The new members of Hillstrom House are stoked and ready to stir up a storm (in the spirit of the Stormchasers, the local baseball team) in Omaha, Nebraska!
The five of us have settled well in our new home in North Omaha, a former convent complete with two kitchens, a small chapel, and a flourishing garden. After exploring the many secrets and amenities of the house, we got busy acquainting ourselves with the city. Old Market, which initially drew our interest, is a quaint commercial district downtown by the Missouri River, complete with rustic breweries, a free art gallery, a labyrinthine bookstore, and a weekend farmer’s market (with plenty of samples!). We were also welcomed in by multiple church congregations, mentors, and alumni, who have graciously provided us bounties of physical and spiritual sustenance.
Of course, we’ve also been working hard at our placement organizations. Julie Anderson, who hails from Baltimore, Maryland, is enthusiastic about her work at Nelson Mandela Elementary School. Julie notes that she is “pleasantly surprised at how the school is striving for sustainability,” and that the school has a “really solid philosophy” regarding equal access to education. In her placement, Julie sees the opportunity to support young people as they realize their own potential and capability. She is also very excited to get involved at Urban Abbey (a nearby coffee shop and church), belt out Backstreet Boys tunes at karaoke, and practice her juggling skills with Scott Glaser’s local juggling club.
Jordan Ziehr is from Hickory, North Carolina. As a recent alumnus of Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM), his personal experience working in Swaziland has deeply informed his approach to social justice. He recognizes the importance of feeling welcomed and safe in a foreign country, and acknowledges that the current political environment in the United States severely jeopardizes this experience for immigrants. At Lutheran Family Services, Jordan sees an opportunity to welcome and assist new arrivals: “It’s been really cool to work with people who are there to greet new refugees when they get off the plane, who speak their language, and meet every need that they can.” When he’s off the clock, Jordan enjoys keeping up with his favorite sports teams, strumming his ukulele, and contemplating the nuanced metaphors of obscure indie films.
Tyler Birkhoff, from McHenry, Illinois, is placed with Grace Lutheran Church, where he manages food pantries within the city, facilitates language classes, and assists the church congregation in every way he can. He appreciates the sustainability efforts of t he church, noting that they “make food available that would otherwise be thrown out and give it to people who can actually use it.” Once a month, he also reads and gives away books to second graders, allowing them to foster an early passion for learning. At his placement, Tyler strives to live up to one of his many mottoes: “Try the best that you can, when you can, and when you can’t, try harder.” As the proverbial “glue” of the Hillstrom team, Tyler is always down for spontaneous singing, cooking out, and any rad adventures life throws his way.
A native of Moline, Illinois, Taylor Romeo believes in the power of being present and showing up in the name of social justice, sustainability, and community. She is placed at the Josie Harper Hospice House, where she is “blown away by the compassion and empathy” she sees every day. Moreover, she deeply appreciates the staff’s unwavering dedication to their residents: “[T]hey strive to provide service to almost anyone…they make the extra effort to make sure no one is turned away.” Taylor is excited to learn and grow in her role with the Hospice House as she looks towards a potential career in end-of-life care. Always a team player, Taylor enjoys spending time with her housemates over delicious homemade meals, dancing to all varieties of music (except polka), and learning sign language.
Joey Sechrist, from Toledo, Ohio, is placed with the Omaha Municipal Land Bank. Joey’s work often places him in close proximity to city officials and political organizers: “I think political change is necessary for social justice, so it’s great to see how the Land Bank’s staff, board members, and collaborators are deeply engaged in the process.” Developing distressed properties with the Land Bank, he notes, can help strengthen neighborhoods when the communities’ needs are prioritized. When he’s not too busy missing buses and squinting cynically at ingredient labels, Joey enjoys learning new skills at juggling club, making beats, and getting down in his vermilion clubbing shoes.
Stay tuned for the latest adventures of the Hillstrom House! In the meantime, we’ll continue on our journey of learning and growth out here in the heartland.