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Moving Forward. Serving All.

Celebrating 125 years of faith-based service to the entire community

Lutheran Family Services started out as two orphanages 125 years ago. Today it’s a comprehensive nonprofit organization offering a continuum of human care services that serve more than 45,000 people each year under a mission to express God’s love for all people.

As she approaches...

her retirement, Lutheran Family Services (LFS) President 
and CEO Ruth Henrichs said that as she looks back at her 41 years with the organization she’s led since 1985, she hopes people know she always strived to do the right thing.

“I want to be remembered as a leader who had moral courage and integrity,” she said. “I’ve made mistakes just like anyone else, but I want to be remembered as somebody who could admit those mistakes and someone who made tough decisions—or joyous decisions—with moral courage.” 

It’s a direct reflection of the mission of the 125-year-old organization, which originated as Trinity Lutheran Church orphanage in Fremont and Immanuel Children’s Home in Omaha, both founded by Lutheran pastors. In the 1940s, programs branched out to cover foster care and adoption. A refugee settlement program emerged in the 1970s, and in the 1980s, treatment programs for substance abuse and outpatient mental health began. Most recently, LFS has added crisis response, veterans programs and integrated care. 

Continuum of services

Today’s Lutheran Family Services offers a continuum of human care services that provide safety, hope and well-being for more than 45,000 individuals annually and boasts a client satisfaction rate of 95 percent. 

LFS’s present-day broad service areas fall under three umbrellas: behavioral health, children services, and community services. 

Behavioral health services encompass outpatient mental health therapy and community services; substance use treatment; sexual abuse/incest treatment; round-the-clock mobile crisis response; peer support; At Ease therapeutic support for active military, veterans and their loved ones; Health 360 Integrated Care in Lincoln; and specialized counseling for children, adolescents, adults and families. 

Services for children include providing parenting support and prevention/early intervention programs; “RSafe®” treatment for children and families impacted by sexual abuse; infant, international and foster care adoption services and searches; “Right Turn®” post-adoption services; foster care; pregnancy counseling; maternal health care and family support services; and youth diversion services. Nebraska Children’s Home Society is collaborating with LFS on the program.

Community services include refugee resettlement, immigration legal services, interpretation services, case management, and education and employment services for new populations.

“We serve everyone, regardless of race, religion, creed or ability to pay. We serve the lifespan from young children to the elderly, we speak between 27 and 35 languages at any given time on our staff. We don’t just use the word ‘diversity,’ we live the word ‘diversity,’” Henrichs said. 

Rooted in faith

Henrichs, a nationally renowned leader in the Lutheran community, emphasized, “It is out of our faith that we formed this organization. I am very, very proud that we are Lutheran Family Services, but our mission is to express God’s love for all people. So I’m really proud of all the different things we have done over the years in response to a community crisis or a community need,” she said. “We serve the community of faith and people who have no faith at all.” 

It’s not always easy, she admitted, to meet the “wide diversity of needs in the community,” which includes addressing challenging and heartbreaking problems like substance use, domestic violence and homelessness, or providing assistance to people who have troubled pasts. 

“Our history comes out of children’s services, and that was the only thing we did in the first 40 years of the organization’s existence. But then we began to see the growing mental health and substance use problems. LFS responded to those challenges in the ‘80s. Then it was LFS doing our small part to welcome the strangers among us,” she said. “I think the community needs LFS because we’re not afraid to take on difficult problems in our community… someone once looked at me straight in the eyes and said, ‘We are not called to be comfortable, but faithful.’ Faithfulness for me is the care of our neighbor and expressing God’s love for all people.”

Helping humankind

Terry McClain, chair of the LFS Foundation board of directors, said he’s proud that LFS has taken on tough issues and provided services that “are not politically popular but are very necessary” like sexual abuse counseling or transition assistance for inmates. 

“LFS has stood by their principles of helping humankind, period,” McClain said. “I’ve been proud of the fact that LFS has stood up for real needs in the community and addressed the real issues.”

McClain and his wife Linda were recipients of the organization’s 2017 Immanuel Award acknowledging their years of commitment and leadership, particularly in garnering community support for the Rupert Dunklau Center for Healthy Families in their home community of Fremont. 

“My wife and I used LFS services many years ago and I started volunteering when they had some needs in terms of local fundraising” he said. Eventually, McClain joined the board. 

“We have supported LFS for many years because of the services they provide to the communities they are involved with; they’re a Nebraska-wide organization and they do a lot for families and individuals,” he said. “We think they’re one of the best human services providers around.”

Reaching out

“They really do make a difference,” Connie, a recipient of services, agreed. She first connected to LFS three years ago when “through a series of events” she found herself living in a homeless shelter and battling clinical depression. “Life then wasn’t functional. I wasn’t ‘me’.”

The shelter director helped her reach out for assistance.

“Crisis response, therapy, medication management and community support are the services I received,” she recalled, explaining that community support extends beyond the immediate crisis and helped her transition to both long-term therapy and a more stable situation that includes a steady job and a better life. Her family has benefited, too: Connie’s now-adult daughter is also gainfully employed and her son is starting college. 

“It’s a big 180 now,” she said. “It’s important for people to know you can come to Lutheran Family Services. Don’t [avoid coming because of pride.] If you need services, if you need help, definitely reach out.”
And that means helping others reach out, too, she added. “If someone is struggling, I would say to not judge the person or look down on them. Be the one who helps.”

Community members can also help, and in numerous ways, Henrichs said. Financial support and donations of specific items (listed at lfsneb.org) are always welcome, she explained, but there are also a host of volunteer opportunities. Some require specialized skills but others need nothing more than enthusiasm and commitment. 

“It may be as simple as collecting clothing for families, or providing transportation or mentoring, or reading to kids. There are a lot of different things that can be done,” McClain said. He added that volunteer contributions allow staff hours and other resources to be allocated elsewhere. With half of the organization’s operating budget coming from program-service fees, a fourth from government grants and contracts and about 20 percent from contributions and private foundations, every effort counts. Volunteer service hours now exceed 19,000 per year. 

“Going forward, I think there will be a lot of challenges for not-for-profits in general,” McClain said. “The volunteer work that’s done in different locations is critical to LFS’s survival.”
Individual support can also mean participating in awareness events or just promoting awareness of LFS in general. 

“All of us are only one tragedy, one accident, one bad judgment call from needing the services of LFS. None of us knows when we are going to be the next person,” Henrichs said. “My hope and prayer is that people would take a breath and think about what life might be like for someone to get to the point where they need to reach out for help to continue going on.”

Adaptability and longevity

When she was named president and CEO in 1985, Henrichs had a staff of 25 and a budget of $850,000. Today, she oversees approximately 365 employees and a $25 million operating budget. Over the years since Henrichs started out as a social worker with LFS’s pregnancy counseling and adoption programs and even since she became its president and CEO 32 years ago—around the same time the name Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, Inc. was implemented—she’s seen the organization’s services shift in response to changes in the needs of the community. That adaptability, she said, has contributed to LFS’s longevity. 

“I believe LFS will be around another 125 years doing some of our work in new ways,” she said. “We’ll be using more technology to reach more people in rural areas. We’ll treat old problems with new methods and community partners. 
“For example, we have provided mental health and substance use services since the 1980s. For most therapists, they’re used to a 50-minute hour in their office. But as delivery of behavioral health services changes, our therapists are right there changing with that. So we’re going to see more and more behavioral health services performed via telehealth, and we’re preparing for that right now.”

Henrichs said collaboration and partnerships have become more prevalent over the past decade “and accelerated in the past five years,” from formal arrangements, such as the Right Turn® post-adoption and guardianship program formed with Nebraska Children’s Home Society (and now operating under a separate LLC), to more informal collaborations with local law enforcement agencies that access LFS counselors in crisis situations.

“It used to be that not-for-profits pretty much worked alone. We got along and made referrals to each other, but we had our own set of programs,” she said. “Now when we assess the needs in the community, the conversation quickly goes to ‘Who else does this?’ and ‘Who can we work with to make this better?’” 

Evolution has also meant that programs have come and gone as other providers emerged or specific community needs diminished. Change has also meant consolidation from a high of 32 sites across the state to 18 today (in Bellevue, Blair, Fremont, Grand Island, Lexington, Lincoln, McCook, North Platte, and Omaha in Nebraska plus Council Bluffs, Iowa and Wichita, Kansas) to maximize efficiencies, Henrichs said, and in reflection of “new and innovative ways to deliver services.” 

Long-term vision

Henrichs has positioned LFS for the implementation of a long-term vision to build a Campus for Healthy Families in downtown Omaha. Over the past 20 years, LFS purchased the entire city block at 24th Street between Douglas and Dodge Streets. Just this fall, LFS opened an outpatient mental health office in the new Kountze Commons building in Midtown. 

“We’ve been dreaming of a campus at 24th and Dodge for two decades. I believe it’s time now to bring those architectural drawings to life,” Henrichs said.

LFS’s first integrated care facility, the Health 360 Integrated Care Clinic, opened its doors in May 2016 near six high-poverty neighborhoods in Lincoln. LFS would like to mirror the Lincoln clinic’s concept to reach vulnerable populations by addressing their biological, psychological and social needs in other communities. In its first year of operation, the Lincoln clinic served more than 4,800 people; 71 percent were either uninsured or on Medicaid.

“LFS is where we are called to be in Lincoln,” Henrichs said. “These neighborhoods are where the highest concentration of mental health calls to 911 come from. It’s where childhood obesity is high, and where the highest percentage of people living in poverty are located in the city.”

Henrichs, who will officially retire as president and CEO on Dec. 31, said she will remain active as a volunteer in the community. She currently serves on several local boards, and in past years has served on the board of directors for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Immanuel and Lutheran Services in America. She has served on dozens of other national, state and local boards and community task forces throughout her 41 years at LFS.

“The best part of working at LFS the past four decades is that no matter how difficult any day was, I went home knowing that someone’s life was changed because all of us at LFS came to work,” Henrichs said. “Now is the right time for a new leader with new energy and ideas to step in. I have nine grandchildren I want to spent time with, and lots of fun things I want to do.” 

Henrichs said she has complete confidence in her staff to carry forward LFS’s mission and vision. 

“For not-for-profits to be successful, they need trust from the community and I think that trust comes from ethical and courageous leadership and quality staff,” she said. “Without the people who are willing to do the work that we do, LFS would not be the respected organization that it is today.”

 

”We serve everyone, regardless of race, religion, creed or ability to pay. We serve the lifespan from young children to the elderly, we speak between 27 and 35 languages at any given time on our staff. We don’t just use the word ‘diversity,’ we live the word ‘diversity.‘”

 

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