“Everyone stand up,” said Michael Bonner.
The crowd dutifully stood up.
“Extend your right hand,” he said.
The crowd did so.
“Now, try to draw a circle with your right hand and a rectangle with your left.”
Everyone in the audience gave their best attempt, followed by laughter after the inevitable failure.
During the Changemakers celebration, the keynote speaker, Michael Bonner, was demonstrating a larger point. Whenever we’re learning something new, we usually encounter discomfort. He then went on to say that, for community leaders to educate our children, we need to learn how to engage and feel uncomfortable.
Many other guests spoke who supported our vision of a Nebraska where all children will reach their full potential, which supported this vision. Earlier at the Patron Reception, for example, Dr. Megan Armbruster Franklin presented her mother, Barbara Bartle, with the 2019 Grace Abbott Award. We were glad to witness yet another way intergenerational love affects everyone in our lives.
Dr. Franklin described a gift her mother gave her: a heart-shaped box with a quote, “The love in your heart wasn’t put there to stay. Love isn’t love ‘til you give it away.” Barbara’s daughter said this gift has been indelible to her in her work in higher education and athletic administration. She referred to her mother’s concept of love as “her North Star.”
After Barbara received the Grace Abbott Award, she delivered some moving remarks. “We must lock arms…we have the grit and love in this state to say all the children are doing well.”
Mary Jo Pankoke, President and CEO of Nebraska Children, took the stage to reflect on Nebraska Children’s successes, but also as an opportunity to reflect on the challenges that still exist. She described some of Nebraska Children’s recent accomplishments. Among these initiatives included expanding our focus on prevention with Bring Up Nebraska, with a goal of supporting families through challenges before they can turn into crises. “This is difficult work but work that makes a huge difference in the lives of so many Nebraskans,” said Mary Jo.
Mary Jo described her past experiences prior to joining Nebraska Children, particularly working in the child welfare system, as reaffirming the importance of teachers in children’s lives.
“I’ve seen firsthand how important of a role that adults play who are outside of the child’s immediate family. Teachers are among these influential people. Children come to school every day not only with a backpack but carrying personal struggles as well,” said Mary Jo.
Now, back to that interactive moment when Michael took the stage. As he delivered his keynote speech, in addition to his interactive exercise, he left a few parting words. “Poverty and trauma are not learning disabilities,” he said.
He said that although our times have changed, our teaching curriculum has not. Michael pointed out that educators are still using 19th century teaching methods, which may not always engage students. Michael then left the audience with a challenge: to be better, as community members and as people, so we can impact the next generation.
Later, Michael signed copies of his memoir, “Get Up or Give Up: How I Almost Gave Up on Teaching.” This nonfiction work describes how he endured a long and difficult week when he had to restrain one student and dodge a flying chair thrown by another. Still, Michael wanted to thrive and make a change in his students’ lives.
One of our emcees, KETV’s Julie Cornell, also left us with some lingering questions. She, too, challenged us to imagine how, for Michael’s former high-risk students, life could be better.
“Imagine if those students at South Greenville Elementary had access to the appropriate educational and preventative support,” said Julie. “Would those students have still been prone to anger? Would they have endured homelessness? Would they have shown up to class visibly hungry? That’s why prevention isn’t a force of nature, but a force of human kindness. It’s prevention that stops hunger, halts anger, and provides children and families with the education and support they need in order to thrive.”
As we look back at the 2019 Changemakers celebration, we see more than an empty ballroom and tables decorated with floral centerpieces. We see and are grateful to those whose prevention work has made the event possible.
We see the changes that we need to make and changes that have manifested for Nebraska’s children. We also see a room of people who made this event possible.
We’ll begin by thanking our emcees, Julie Cornell and Sara Woods, who are constantly creating positive change through their work. Sara Woods is Chair of our Board of Directors. Julie Cornell is KETV’s 6 and 10 pm anchor. Among her many accomplishments include her and Rob McCartney’s hard work exposing the equally hard truths about poverty and our work through Bring Up Nebraska to combat the effects of poverty. Learn more about “Project Community: The Picture of Poverty.”
A huge thank you to the Sunny Durham Family Foundation, Lozier Foundation, Duncan Family Trust, Sally Ganem, and Jodie Mackintosh. We’re also thankful to our corporate sponsors, Pinnacle Bank, Tenaska, and Union Pacific, and all the other generous sponsors that made that event possible.
A deep thank you, as well, to our Honorary Chair, Suzanne Kotula. We were honored to have her join us. We also acknowledge the heart of Nebraska Children: our amazing board of directors, our dedicated staff, and the Friends of Nebraska Children.
Most of all, when we look back at that empty room, we look forward to the next year of changemakers – and the changes that will occur to create a better Nebraska.
See you next year!