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Children First

125 Years of Caring

Rev. E.P. Quivey and his wife, Mary Eva, founded Nebraska Children’s Home Society (NCHS) in affiliation with the Children’s Home Society movement that had emerged in the early 1880s; the national, nonprofit endeavor provided services and influenced public policy that supported the well-being of children. Through his previous work at the Iowa State Penitentiary, E.P. Quivey believed that a family is key to a more promising life, so the primary assistance NCHS provided in its earliest days was facilitating adoptions and foster care services (before Nebraska’s child welfare system was in place.) state-licensed foster care even existed).

The organization expanded over time to include a wide range of comprehensive adoption, parenting, early childhood education, youth education, and children and family services.

“We might call programs by different names today, but our history shows a consistent level of compassion in the caring for children and families,” Chief Operating & Information Officer Kent Carson said.

Like the mission statement says, NCHS was founded and continues to exist for one primary purpose: to provide safe and loving care to children of all ages.

“At the end of the day you look at what’s best for the child,” Chief Executive Officer Lana Temple-Plotz explained. “Our focus is on the family: families touched by adoption, the families we serve through foster care, and the families we work with on the prevention and early intervention side who are parenting their children and having struggles with that—living in poverty, having domestic violence touch their lives, trauma impacts.”

 

Thriving in families 

The “Home” in Nebraska Children’s Home Society represents finding or assuring a safe and loving home for every child, Temple-Plotz added. NCHS’s founder believed that children thrive better in families, where they can build lasting, permanent connections, rather than in orphanages. As a result, the organization never operated an orphanage; it challenged the practice of placing orphaned, abandoned, abused or neglected children in orphanages and “poor houses.”

“The Children’s Home Society movement was focused on improving the lives of children. The whole purpose of that national movement was to find homes in communities for children,” Temple-Plotz said. “We actually did not build a physical location until 1924, and we only built that building because we had grown our administrative staff and needed a temporary place for children coming from all parts of the state.” 

Chief Program Officer Kim Anderson explained, “The receiving home was a place intended to temporarily house children for up to six months while NCHS searched for a permanent family. Children at the home received medical care, clothing, meals and education while they waited to be placed with a family,” 

 

Going where the need was

Carson knows some of NCHS’s history firsthand; he joined NCHS in 2005 but happens to be the grandson of Randall Biart, who served as the organization’s executive director for 35 years, from 1936 to 1971.

“I remember the stories from when I was younger where Grandfather would drive out to Scottsbluff because he got a phone call at the receiving home saying, ‘we have a child in need.’ He would drop everything and he would drive out to wherever in Nebraska to pick up that child, and turn around the next day and drive back to Omaha. That was not uncommon,” Carson said. “If there was a need, Grandfather went. (NCHS staff) did what was required to get children the services that were needed and find them a loving home.”

For much of Biart’s tenure there was no Interstate, there were few highways, and there was a lack of paved roads in many parts of the state, Carson added, not to mention no GPS guidance, and no air conditioning in some vehicles. So whether on dirt road or by train, “They made their way to where the need was.”

“In 1936 when my grandfather joined the agency, we had a single office location in Omaha with 10 full-time employees. Besides program staff we also had ‘field men’ whose role was to travel the state seeking goods, services and funding to support the children in our care. And it was not unusual for the field men also to bring a child or children from all parts of Nebraska back to the receiving home in Omaha in an effort to find that loving and caring family,” Carson said. “In fact, it was not uncommon for my grandfather or field men of the day to pass the hat in community halls or on train rides back to Omaha, collecting funds to support the work of Nebraska Children’s Home Society.”

Carson said Biart involved three generations of his family in local efforts.

“It seemed like almost every weekend I would get up early in the morning with Mom and we’d drive to the local markets; Louis Market, Central Market, Hinky Dinky, and (Baker’s Supermarkets founder) Abe Baker were fabulous and very supportive,” he said. “We’d go pick up goods they were donating and take them over to the receiving home.”

He added, “I also remember many times there were tickets that were donated. We’d get a carload of children together and take them to baseball games, the Shrine Circus or the Henry Doorly Zoo.” Organizations provided these tickets to give children a chance to attend events and other local attractions.

 

Community involvement

NCHS is still headquartered in Omaha. The first greater Nebraska office opened in 1953 in Scottsbluff. Today there are NCHS offices in Omaha, Lincoln, Norfolk, Grand Island, Kearney, North Platte and Scottsbluff. Logistics have changed significantly since Biart’s day.

“We have strategically placed offices in these locations so we can serve families across the state. We no longer have employees that are called ‘field men.’ Instead, all of us are responsible for building strong and lasting relationships with our families,” Anderson said. “This often involves collaborating with other organizations and professionals across the state to advocate and provide services for children and families.”

Community involvement continues to be an important element in the organization’s ongoing success, Temple-Plotz said.

“We as an organization have relied on the generosity of the communities that we serve in. They help us figure out what are the needs in their community, who’s available to help out with those needs and how we can play a part in that,” she said. “That’s still true today. Throughout Nebraska, we have great supporters.”

“There are supporters across the country with connections to NCHS—adoptive parents, adoptees, birth parents—who give back to us with their time, talents and treasures,” Anderson added.

 

Making it possible

Chief Development Officer Brian Osborne said financial support, specifically, makes it possible for NCHS to offer adoption services at no cost to the families involved (it never has charged for those services) and also helps fund other areas like family support, foster care and early childhood education.

“Almost everything we do requires do some fundraising, and the other thing is our endowment; that’s where we fund things like adoption entirely, part of foster care and part of family support,” he said.

A mix of funding sources is involved.

“The endowment is funded primarily by bequests. To make a long story short, it’s paying it forward—people who have benefited directly or indirectly either support us through donations or even write us in through their wills so people can benefit in the future from those same services,” Osborne said. “And we have tremendous support from businesses across the state. In my view, businesses have always been pretty generous and they like to see the betterment of their communities. Most of them view themselves as partners in our efforts. They want to learn about how we used their contributions how it helped make the lives of children and families better.” 

NCHS also helps children and families connect to resources when their needs are outside the scope of services offered.

“We obviously can’t be all things to all people, so if we have an individual who calls us and needs assistance, our goal is to help them figure it out,” Temple-Plotz said. “We’ll make some of those connections. Because there’s nothing more difficult than asking for help, so once you’ve done that we want to make it as easy as possible for you to get what you need.”

 

Guidance and assistance

To the people of NCHS, the tagline “children first” means focusing on the child, making their needs a priority, and caring for them by supporting the people around them from parents, grandparents and siblings to caregivers and teachers. Families experiencing an unplanned pregnancy are not urged toward one particular option, but will be given education and support to facilitate making their own choice to parent or place their child for adoption, Temple-Plotz said. Parents struggling to meet their family’s basic needs or who want to parent more effectively learn about available resources that can help them meet their needs or goals.

“Our focus is support and guidance, assistance and education,” Temple-Plotz said. “It’s not our job to tell parents what they need to do. It’s our job to give them the tools that they need to help them make an informed decision.”

Temple-Plotz said that although NCHS follows the same fundamental child-centered principles under which it was founded in 1893, the organization has also evolved in some ways. She joined the team four years ago with more than 25 years’ child welfare and nonprofit experience and became CEO last October upon the retirement of her predecessor, Karen Authier. She’s led a new strategic plan along with rebranding including a new logo, website and vision statement (“a safe and loving family for every child.”)

“It’s been kind of a whirlwind,” she said. “We have a lot happening in our 125th year. My job as CEO is really to steer the ship and work in partnership with our board of directors to ensure that we are around for another 125 years…The Children’s Home has always had a positive reputation as an agency that’s focused on putting children first. The first question is, ‘How can we help?’ We’re blessed because we have fabulous individuals, companies, foundations and individual donors who support us.”

One of the biggest advantages of being around so long is that NCHS has had the time to develop many collaborative and cooperative relationships with other entities, Temple-Plotz said. NCHS’s teams across the state have also identified resources in each community, preventing redundancies and filling gaps.

“The charities in Nebraska that are working for children are, in my opinion, all our partners,” Osborne said.

 

Working together

NCHS has a long affiliation with Children’s Home Society of America, a group of agencies across the country with similar missions and services. Through that relationship, NCHS has accepted the opportunity to contribute to a study led by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University that is looking at early childhood development.

“We as a group can look at all of the things we are doing and hone in on some of the models we are using to figure out ways to make our work more impactful,” Temple-Plotz said. “We have, along with Children’s Home Society of America, been working with Harvard to identify areas of focus so we can begin to seek out funders to do research to make a bigger, stronger impact.”

Working together—with communities across the state, with families, with other organizations—is something NCHS mastered early on in its 125-year existence. Individuals can follow suit and help in many different ways from making a monetary donation to fulfilling a “wish list” item listed on the website (www.nchs.org) to becoming a foster parent. 

“There is no such thing as a small gift,” Osborne said. “Anything you can do to help a child makes the world a little better.”

 

ORDER A COPY OF OUR PRINTED EDITION and learn more about this important initiative in our community.

 

 

”You want to help parents whose shoes you’d never want to walk in. We might call programs by different names today, but our history shows a consistent level of compassion in the caring for children and families.”

 

Read more in our DIGITAL EDITION. Or SUBSCRIBE TODAY and have metroMAGAZINE delivered direct to your home or business!

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