“I’ve had the good fortune to lead this organization for the past 24 years. I look forward to this event each year because it allows us to call attention to our collective successes. We can’t reflect on the good, however, without examining the work we still have to do.”
When Nebraska Children’s CEO and President, Mary Jo Pankoke, took to the stage on Tuesday, October 26, at our yearly Changemakers luncheon, she specifically wanted to thank supporters like you. And so do we, as an organization.
We’re glad to have rung in another successful Changemakers, an annual celebration of the positive change happening throughout Nebraska. We’re especially thankful to you for joining Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, along with our many supporters.
This event, however, merits reflection long after the day has ended. As we look back at all the positive changes happening in Nebraska and at our event, we don’t just see empty tables – we see a room full of possibility, waiting for supporters like you to help us create more positive change for years to come.
In particular, we’d like to thank our Premiere sponsors who made Changemakers possible, especially the Sunny Durham Family Foundation and Healthy Blue Nebraska, along with many others.
As a Premiere and new sponsor, we’d like to introduce and welcome Healthy Blue Nebraska. Their generous gift of $10,000 lets us continue to support and create programs that assist our families and children, especially those who still grapple with the aftershocks of the pandemic.
Part of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE), Healthy Blue aligns with our mission for Nebraskans to thrive!
That said, our new partners aren’t new to prevention work, as they provide millions of Nebraskans an affordable health plan for Medicaid and Children’s Insurance Programs, which are ideal for those unable to afford traditional medical insurance.
As big believers that we create positive change as a community, we’re grateful to the Bring Up Nebraska community collaboratives for all the positive change they have contributed to during the pandemic. Much of this year’s Changemakers celebration was rightly devoted to this Nebraska Children-led statewide prevention system.
Mary Jo reaffirmed the positive changes that our community partners have created.
“From offering mental health services to providing food, sanitizer, and other essential items when supermarket shelves were empty, our staff and community partners continue to strengthen families,” said Mary Jo.
Mary Jo said that in 2019, as Nebraska endured a destructive flood, the collaboratives stepped up. Flash-forward to 2020, as the pandemic hit, and the collaboratives teamed up again to help families thrive during a time of struggle.
During those difficult times, the collaboratives found solutions to housing, childcare, financial, food security, and mental health issues, all of which worsened during the pandemic. We can’t call enough attention to the way our Bring up Nebraska partners have contributed to our state’s well-being, long after Changemakers is over.
Looking back, we’re also grateful to our partner and prevention champion, First Lady Susanne Shore, and the elected officials who joined us at the luncheon.
Moreover, we want to echo Mary Jo’s insights from the event – that a ONE supportive adult can make all the difference in a child’s life.
Of course, we need to acknowledge many other attendees, including our incredible board of directors, devoted staff, the Friends of Nebraska Children, and our dedicated partners from the 22 community statewide collaboratives, many of whom were in attendance as well.
We’d also like to thank Nebraska Children Board Member Joyce Davis for agreeing to be our lively emcee under somewhat last-minute circumstances.
Finally, as we reflect back on Changemakers, we need to highlight Liz Dozier, this year’s keynote speaker, as she made some transformative strides into helping children thrive.
As an educator, activist, and Founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond, Liz created a human-centered impact investor to address inequities in communities like Chicago and throughout our nation. But Liz’s positive change-making was in the works before she spearheaded Chicago Beyond.
As a former high school principal, Liz has a history of creating positive change, which she shared during her speech.
When she originally joined Fenger High School in Chicago, the students’ futures appeared bleak, and the data seemed to confirm hopeless outcomes.
“I became a principal in 2009, and Fenger was described as the most violent school in Illinois,” said Liz. “Students were failing in terms of their overall outcomes; they weren’t succeeding once they left school,” she said.
Liz said that as she continued to step further into her role, statistics continued to show that the students were struggling.
“During my first year…there were approximately 300 arrests that happened – not on school grounds. We had a 20 percent dropout rate every year and a 40 percent state graduation rate,” said Liz.
At first, Liz said she resorted to traditional disciplinary measures, thinking that these strategies could rectify the students’ behaviors.
“What I realized quickly was that kids are fragile; they were fragile because of the ecosystem they existed in,” said Liz.
From there, Liz directed an important question back to us, as Nebraskans and as a nation.
“I will ask you this – how many times in your life have you been in a similar situation, where you had certain assumptions about someone and decided to write them off?” Asked Liz.
“How often do you truly see someone? At Fenger, we were missing our kids! We weren’t seeing them, their full story, or their beauty. We were addressing the needs of students based on data that lacked context,” she said.
“We thought we had the answers; we thought because we had the power, we had answers, but in truth, we were leaving our students behind. We were yet another barrier to our children’s freedom.”
Liz and her team realized that instead of labeling students as lost causes, they enacted a radically different strategy. Instead of a punitive approach, Liz pivoted to a concerned, supportive one.
She described how, instead of asking students, “What’s wrong with you?” she shifted to asking them, “What else is going on?” “What happened to you?” When students would miss school, instead of “Where were you?” they would say “We missed you.”
Once Liz understood the students’ challenges, she and her cohort enacted an incredible transformation.
And so can all of us.
As we move forward into 2022, we ask you to continue to join Nebraska Children in the worthy work of assisting families and children who we ALL can see, hear and help.
Together, we can continue to enact positive change well into the future.
Please stay in touch!