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OHB | Omaha Home for Boys: Transforming Lives and Strengthening Our Community

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Late last year and in honor of the organization’s upcoming 100th anniversary year, Omaha Home for Boys (OHB) worked with local advertising agency Clark Creative Group to refresh its brand and develop a new logo.

The new logo emphasizes OHB over the full name of the organization for a reason, President and CEO Jeff DeWispelare said. The Omaha Home for Boys name has historical significance, yet “We’re known more as OHB. And we’re not just Omaha, not just boys, not just young children, and not just a home. When you’re a historic organization, your history informs your mission but does not define it.”

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He added that the new logo’s fresh coloration represents new ways of thinking and the overlapping letters are evocative of OHB’s continuum of services. “The B has a ladder formation representing steps. We take every kid at whatever rung they’re on and try to take them to the next step.”

OHB has come a long way from its 1920 origins responding to the community’s need for a safe place to send “orphaned, neglected and wayward boys.” The original house, located near 22nd and Davenport Streets, served a group of boys ages 5 through 15 that grew to 67 by the end of its first year. Less than three years later, the home moved to a larger facility but was already outgrowing it by 1941. In 1945, the residents and staff moved to a campus, with residential cottages replacing dormitories, at 52nd and Ames Streets. It’s still the hub of many of OHB’s present-day operations.

Today’s OHB has a mission “to support and strengthen youth, young adults and families through services that inspire and equip them to lead independent, productive lives.” The organization provides a continuum of care to help youth and young adults ages 12 to 26 and families overcome obstacles in reaching their full potential. Its core programs represent a comprehensive approach, empowering clients with the skills and confidence needed to transition from a state of crisis to security and growth, and address a spectrum of needs: education, employment, housing, health and wellness, life skills, mental and behavioral health, substance abuse treatment, transportation, and mentorship.

“It really is a special way to celebrate 100 years, to be doing the work the community most needs from us today,” OHB Board Chair Kirsten Case Fuller said.

“In 2019, OHB served over 1,300 youth, young adults, children and families. We provide a true continuum of care with programs that are integrated to help youth and families address immediate needs, plan for the future and ultimately become independent and self-sufficient,” Chief Development Officer Lori Bechtold said. “Our new action line, ‘Transform a Life. Strengthen a Community.’ truly embodies what we do at OHB. By helping individuals and families achieve self-sufficient, productive lives, we are strengthening our entire community.”

“Probably the biggest need we fill in the community is having that whole continuum right on one campus,” Chief Program Officer Brandy Gustoff said. “Another thing we’re known for is having that niche with young people who are gang-involved or might be considered a ‘tough’ person to work with; who’ve been through a lot of placements already or may need services but not fit in with other programs.”

With an ultimate goal to equip youth, young adults and families with the skills and confidence they need to succeed, OHB’s primary programs include residential living, transitional living, independent living, supportive housing, and clinical services.

Inspiration Hill Residential Living

OHB’s Inspiration Hill Residential Living program provides a safe, stable environment where youth learn to become productive, independent adults. The program serves high school-age youth who live on OHB’s main campus and attend the OHB School. They also have access to support services, and the program’s behaviorally-based curriculum helps teens learn life skills, develop positive behaviors and advance academically. Life skills teachers create a consistent and structured home environment while acting as positive role models and mentors for the youth in their care. The Residential Living program also uses the 12-week BELIEF therapy program to combat the prevalent and pervasive impact of trauma on young people. BELIEF provides both individual and group therapy as well as staff education and consultation.

Jacobs’ Place Transitional Living

OHB began operating an innovative transitional living program, Jacobs’ Place, in 1995. Each resident works with staff to create a personalized independent living plan. The independent living classes include cooking, workforce readiness training, GED/diploma assistance and college planning, health and wellness awareness, and support in finding safe housing. Participants pay rent for accommodations similar to college campus housing and receive up to 80 percent returned to them upon successfully completing the program.

“Now that we have a dorm-style campus we can take those young people who are still finishing high school but don’t have a safe place to live,” Gustoff said.

“Programmatically, we were an orphanage when we were founded, and operated in that vein until 1995 when we expanded into Jacobs’ Place,” DeWispelare said. “That was a big step in our history.” It was also the first program to serve females, who now make up around half of the organization’s clientele.

Branching Out Independent Living

Young adults who leave foster care face more challenges and risks to their success than peers. Branching Out Independent Living’s three-phased program provides current or former state wards access to social services, life skills development, education assistance, scholarships, workforce readiness training and housing assistance.

“In 2000, we expanded into the community with the Branching Out program. Those individuals are anywhere from 14 to 26 years old,” DeWispelare said. “They don’t live on our campus but are supported.”

Participants have access to Independent Living Specialists who work with participants throughout their time in the program. In the program’s final phase, youth and young adults may become peer mentors.

Branching Out has expanded its work in the past two years to begin serving young people who may have never had any type of foster care experience but are struggling to meet their educational, housing and/or other essential needs. This expansion was implemented to fill a service gap in the community.

Supportive Housing

OHB’s independent living campus three miles from its main campus include two apartment buildings and the neighboring Combs Learning Center, together serving as home to OHB’s Supportive Housing program. Opened in late 2018, the program provides affordable, stable housing to young adults and families with on-site support services to help them advance their careers and achieve their educational goals. The maximum stay is 24 months, and rent is based on a sliding scale with tenants working toward paying full rent by the end of their stay.

The Supportive Housing program was the realization of a long-held goal: OHB youth can now receive support in every aspect of their lives—education, housing, therapy and employment—all at one location, Gustoff said.

“In Supportive Housing, which is one of our newest programs, we’re able to serve young people who have children in their custody,” she said, explaining that the program supports the family unit. “We’re also unique in the way we’re letting couples stay together. In other programs they may not be able to stay with their significant other. So, if you have an unmarried young person with a child and they’re in a relationship, they can be in that program and still live together so that we can work with the entire family unit at one time.”

Clinical Services

“In 2018 we opened our clinical services for behavioral health,” DeWispelare said. “We branched out into providing mental health support, which is a huge need.”

OHB’s Clinical Services program offers behavioral health, mental health and substance abuse services that are both trauma-focused and strengths-based. Services place a high emphasis on education, practice and development of new skills to help individuals achieve goals and are executed and overseen by a highly experienced staff.

Clinical Services expands beyond OHB’s youth to other youth and families in the community with services like evaluation, outpatient treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders, and crisis intervention (including court-ordered therapy).

“We brought Clinical Services onto our campus because we had so many people who were going out for services and we felt that if we brought those services onto campus they’d have some consistency and support right here anytime they need it,” Gustoff said, adding that reporting programs are affirming the presumption that proximity enhances positive outcomes.

A crisis stabilization program, which launched just this spring, provides youth with 30 to 45 days of services in a therapeutic environment to help them achieve stabilization until they can return to their family home or transition to another placement if reunification is not a possibility in the immediate future.

“It’s like our residential program where the kids will come in and live with us for up to 45 days, but while they’re living with us we’re working with the family,” DeWispelare said. “And then we’ll bring them back to the family and work with the family for six months.”

“We’re an alternative to out-of-home placement and/or possible detention and we’re also getting the client and family stabilized,” Gustoff said. “This is a very short-term program at 30 to 45 days and we’re very intentional with the programming with the young people, but also immediately going into the home and seeing what the family needs to bring the young person back into the home. Forty-five days is our goal; we don’t want it to go over 60 days because then it becomes placement and not short-term intervention and stabilization.”

If the new crisis stabilization program, a pilot with the juvenile probation system, goes well, Gustoff said, OHB hopes to expand it in the future. “Then we could work with those young people who are wards of the state and others who might need services.”

Support Services

OHB’s primary programs are enhanced by support services including education and scholarships, Youth Mart, and Valley View 4-H.

The OHB School, located on OHB’s main campus, is committed to helping students reach their full academic potential and serves youth in the organization’s residential programs. The school focuses on credit recovery and accrual with the goal of helping youth eventually meet grade-level expectations. Behavior specialists in the classroom teach students appropriate responses to challenging situations and provide positive reinforcement for practicing positive behavior. The school also assists with college preparatory classes and financial aid assistance, and offers college scholarships of up to $10,000 per year to eligible students.

Youth Mart, operated by Partnership 4 Hope on the OHB Campus, serves former foster-care youth and young adults ages 16 to 26 as they face the transition into living

independently without a solid network of support. Supported by community donations, Youth Mart provides household essentials, furniture and personal-care items free of charge.

Valley View 4-H began in 1948 with seven donated calves and has since presented hundreds of youth the therapeutic benefits of working with livestock at OHB’s Cooper Memorial Farm. Youth gain confidence while learning accountability, responsibility and the value of hard work.

The importance of community

OHB has formed numerous relationships over the years with other community providers to ensure that needs the organization can’t meet directly are still addressed. Several partners provide services right on the OHB campus.

“We’re not doing this by ourselves,” Jeff DeWispelare said. “There are so many partnerships we have that it’s hard to list any specifically.”

The community’s support is vital, Gustoff said. Monetary donations are always welcome, and volunteer opportunities are available as well. Wish lists of needs are available online for Youth Mart and other programs, and even livestock and feed contributions for Cooper Memorial Farm.

“We have it out there that we’re always in need of hygiene supplies, books, board games and items we use to keep young people engaged while they’re in the program,” she said. “Grocery cards, bus tickets—those are always things we are trying to provide to everyone.”

“Support from the community means that a struggling young family will connect with rental assistance, a teen will become the first in his family to graduate high school, a single mom will finally get a job that pays a sufficient wage to support her family, and a youth will get the mental health services she so desperately needs,” Bechtold said. “It’s hard to even put into words what the

support of the community means to the youth and families at OHB. Community support truly is the bridge that connects struggling youth and families in our community with the life-changing programs and services at OHB.”

Other sources of funding are program service fees and fundraising: grants, direct mail, events, and individual and business giving, Bechtold said. Special events include an annual golf classic and a luncheon celebration (postponed for 2020; see “An OHB Story” following).

The next 100 years

DeWispelare said OHB is currently going through a master plan process to assess what needs are not being met, what the organization can do differently or better, and what services are best provided by others. The team is always open to further adaptation and evolution.

“We’re going to grow the continuum,” he said.

“When I think about the health and wellness of the community, I often think about our young people, how are they doing and if they’re being cared for and supported,” Case Fuller said. “I’m very proud of how (OHB) has developed this continuum of care so no matter where in the spectrum of needs a youth and family may be, we’re able provide support for them.”

Case Fuller also called out the OHB team. “We have an amazing staff that carries a heavy load and we can never thank them enough for what they do,” she said.

“We’re so lucky to have a genuine and caring group of staff who are so very committed to the mission and invested in our kids and wanting what’s best for them,” Gustoff said in agreement.

“We pick up where others have left off. Many of our youth have been through other programs, multiple placements, system after system,” DeWispelare said. “We’re trying to be that last stop. We always say, ‘We’ll stay here with you. We’ll still give it a shot.”

For more information on OHB, visit OHB.org.

A Family Sticks Together

Before connecting with OHB, Damon had bounced around from house to house, never really having a place to call home. He also had a substance abuse problem that affected his ability to gain and maintain employment. After leaving home at 17, he was evicted four times in the next seven years.

“Life was erratic and crazy,” said Damon.

On the verge of losing custody of his three young sons, Damon entered OHB’s Supportive Housing program in October 2019, just shy of his 25th birthday.

In the Supportive Housing program, Damon works with one of OHB’s Independent Living Specialists to set goals and learn the skills necessary to become self-sufficient. The program provides him with safe, stable housing at a reduced rent that increases each month.

Damon said that while having reduced rent is a wonderful perk of the program, the additional support of the staff has proven to be an even bigger blessing.

“Having them next door has been really nice because they’ve been a big part of me advancing in my life,” Damon said. “Pretty much anything I’ve needed, they’ve helped me one way or another.”

“I don’t know where I would be without Omaha Home for Boys. This program changed my life completely.”

- Monae, youth participant

One of the most unique aspects of OHB’s Supportive Housing program is that it offers young families the opportunity to live together while working towards self-sufficiency. Similar programs in the Omaha area provide help to single parents and their children, but OHB’s program is one of the few that allows the entire family unit, including both parents, to live together with their children and receive assistance.

Damon has made some remarkable strides during his time at OHB. He has maintained steady employment, took the initiative to obtain his birth certificate and social security card, and attended several classes on cooking, budgeting and resume writing. Damon has also maintained his sobriety.

One of the biggest motivators behind all of Damon’s accomplishments has been the opportunity to walk this journey with his girlfriend and sons by his side.

“There’s not a lot of places you can all be together so it’s definitely big,” Damon said.

100-Year Anniversary Celebration

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“In commemoration of 100 years of transforming lives and strengthening our community, OHB will be celebrating in a big way,” said Lori Bechtold, OHB’s chief development officer. “It just won’t be on the timeline that we had hoped.”

OHB invites the community to help celebrate this milestone anniversary next year and support the youth, young adults and families served by OHB. The 100-Year Anniversary Celebration will take place on September 9, 2021. The event was originally scheduled for October of this year but has been postponed due to the ongoing pandemic.   

Keynote speaker Michael Oher will talk about his inspiring journey from the streets of Memphis to the NFL and share his message of encouraging youth to realize their full potential. Oher was a first-round NFL draft pick and on the Baltimore Ravens’ 2013 Super Bowl champion team. He is also the author of the New York Times Best Seller I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness to the Blind Side and Beyond and was portrayed in the 2009 film The Blind Side.

“Having Michael as our guest speaker is the perfect fit because many of the clients served through our programs have involvement in the foster care system just like he once did,” Bechtold said. “Michael’s story of overcoming adversity to find success makes him the perfect speaker for our event.”

For event or sponsorship information, call (402) 457-7014 or giving@OHB.org.

Transforming Lives and Strengthening Our Community