On September 12, more than 400 people gathered together at the Changemakers luncheon to celebrate victories, reflect on the fight to protect Nebraska’s children, and renew their motivation to keep fighting for change. To say that it was inspiring would be an understatement!
The event began with a special gathering Sunday evening at Omaha’s Bike Union, where keynote speaker Victor Rivas Rivers spent some time with young adults from Project Everlast Omaha. Victor spoke to nearly 20 young adults, sharing his unique story of growing up in an abusive environment but triumphing thanks to the power of his community. Each young adult in attendance received autographed copies of Victor’s book, “A Private Family Matter,” and had the opportunity to talk with him and ask questions while sharing some pizza.
Monday’s events began with a small private reception for Ruth and William Scott, who were awarded Nebraska Children’s Grace Abbott Award. The Scotts are Nebraska natives who have committed countless hours and dollars to where they’re needed most: with our state’s children. Specifically, their Nebraska Children investments have included support for Child Well Being Communities, Project Everlast, Beyond School Bells, Connected Youth Initiative expansion, Sixpence Early Learning, and Early Childhood Services. Helping to present the award were a handful of speakers whose lives had been touched by the Scotts’ generosity. Thank you again, William and Ruth!
Following the reception was the main event, which started with remarks from emcee Jeremy Maskel of KETV NewsWatch 7, honorary event chair Connie Duncan of the Duncan Family Foundation, and Nebraska Children President and CEO Mary Jo Pankoke. Then, Victor Rivas Rivers came onstage to speak to a captive audience.
His story was one of heartbreak and hope, of trial and triumph, and of how a strong “village” can be what saves a child from going down the wrong path. He spoke of growing up with a severely abusive father, of scars that affected not just his body but his soul, and of turning to gang life in his teen years to find a place to belong and an outlet for his anger. Victor’s life could’ve easily gone too far down the wrong path, but thanks to some special “angels” around him, he went from gang member sophomore year to class president as a senior. His teachers, coaches, and other concerned adults were able to recognize that Victor needed help and they rose up to catch him before he slipped through the cracks. Victor now calls himself the child the village raised. Since then, he has dedicated his life to shining a light on domestic and child abuse, sharing the importance of community in lifting up those who are vulnerable and wrapping them in support.
Victor also shared a story from the Masai tribe in Africa that gave us plenty of food for thought. The Masai tribe’s traditional greeting is “Kasserian Ingera,” which translates to “How are the children?” They ask this first because if all is well with the children, then so it goes for the rest of the tribe. What a powerful statement on the importance of caring for our young people.
Changemakers 2016 was an amazing experience for all involved, from the planning team to the speakers to the more than 400 attendees. And hearing Victor Rivas Rivers speak was a great reminder of why we do what we do: to give all of Nebraska’s children a chance to experience the Good Life.