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volunteer

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Charlotte Reilly
CONTRIBUTOR

University of Nebraska at Omaha sophomore Jimmy Nguyen has been selected as a Newman Civic Fellow, a national award recognizing students’ dedication to community service.

Nguyen is one of 273 students to receive the award.

Nguyen was nominated by Constance Sorensen-Birk. So-rensen-Birk is his mentor for Project Achieve, a federally funded pro-gram that assists first generation college students, low income students and students with disabilities.

“Jimmy is tireless in his community work,” Sorensen-Birk said. “He is a leader in all of his college service groups.”

Nguyen was interviewed by staff at the Community Engagement Center and then selected by Chancellor John Christensen to represent UNO as its nominee.

He received an email at the end of March stating he was selected for the award.

“I was surprised and shocked but very happy,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen started volunteering be-cause he wanted to break social barriers and teach inclusiveness.

“From when I was born to when I was five I didn’t know any English,” Nguyen said. “My household spoke strictly Vietnamese. Kindergarten was very difficult for me. I didn’t understand how to talk to anybody. I didn’t know what was going on. I could read shapes and numbers, but communicating was very difficult.”

It was hard for Nguyen to make friends throughout elementary and middle school because of social barriers

“Through community service, I break down the social barrier that held me back once,” Nguyen said. “You can’t always change the bad that is happening now. You can’t change people’s opinions overnight. What you can do is instill the morals and qualities in the next generation.”

Nguyen is a biology major with a double minor in chemistry and medical humanities. He is taking the pre-pharmacy track at UNO. He also helps take care of his grandmother and girlfriend who both have cancer.

Still, he finds time to volunteer.

Nguyen is on student government, helped an international student get a translation of the Maverick Payment Plan, is working on a mural project for the library, is part of Students Against Hunger and helped found the South Sioux Student Association.

The South Sioux Student Association started with 14 members last year but has increased to about 50 members.

“I’m pretty proud of us because we went from a small club to an actual organization,” Nguyen said.

He credits his mentors, including Sorensen-Birk for his love of community service.

“You need to find the right people to be around to inspire you to volunteer,” Nguyen said. “My mentors have encouraged me and connected with me on a personal level.”

Sorensen-Birk said Nguyen is the one who has inspired her.

“Jimmy has changed my life. What he is doing is incredible and inspiring. If a very young man with all these burdens can do that, I know I can do more,” Sorensen-Birk said. “A lot of people think of community service as an event, but it’s clear to me that it is integrated into his life.”

Sorensen-Birk said volunteering gives students a new perspective, and she hopes other students follow Nguyen’s example of service.

“When you volunteer, you reach an understanding that one person can make a difference in the world,” Sorensen-Birk said. “Just one day of work changes something for somebody That’s pretty empowering.”

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Joe Willard
Contributor

PHOTO COURTESY OF SHANNON SMITH
PHOTO COURTESY OF SHANNON SMITH

Students across campus got their service on from Sept. 10 to 12 at Lauritzen Gardens.

Students made animal-safe ornaments with fruit loops and string. On campus students made thank-you cards for police officers and firefighters throughout the city, and t-shirt rugs for Habitat for Humanity.

“I hang out with people I like and know and do ‘funtivities’,” said James Van Ormer, a freshman from Omaha.

Van Ormer was one of the dozen individuals working on t-shirt rugs around 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 11. He and his peers were elbows deep in a rainbow of cotton.

T-shirt rugs are made with snow fence and recycled t-shirts that are cut into tiny strips. Students weave strips of cloth through mesh-like plastic to make a small throw rug.

The t-shirt rugs were made for Habitat for Humanity’s Restore. There are two locations–one in the shopping plaza on the corners of 108th and Maple Streets, the other on south 24th Street, one block south of Leavenworth Street.

Turner Morgan, Volunteer Services Coordinator for Habitat for Humanity couldn’t be more impressed with the partnership he has with UNO.

“We don’t see that from other colleges…[UNO] makes service a priority,” Morgan said.

Morgan says every March Habitat for Humanity looks forward to working with the Office of Civic and Social Responsibility on its “7 Days of Service” event. Habitat for Humanity also partners with UNO’s Summer Works Employment Academy by providing opportunities for youth to be involved in serving their community.
Mark Coffin, Veteran Outreach Coordinator, said that UNO’s chapter of Student Veterans of America, as well as students in ROTC, have both participated in the Vet Build Program that happens every November.

Serving Habitat for Humanity is one example of 60 Minutes of Service, an event that happens every Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Office of Civic and Social Responsibility in the Community Engagement Center.

Other opportunities to get involved with service will be presented during the Fall Volunteer Fair on Wednesday Sept. 30 from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Habitat for Humanity will have a representative there. So will dozens of other non-profits including Lauritzen Gardens, Special Olympics Nebraska, Women’s Center for Advancement, Big Brothers-Big Sisters, Open Door Mission, Keep Omaha Beautiful and Urban League of Nebraska.

The goal for this year’s Fall Volunteer Fair is 200 student participants, said Alex Bauer, Volunteer Connections Coordinator for the Office of Civic and Social Responsibility. The event is one of many that the program will hold this year.

 

PHOTO COURTESY OF UNO COMMUNICATIONS
PHOTO COURTESY OF UNO COMMUNICATIONS

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By Kayla Eggenberg, Contributor

The coordinator for the Hunger Collaborative gave a speech at the University of Nebraska at Omaha on March 17 to call attention to the non-profit food pantry that is changing the dynamic of food pantries by helping people find a permanent way out of poverty.

The coordinator, Craig Howell, also serves as vice president of the Board of the United Methodist Ministries and the president of the Burke High School Teen Center.

Non-profit food pantries have always measured success by how many people come through the door each year. The Hunger Collaborative is changing the way food pantries measure success by sharing resources with other food pantries in the area.

The Hunger Collaborative unites the Heart Ministry Center, Heartland Hope Mission and Together in a collaborative which started with holding food drives together in 2013. Collaborating together meant that volunteers could be better trained and more resources could be available.

“This is a collaborative that shares everything,” Howell said. 

Not only do they share the volunteers, but also food drives, food, funding, programs and staff. In doing so, they maximize the resources available. “Food pantries can’t be just about food,” Howell said. “The Hunger Collaborative has to be more than just an act of charity.” 

When clients walk in, not only do they receive food, but they are also offered hope for a better future. This is because they have the opportunity to reap the benefits of the numerous resources available to them through the Hunger Collaborative. 

To achieve their goal of helping people become self-sufficient, the Hunger Collaborative offers benefits such as free medical and dental care, rapid housing programs, veteran assistance, financial literacy program, emergency financial assistance program and entrepreneurial programs for single mothers.

Although Omaha is among the top in the country in resources and wealth, according to Howell, thousands of people do not have access to fresh food. The United States has the highest level of poverty in all developed countries.

“We have the resources but not the will,” he said. “From 24th and Ames [streets] to 24th and Q [streets] is a corridor of poverty,” Howell said. Food insecurity studies have shown that 24th Street is a “food desert.” This is why the Hunger Collaborative has made this area the focus of their attention. 

Moreover, according to Howell, Omaha has the three largest food pantries in the state of Nebraska—which, he said, is not something to be proud of.

“Our goal as the Hunger Collaborative is to make certain that [in] the next generation, nobody will say that the three largest food pantries are in Omaha,” he said. 

Not only is the Hunger Collaborative offering numerous resources to help their clients create better lives, but the food they are offering has more nutritional value than what is usually seen in food pantries. The collaborative is changing the nature of the food pantry by offering quality over quantity.

They encourage nutritional eating in many ways such as community gardens, where volunteers help clients plant and harvest their own fresh produce.
The collaborative also provides ways to educate clients about nutrition. 
The pantries are “choice pantries,” which means that clients have all the normal choices they would have as if they were in a grocery store. The challenge, he said, is to educate people about nutrition and provide nutritional choices. 
The collaborative has high hopes for the future. In addition to decreasing chronic use of food pantries, Howell said, their goal is to end veteran homelessness by 2016 and to end childhood hunger by 2017. 
“Hope is a meaningless word in the absence of suffering,” Howell said. “The strongest people I ever meet are the clients of our food pantries.”
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