Joe “goooooo-al” that Tulipana insisted was a no-goal.
 

And what did the referee have to say about it?
 

“That’s the problem,” Joe cracked. “The ref was another adult staffer!”
 

As is the case on too many of Omaha’s streets, Joe lives in a world where wearing the wrong colors can invite trouble. Completely KIDS’ goal is that his soccer jersey– and the gentle ribbing that goes with it– is the closest he’ll ever come to worrying about a choice of colors.

 

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