York Child Well Being conversations


Key community stakeholders in York recently met with Nebraska Children to begin the process of becoming a Child Well Being Community. This process, which starts with a thorough analysis of child well being data and a service array assessment, would help York service providers, educators, policy makers and other concerned parties form a community collaboration to create more positive outcomes for its kids at risk.

View York County’s current child well being statistics now.


What a difference Sixpence has made at Shinga Zinga

By Gwen Frideres, Shinga Zinga Program Director | Umo’ho’ Nation, Macy, NE


The Sixpence program has made a difference in our center by providing a curriculum foundation and structure to the children’s learning that promotes their growth and development.  Other child care centers do not have a curriculum that they follow for activities that include all developmental levels and domains in Early Learning Guidelines. The children’s milestones are recorded with parent input on the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ) as well as in the Teaching Strategies Gold database.  The Teaching Strategies Gold database report shows the parents their child’s developmental growth through documented observations.  This data also helps child care center teachers to design an individual lesson plan specifically for that child. But that’s not all:

Assessment data for parents.

The assessments that are conducted with Munroe-Meyer Institute help parents understand their child’s developmental levels.  If a child falls below expectations, the center is able to share this with parents and to share this data with the Early Intervention team to conduct further evaluations, and receive special education services to children who may be at risk so that they can transition out by age 3 and be ready for school.


Partnerships with parents and the community

Now, thanks to Sixpence funding, necessary community resources are shared at parent meetings so they are aware of what services are available to them. The technical support that is provided by the Sixpence team ensures centers to have high-quality programs, facilities, staff and instruction.

Our parents have become our life-long friends and they want their child to attend our program because they know it is high quality that they are not going to receive anywhere else, plus the parents get to see the rate their child is learning and developing.  Parents feel open to share with us and to continue to be in contact with us even when their child has transitioned out of our program.  This relationship has increased our retention rate, and many parents who are expecting are on our waiting list.

Enhanced educational experience

Our program can now purchase additional resources from Teaching Strategies Gold, like child portfolios to track children from the time they enter center.  We transfer this data to Head Start when toddlers transition out of our program.  Then this data can be shared with kindergarten teachers so each child’s development is tracked from birth until they enter kindergarten.

We’ve also been able to purchase educational materials and equipment to educate parents on topics associated with becoming a parent and about their child’s growth and development.  Some examples include car seat safety, safe sleep practices, CPR and first aid training to name just a few.



Ongoing staff training

The Sixpence funding has supported training and conference opportunities for staff to learn about infant- and toddler- specific teaching to build staff expertise.  We have also been able to purchase additional supplies  to improve the quality of learning through play, including an expanded outdoor play area.

Find out more about Sixpence now.

Senator Amanda McGill honored by Project Everlast Lincoln


On Saturday, August 9, a small group gathered in the Lincoln Community Foundation Gardens to celebrate a remarkable champion for children in foster care.

The youth of Project Everlast Lincoln chose to honor Senator Amanda McGill with the annual Chris Hanus Award. Senator McGill introduced LB 216 in the 2013 Legislative session, asking for the state to provide better, more age-appropriate support for young people aging out of foster care. The resulting program is Bridge to Independence, which has just been approved by the federal government and will go into effect in just a few weeks.

The young people of Project Everlast Lincoln felt that Senator McGill went above and beyond in championing their cause and helping to ensure that more young people will age out of foster care with the support they need to transition successfully to adulthood.

About the Chris Hanus Award

The Chris Hanus Advocate of the Year award was created in 2013 to honor professionals going above and beyond in the service of youth in and from foster care, as the award’s namesake did.  Recipients are selected by a group of youth with current and former foster care experience from across the state. Youth-created awards are given at events selected and planned by youth in the area where the recipient serves. Other 2014 awardees include Judy Dierkhising ofProject Everlast in Omaha and CASA Pat Gromac by the Fremont council.

August proclaimed Parental Involvement Month


In a ceremony on August 13, 2014, Governor Dave Heineman and First Lady Sally Ganem proclaimed August to be Parental Involvement Month.

“Working together, parents and teachers can maximize students’ strengths and reinforce each other’s efforts to help children succeed in school and in life,” said First Lady Sally Ganem, a former elementary school teacher and principal. “Good teachers combined with strong parental involvement leads to good learning. We see the positive difference it can make in the life of a young Nebraskan.”

Studies show that when parents are involved in a child’s education, student attendance increases, student attitudes and accomplishments improve, and discipline problems decrease. This generally holds true regardless of a family’s socio-economic status, education level or cultural background.

“It’s important for parents to be actively involved in their children’s learning,” said Gov. Heineman. “Involvement doesn’t mean parents must be experts in math and science, but it does mean taking actions like setting high expectations, creating space at home where children are able to focus and learn, and meeting with teachers while taking an active interest in a child’s educational achievements.

Governor Heineman and the First Lady highlighted several projects of the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation promote parental involvement throughout the State and support ways communities and parents can work together to help students learn and grow. These include:

  • Sixpence Early Learning Fund grants, which support programs to help parents support children’s education from birth through age three – critical years when early learning can pave the way for future success in school.
  • Beyond School Bells, a program that supports community-driven efforts for parents to become more involved in the educational experiences happening outside of the classroom.

“A parent’s involvement in a child’s education remains one of the most important factors in a child’s success in school,” said Jeff Cole, Vice President for School-Community Partnerships at Nebraska Children and Families Foundation. “We know that the structure and hectic pace of family life today presents many challenges for parents to participate in traditional parent involvement activities at their children’s schools. That is why Nebraska Children and Families Foundation believes it is vital for schools to work with community groups to develop new opportunities so all parents can be engaged in supporting their student’s education.”

Project Everlast Lincoln has launched

By Mary Kate Gulick, Associate Vice President


As of July 1, 2014, Lincoln now has a fully operational Project Everlast initiative. More than two years in the making, this new network of services will serve youth with foster care experience as they become adults. The process to create Project Everlast Lincoln has been a collaborative one, bringing together community stakeholders and diverse voices to create a system of care for young people. Here’s how it all came to be.

First there was the youth.

Like everything else Project Everlast does, the Lincoln initiative started with the youth. The Project Everlast Lincoln Youth Council has been going strong for more than three years. Council members learned to speak publicly about their experience in the foster care system. They became friends and partners in advocacy. And they provided the input required to build a community-based system of care for other youth like them.

“Without the youth council, Project Everlast would have no direction,” said Jason Feldhaus. “Project Everlast is youth driven – it’s the experiences and input of the council that tells us what kind of services and system of care we need to create.”

Then there was planning.

Beginning in 2012, community planning meetings for Project Everlast Lincoln brought together youth, nonprofit service providers, health care practitioners, faith-based organizations, educators, DHHS representatives, law enforcement and more. Together, these stakeholders spent months crafting the outline of what would become Project Everlast Lincoln.

“We also looked at what Omaha had done,” said Betty Medinger, Nebraska Children’s Vice President of Systems Integration. “We learned that there are seven components of life that need to be covered for youth aging out of care – housing, transitional services, permanency services, employment, education, health and transportation.”

The plan developed by the youth and community members addressed each of these issues. With planning complete in year one, year two was all about putting the plan into action for Lincoln’s youth with foster care experience.

Ready, set, launch.

True to the Collective Impact philosophy that Nebraska Children subscribes, implementation of Project Everlast Lincoln drew from the strengths of existing resources in the community.

“The goal was to work with organizations who already provided some of these services, build their capacity, align their activities around youth with foster care experience, and share the measurement and data of those activities,” said Jennifer Skala, Nebraska Children’s Vice President of Community Impact.

Central access navigation/Needs Based Fund – The Hub 

“The Hub has been doing this type of work with youth for years – it’s what they do,” said Medinger. “We were able to contract with them to have another full-time employee to work specifically with the foster care population.” The Hub will also be collecting data for all the youth who enter the Project Everlast system, and their outcomes.

Opportunity Passport – Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders County 

“Community Action Partnership was already working with Individual Development Accounts, so they were a natural fit to take on Opportunity Passport,” said Medinger. Opportunity Passport is a program that matches savings that youth put into their IDAs in order to purchase a car, college tuition, housing or other assets that are critical to independence. Project Everlast provided CAP with funding for an additional full-time employee to administer Opportunity Passport and to start their matching funds account

Transitional Services/Health – CEDARS, PALS, Region 5 Professional Partners and CenterPointe 

Project Everlast focused on capacity building and filling gaps here, providing funding for the CEDARS Bridges Program to expand their program and reduce the waiting list for local youth seeking services. “Transition services focus on supporting the youth while teaching them the basic skills required for independence,” said Medinger.

Permanency Services – Christian Heritage 

With funding for a new full-time employee, Christian Heritage is taking on family finding. “Every young person needs people who care,” said Medinger. “Family finding focuses on tracking down adult connections that are meaningful to a young person, so they have a network of interpersonal support to help them as they transition to adulthood.”

Youth Voice –Project Everlast Lincoln Youth Council 

“We’re adding another part-time youth advisor to build a more robust, active Project Everlast youth council,” said Medinger. “Youth voice will continue to be at the center of Project Everlast – from planning to implementation to ongoing adjustments.” The council also serves as an invaluable venue for young people to build relationships with peers and caring adults, helping them develop the necessary social capital to succeeding as adults.

Rural Youth Services –  Blue Valley and Southeast Nebraska Community Action Partnerships

The need of youth aging out of care doesn’t stop at the Lancaster county line. PALS workers serve the rural counties of the Southeast Service Area, but they are spread thin and the distance between youth and workers is expensive to overcome. So to better serve youth s in the southeast service area, Project Everlast has provided funding to Blue Valley CAP and Southeast Nebraska CAP to provide additional transitional support services in their respective coverage areas. These organizations will work with The HUB of Lincoln and CAP of Lancaster and Saunders Counties to southeastern youth with central access navigation services, access to the Needs-Based Fund, and Opportunity Passport.

Community-based funding

Much of the funding for initial funding for the Lincoln initiative was provided by statewide sources – such as the Sherwood Foundation and the John C. Scott Foundation. As implementation neared, it became critical to secure local funding – not only to power operations, but to ensure a local commitment to Project Everlast.

“We’ve been working hard to get local matching funds,” said Medinger. Project Everlast has since secured $45,000 in local funding, which is a great start. “It’s important for the local community to show it has some skin in the game. If local funders aren’t showing their support, why should state or national funders step up?”

And local funders, like Woods Charitable Fund, the Cooper Foundation, the Lincoln Community Foundation, Women Investing in Nebraska, City/County Keno funds are among the first local funders.

“Woods Charitable Fund especially appreciates the collaborative nature of Project Everlast,” said Tom Woods. “It’s a group effort, benefiting from both the input of community experts in the field and the youth who have personally experienced the foster care system.”

“The Lincoln Community Foundation is proud to support Project Everlast Lincoln,” said Sarah Peetz, LCF’s Vice President for Community Outreach. “This program represents the type of investment that will impact our community now and in the future.”

Nebraska Children is still raising operating and sustaining funds for Project Everlast Lincoln. Find out more about how to donate now.

Survey says: Summer learning gains ground


New research from the 2014 edition of America After 3PM, the most comprehensive household survey of how students in America spend their after school hours, shows that summer learning programs are strongly supported by parents and that participation in summer learning programs is on the rise.

According to the survey of nearly 14,000 families:

  • 86% percent of parents indicate support for public funding for summer learning programs, a statistically significant increase of 3 percentage points over the already very strong support registered in 2009.
  • One-third of families report at least one child participated in a summer learning program last summer, up from the 25% of families reporting at least one child participated when the survey was last conducted in 2009.
  • More than 50% of families reported a desire to participate in a summer learning program this summer.
  • 13% of families reported that summer programs were available to them at no cost in 2013. However, the vast majority of parents paid for programs and the average weekly per-child cost for a summer learning program was $250— high enough to put the programs out of the reach of many children and families.

With increased awareness of the problem of summer learning loss, especially among low-income students, it is encouraging to see data that suggest parents are increasingly recognizing the important role that summer learning programs can play in helping keep kids on track for success. However, the cost data raise concerns about equity and whether or not the very students who might most likely benefit from programs are able to access them.  Download the one-pager or graphics for an overview of the findings.

In October, look for the release of the 2014 edition of America After 3PM, which will provide a detailed view of afterschool, including access to STEM learning opportunities, physical activity, and healthy meals and snacks in afterschool. America After 3PM is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Wallace Foundation and the Noyce Foundation, with additional support from the Heinz Endowments, Samueli Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.

Pat Gromac Honored by Project Everlast Fremont

Pat Gromak

This summer, Pat Gromak was recognized with the Project Everlast Chris Hanus Advocate of the Year Award at the closing ceremony of the Fremont Camp Catch-Up to celebrate her tireless efforts on behalf of youth in foster care.

Gromak has served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) since June 2010. At Camp Catch-Up, a camp to reunite siblings separated by foster or adoptive placements, the campers surprised Gormak with a handmade painting from four of the young people she used to advocate for — one of whom she now serves as legal guardian.

“She is an extraordinary person indeed,” said Thomas, one of Gromak’s CASA youth. “She is persistent and calm in achieving what is best for children.”

According to the youth who recognized her, Gromak goes above and beyond in her role as a CASA. She strives to attend every medical, therapy and visitation appointment with her youth. Since July of 2012, Pat has contributed over 1,500 hours of her time, driven nearly 5,000 miles, had more than 200 face-to-face visits with her CASA children and made more than 2,500 professional contacts according to Douglas County CASA supervisor, Kim Thomas.

About the Chris Hanus Award

The Chris Hanus Advocate of the Year award was created in 2013 to honor professionals going above and beyond in the service of youth in and from foster care, as the award’s namesake did.  Recipients are selected by a group of youth with current and former foster care experience from across the state. Youth-created awards are given at events selected and planned by youth in the area where the recipient serves. Other 2014 awardees include Judy Dierkhising of Project Everlast in Omaha and former Senator Amanda McGill for her work on LB216, which is now known as the Bridge to Independence program for youth aging out of care. McGill will be honored in a small ceremony with the Project Everlast-Lincoln council on August 9th, 2014.