Amantha Dickman, News Director: You’re listening to “KZUM News” on 89.3 KZUM Lincoln and KZUM HD.
[Fades in on the “KZUM News” program music, an original production of Jack Rodenburg. The music fades out.]
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Good afternoon and welcome to today’s edition of “KZUM News,” an hour dedicated to learning more about what is going on in Lincoln and the surrounding areas. I am the News Director, and your host, Amantha Dickman.
In honor of the holiday season, we are spending our next two episodes sitting down with representatives from local non-profits to learn more about the work they did during 2022. Today we have representatives from Lincoln Literacy, Live Yes Studios, Lincoln’s Little Free, and the Center for People in Need.
This afternoon, we will not be doing our usual relatively breaking news segment. I will simply remind you that our Perceptions of the News survey is still ongoing and will be staying open until January 3, 2023. That is the official cut-off day. So, I’m going to ask that if you haven’t already done so, please take our survey. The more data we have and the more questions we collect means our panelists will have so much more to talk about. So, please… You can head over to our website at kzum.org. It is currently pinned to our homepage on the right-hand side. There is both a QR code and link in that pinned post. I will also be including a link in today’s transcript, which can be found under the KZUM News archives. Or you can head to our social media pages. We’re on Instagram and Facebook. We do have a Twitter but I do not believe we have a post currently on our feed there. But we have active posts with the QR code and link in our Facebook and Instagram feeds. So those are some of the different ways you can access the survey.
And, of course, I want to thank everyone who has already participated. We appreciate you sharing your experiences and thoughts with us. And we look forward to answering your questions in January.
Now, we have our first guest of the morning. Welcome to the studio, Bryan.
Bryan Seck, Executive Director of Lincoln Literacy: Thanks so much for having me.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Absolutely. So let’s start. Are you the new executive director?
Bryan Seck, Executive Director of Lincoln Literacy: That’s true. So many KZUM listeners may be familiar with Clay Naff who served as our esteemed executive director for 17 years, almost 17 years.
And I’ve been around for about 37 days.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Yes. I thought I had an email recently in my inbox mentioning that there was a new leadership going on over there; congratulations.
Bryan Seck, Executive Director of Lincoln Literacy: Oh, thank you so much.
So I’ve worked around Lincoln Literacy for the last 10 years or so. So I had a really good understanding of the mission and the awesome team that surrounds the mission and the new Americans that we serve. So it’s an honor to come on board with the organization.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: I can imagine that continuing your work with Lincoln Literacy is a wonderful holiday treat.
Lincoln Literacy… obviously the name evokes a lot of thoughts on school children I find when talking to people in the public.
Bryan Seck, Executive Director of Lincoln Literacy: Sure.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: But that’s not what you do. So can we start off just doing a brief overview of your mission basically?
Bryan Seck, Executive Director of Lincoln Literacy: Sure, definitely.
So Lincoln Literacy actually just celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Really exciting. And we had a gala that got to celebrate that 50 years and also Clay’s retirement.
So it was a wonderful time to kind of look back on the history of Lincoln Literacy.
The mission of Lincoln Literacy is ‘help us, help others thrive.’ And what we’re thinking about is how do we help new Americans, immigrants, and refugees – but also native-born Americans – improve their literacy. Literacy can be spoken, written, or reading.
So we offer classes for newly arrived refugees. For example, that is the very basics of English all the way through reading and writing. And maybe a person born here maybe didn’t finish high school. We have GED prep also. And, then, we also have an area to work on skills. So, for example, we have a lot of immigrants and refugees who come here and they were nurses or doctors in their home country but that degree is not recognized in the United States. What we do is we have a prep class that prepares our students to take the CNA class. So what we found is that the people have the knowledge but they don’t have the English vocabulary to be successful. As a CNA – which is your first step in the medical career – we provided that missing rung in the ladder by teaching a pre-CNA that allows them to then jump into the class, understand what’s going on, take the test, and become CNAs.
And we just found out that four of our former students passed the test and are now employed. It’s wonderful.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Yeah, that’s wonderful to hear, especially because I’ve had several past coworkers who have been in similar situations where they had medical degrees in their home country of Russia and they came here and they’re kind of floundering because they don’t know what to do.
Bryan Seck, Executive Director of Lincoln Literacy: Yeah. Well. If anyone out there listening knows a foreign-trained professional that maybe needs to understand the career pathway we truly have that. We’ve actually developed career pathway documents to help engineers, nurses, other professions kind of understand what is the recertification process.
Of course, we’re more than willing to help somebody who doesn’t have that education and put them into our classes. But we do have kind of a separate road for those who are trying to get back into their home careers.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: So you work with a lot of immigrants and Lincoln has a variety of large communities of immigrants actually. So do you work with target languages? Like… what does that process look like? Do you have teachers who are fluent in the native language who are teaching or are you just all in English all the time?
Bryan Seck, Executive Director of Lincoln Literacy: No, that’s a great question. So Lincoln Literacy… the foundation of everything we do is based on volunteers.
So we served about 1,200 students this year, which is 35% more than last year. We have about 300 volunteers who teach the classes or one-on-ones. We have one-on-one matches, and we have small group classes at all levels from [the] very beginning to advanced skills. We have a retired doctor that teaches the CNA course. So when you’re thinking about Lincoln Literacy, you’re really thinking about a foundation of volunteers. And those volunteers may be bilingual. We have some bilingual teachers who speak Arabic, Spanish, Vietnamese.
But many times the class is composed of students from different nationalities. So we stick with English in those situations so that everyone can learn the language together. We also have a few dual-language classes. We have a Ukrainian-English class and a Korean-Burmese-English class that are taught by native speakers of that language, kind of like a beginning level. But for the most part, we find that with a mix of ethnicities and nationalities, we stick with the English, so that way everyone can learn together in addition to the work of the volunteers.
We also just have an incredible staff at Lincoln Literacy that make everything happen. They coordinate the classes at our 13 different sites that we serve our students all around Lincoln, including our own building, and truly are just passionate about what we do. And I just feel so lucky to be able to be part of a team that wakes up every morning thinking about how can we help people learn English, be successful, and get connected to the community.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: For sure.
And then, obviously, you know, Covid-19 has taken up the majority of 2020. So what kind of adaptations did Lincoln Literacy have to make during that time period, especially when it was really bad?
Well, I guess actually it’s been a couple [of] years now. But…
Bryan Seck, Executive Director of Lincoln Literacy: Yeah. You know. So, so yeah. Lincoln Literacy is a 50-year-old organization. Right? Started as a one-on-one type matching, grew into small classes, and then Covid-19 hit and it immediately went to a Zoom-based model. Even did drive-through fairs to give away books and things like that in the Lincoln Literacy parking lot during the height of the pandemic.
Sharing resources; very cool.
And then, during that time, you know, we learned that it is possible to do something online. But we didn’t have that before.
So now that the pandemic has receded we do have a few classes that remain online. Thinking about people who might not be able to come to our in-person classes, whether due to work or any other reason. But most of our classes are back in person now. But the experience allowed us to build the infrastructure to have classes online.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: So you were… you didn’t have that infrastructure before Covid-19 though?
Bryan Seck, Executive Director of Lincoln Literacy: No, certainly not. This was something that we now know how to do, but previously we did not know how to do.
And, you know, that includes things like classes, but also tutor training. We have regular tutor training and tutor in-services, so that way everyone is on the same page in terms of the content that we teach and resources.
So truly everything went online.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: So with those online classes, are we looking at a Zoom setup or something more like… I mean, I know UNL has… I think it’s Canva currently, I guess. I don’t know for sure, but I think they’re using a specific designated online platform that is used for language teaching.
Bryan Seck, Executive Director of Lincoln Literacy: Yes. So we’ve mostly gone to Google Meet. We were the recipient of a grant to have the Google Suite for free, which is great. And so we mostly use Google Meet to have all of that happen.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Wonderful. And of course… oh, I had a question. Now it’s just completely gone. That’s all right though.
Bryan Seck, Executive Director of Lincoln Literacy: I know right? [And] I sneezed in the middle of it, so it just came outta nowhere.
But, yeah, so Lincoln Literacy is doing a lot of wonderful work with language teaching here.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And, of course, you said reading is part of that skill set as well.
But are you looking at expanding your current services? I know you just mentioned that you’ve done work to expand into online classes. Are you looking… what are your next steps?
Bryan Seck, Executive Director of Lincoln Literacy: Yeah. So, you know, as we look forward into the future, English language learning will always be the core of what we do. It’s the highest number of demand from our students, is a need to learn English.
And then we have an assessment process to understand, “okay, where are you a best fit in our classes matched over, when are you available?” So, you know, we teach classes six days a week, morning through evening. We have two vans that provide transportation.
If anyone out there wants to donate a van, I’d love a third one.
And so when we think kind of what’s in the future for Lincoln Literacy, we really are cognizant of what are the careers out there that are growing. And, so, when I think about a certified nursing assistant – as CNA – that’s really the first step into a healthcare career. So we have a CNA prep program that really helps folks understand this is the language that I need, but also teaches that CNA is the first level in a healthcare career. So we’ve talked about that missing step in the ladder before, so people could get to take the CNA class and pass the CNA test even if they had the knowledge. Then the vocabulary. The really cool thing about being a CNA is once you’re hired at Bryan Health, CHI, Saint Elizabeth… now you can think about, “Okay, now I’d like to become a surgical tech. Now I’d like to become a nurse.” And there’s a career pathway for that. So we’re always thinking about what are the careers out there that are career pathways. We have a CDL prep program for commercial driver’s licenses.
We’re always on the lookout for what’s the next thing, or partnering [with] the Center for People in Need has a grant from Google for a technology. And so we refer students to that. So we don’t work in isolation. We work in partnership with other agencies.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And, of course, the last couple [of] questions are mostly about… as a nonprofit, you mentioned that you’ve gotten a couple [of] grants. Do you do fundraising throughout the course of the year also? Or what does that process look like on your end?
Bryan Seck, Executive Director of Lincoln Literacy: Definitely. So Lincoln Literacy, through Clay’s leadership, really has a great mix of funding.
So we have federal and state grants to provide English language services. We’re also supported by a number of local charitable institutions such as Lincoln Community Foundation, Cooper Woods, and others. And we also have corporate support from places like Nelnet, Olson, and others. And, of course, we have individual contributors, many of which have given for decades. And we’re very thankful for that.
And, in fact, I kind of have a good story to go with that.
So, a woman from Iraq, her name is Massoun, recently graduated and became a CNA. And she came through our classes, took the CNA prep class; just incredibly bright and also has a 10-year-old daughter and was working on her citizenship. So this past week she passed her CNA exam, became a citizen, and had her daughter’s 10th birthday, all in the same like… two day period.
So, you know, when I think about what Lincoln Literacy does, I think about her. And I think about, we have a new citizen of this country. We have a new person and a growing career pathway. And she worked with other agencies as well.
So, we have what’s called the New Americans Task Force, which brings together all the agencies that serve. And it’s just an amazing story to be able to say Lincoln helped her and she helped herself, and now she’s good. She’s gonna go onto a great career. She’s thrilled. And it’s just An affirmation of everything that we try to be,
Amantha Dickman, News Director: What a wonderful story to hear, especially around this time of the year. We like hearing about success in the community and the way that we help each other build each other up.
Bryan Seck, Executive Director of Lincoln Literacy: Yes, exactly. No one who works with New Americans works in isolation. I think about our partner as a Catholic Social Services Lutheran, the Asian Community and Cultural Center. If I start naming names… I’m not gonna name everybody but there’s so many amazing people who come together and provide referrals to each other.
So I hope what listeners hear is they can of course go to our website at lincolnliteracy.org and provide a donation. But also know that there’s a constellation of services around our new Americans. And if anybody out there knows a new American who needs to get connected to services, you can start with Lincoln Literacy. And if we don’t know how to help, we’ll find somebody that does and get them to the right place.
So there’s no wrong door in Lincoln.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Absolutely. And, of course, I know we see you at several events that we are also at throughout the course of the year, so you can always keep an eye out for the Lincoln Literacy booth or van out there. We see them quite regularly.
And, of course, thank you so much for coming in today, Bryan. We appreciate you joining us to talk about the work Lincoln Literacy has done in the last, not just a year, but 50 years.
Bryan Seck, Executive Director of Lincoln Literacy: Absolutely.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And congratulations again on your promotion.
Bryan Seck, Executive Director of Lincoln Literacy: Oh, thank you so much. I’m thrilled to be able to work with Lincoln Literacy and work with everybody helping our newest Americans be successful.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Thank you, again, Bryan for joining us in the studio.
We’re going to hold off on a break this afternoon and head straight to our next guest instead.
With us here this afternoon from Live Yes Studios is Natasha Scholz. Scholz. Sorry, I can talk this morning. I promise.
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: It’s okay.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: But thank you for joining us, Natasha.
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: Yeah, thank you for having me.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Of course. Especially since I know it’s a little snowy outside this morning. I know I wasn’t prepared yet
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: But here we are. It’s Nebraska.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Nebraska in the wintertime. You just got a deal, right?
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: Yeah.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: So you are the assistant director, correct?
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: Correct.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: How long have you been in that position?
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: In this position for coming up to a year now. But I’ve been with the studio since we were painting walls and ripping up carpet in the very first building 11 years ago.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Wow. That’s impressive.
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: Yeah.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: That’s a really long time. Yeah. And you’ve come very far because you just got a new building, correct?
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: About two years ago we moved and in the pandemic. Yep. That was part of the reason we moved, was our other building was just too much money a month. And we were closed for almost nine months, so no revenue coming in and still having to pay bills.
And we found this place and it’s close to downtown. We’ve got our own parking lot, a huge 4,000 square foot gallery; which is the, you know, that was definitely the prize of that building. It’s just… beautiful and so much potential.
And, so, essentially, Live Yes [Studios] opened 11 years ago in August and we are an art and music studio that’s focused on supporting disabled artists. And, so, whatever their creative endeavor is, we just try to take that to as far of a limit as we can. And, so, we’ve done just your stereotypical art shows. We do First Fridays, but we also have had music performances, theater performances. We’ve done a standup comedy show [be]cause one of our artists wanted to do some standup. So anything they wanna do, we just kind of see that dream to fruition and just try to amplify it.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: So, you’re not limiting the form that their art takes at all, right?
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: Yeah, it’s really… we’ll do classes throughout the week and artists can participate in those classes. And most of those are revolved around what the instructors feel comfortable with.
But then each person has their own creative projects that are more personal to them in the mediums that they prefer, in subject matter that intrigues them. And we just kind of help them do that in whatever medium they want to.
So, for example, one of our shows that will be happening in 2023, Josh – one of our artists – he writes music, he makes music videos, he paints, he does ceramics, he does sculptures. So his show will have literally everything you can think of. And then some are more traditional; Peyton, who just had his last solo show at our gallery in September, all of his is acrylic abstract painting. So it kind of varies from artist to artist on what fuels their fire.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Well that’s really interesting. I didn’t know that you did classes, in addition to having that beautiful open studio space going on.
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: Yeah. So we usually do two a day. And our instructors range from self-taught to master’s degrees. That’s not a requirement. It really is more of a matter of how they fit in; personality-wise, the chaos of the studio, and it’s a special personality to fit in with all of us.
So it’s like a big family that everybody knows what pushes your buttons. But then we get to create together. And so it’s a very wonderful space.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Yeah. You mentioned that Peyton had his solo show. Yeah. So is… are the shows that you’re hosting usually solo shows or can artists pair up for shows?
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: Yeah, so what… how our kind of structure goes is every few months we’ll do either like sales shows or group shows which showcase all of the classwork that’s been done. Or I should say like the tangible classwork that’s been done. [Be]cause some classes don’t produce anything. It’s just more about learning.
Like we have a current class right now where it’s like the sip and draw, but we drink grape juice. Just draw and act like we’re drinking wine and keeping it work-appropriate, you know? And so that one doesn’t produce any ‘final’ products. But it’s more about learning a technique.
And then there’s other classes that, like our tufting or our bookmaking class, those are producing stuff for the gift shop or for the gallery.
And, in those off months, we do solo shows where it’s more focused on the artist and what they want and their body of work. But we always have a community guest artist that’s showing alongside. So we do one of our artists and then somebody else from the community.
Our last guest artist was Kyle Nobles, who just graduated with his MFA at UNL in printmaking, I think like four years ago. But his work is spectacular and so it was really nice to see… his work is very figurative and just beautiful drawings of his body interacting with space, coinciding with Peyton’s abstract painting. It was a really nice pairing.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Yeah, a nice juxtaposition going on.
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: So to get involved with classes, I’m assuming there’s some form of like… application is not the word I’m looking for… but like applying to take the class, I’m guessing.
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: Well, we’re state-funded. So, anybody who receives disability services through DHS, they can utilize our services without costing money to them personally. The state will pay for them to come to our facility. We buy all the art supplies and so it’s essentially free for them to engage in and then they have the opportunity to make money. Just another form of income for some people who might find the traditional job force not cohesive with who they are. And so they, any artist that comes to the studio, receives 70% of all art sales and 30% of all merchandise sales. We make ceramic. Like we print our own mugs, masks, buttons. We recently are getting into we’re making mouse pads and koozies and just kind of like amplifying the gift shop, which is really fun.
And you know, [be]cause sometimes not everybody has a desire to purchase this $500 huge piece of artwork. But they can buy a $12 mug. So it kind of helps. And it also just spreads the word. And people love our designs and they’re so unique [be]cause you… it’s nothing you could find at a Walmart or Target. We take our artist designs and put ’em into something like the coffee mug or the mouse pad or whatever, you know.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Yeah. And so you mentioned that individuals who are getting disability through DHS can take your classes for free. Out of curiosity, are you partnered with our local government here? Are you getting funding from [our] local government?
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: It’s kinda like 51 – 49% with federal and state funding.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Oh, cool.
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: So like… it’s kind of through Medicare and Medicaid and, uh, but the state does some of that funding and then the rest of it’s federal.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Oh, that’s really interesting. I did not know that. And then of course you are a non-profit. So, of course, you take donations and that sort of thing.
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: Absolutely. We tried for… or we raised money for two years for our wheelchair lift. Because we moved into a building where our gallery was upstairs. And so none of our wheelchair users have been able to go up there yet. And the most exciting thing about 2022, for us, is that’s happening.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Oh, really?
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: Soon. So, well, we raised, with just the community help, we’ve raised $20,000 out of the $30,000 needed just for the wheelchair lift. And then there’s like a $100,000 in construction that goes along with all of that. And we’re making the upstairs ADA-compliant. And so that is something that we were just at a point where we just need to get it done. And so RHDs kind of helping us out, getting us started.
But yeah. So, that is really exciting. We just got our final quote and so we will be meeting with the contractor and the elevator lift guy here soon. And they will be essentially starting construction, hopefully, by the end of the year. So our gallery will be closed during that time while we’re doing construction, kind of getting ready afterward.
But once we reopen, in probably April or May, we’ll have a lot of exciting things for 2023.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: You’ll be ready to rumble.
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: Oh yeah. Just getting started. So
Amantha Dickman, News Director: That’s fantastic to hear. I know you’ve been fundraising for that for a while. So I’m glad to hear that. End of 2022 it’s happening.
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: Yep. Oh, we’re so happy. We’re so excited.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: I believe it. I remember talking to somebody from your organization briefly at Disability Pride, and they were very hyped about it. So, yeah.
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: Absolutely. It’s… and that’s something that we wanna do in 2023, is have a drag show that’s like one of our goals. So hopefully that will happen.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Yeah, that sounds fantastic. And then, just to clarify, where is your new space located? You said it’s close to downtown.
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: But we are 1935 Q Street. And, so, like right across from the Assurity building, really close to the university.
We’ve got a nice parking lot space and the potential to do events and maybe some outdoor stuff. With our gallery space inside to do like art booths. And that’s definitely in the future, for once the lift’s done. Then there’s time to expand and grow and do new things.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Well, I look forward to seeing how that goes in 2023.
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: Yeah. Oh, we’re really excited. Yeah.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then you’ve told people where you were at, so they can find you officially. And they can come over to the building. You said you do First Fridays, so, obviously, you have open hours where people can just come check out your artists.
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: Yeah. Outside of the First Fridays, because we will be paused for a little bit, you guys could reach out to us on Instagram or Facebook. We’d love to do tours even outside of our monthly art events.
Or just if they – anybody wants to collaborate in any other way. We love having volunteers and stuff like that too, so.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And do you have a website where people can find more information?
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: Yeah. liveyesstudios.com. And then Instagram and Facebook are actively posted on. So.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Perfect. And, of course, we will link to those websites and the social media in today’s transcript. So if you are listening and you wanna check it out, you can just head to the KZUM News archive kzum.org and you can find the links in today’s transcript. You just gotta find the date of the show. So keep an eye out for that.
But, of course, thank you for joining us today, Natasha.
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: Thank you for having me.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Absolutely. We’d love to hear more about what, how that first couple of showings go after you get that elevator left in.
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: Yeah. We’ll definitely be in touch.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Fantastic. Well, thank you so much and stay warm.
Natasha Scholz, Program Director for Live Yes Studios: Thanks. Good afternoon.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And you all know what time it is. We have a small break planned, which will give you some time to go fill out our perceptions of the news survey if you haven’t already done so. You only have until January 3, 2023, to share your thoughts and questions about local news with us. That is when we will begin recording our Media Literacy Series. So, if you plan to participate, now is the time to do so!
You can head to our website at kzum.org. We have a pinned post on our home page with the links to the survey. You can also head to our social media pages, where we have several posts with links and QR codes.
So, thank you in advance, for helping us out. We appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with us. I’ll give you a moment to check it out and I’ll catch you after the break.
[“KZUM News” transition music, an original piece composed by Jack Rodenburg, fades in and then out. KZUM Radio’s usual underwriting and public services announcements air at scheduled times throughout the hour.]
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Welcome back to today’s episode of “KZUM News.”
We are sitting down with a bunch of local nonprofits to learn about the work that they have done in 2022. Sitting down with us here after the break, we have Michael Reinmiller. And he is the… is ‘founder’ the appropriate word here? Of the little free pantries?
Michael Reinmiller, Representative of the Lincoln Little Free Pantries: Well, you know… I put the first one up in Lincoln. And I think you could just call me the squeaky wheel of the Little Free Pantries.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: I see. You’re what you… you’re what greases the process.
Michael Reinmiller, Representative of the Lincoln Little Free Pantries: Yes, yes. I try to.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Fair. Now, you said that you put the first Little Free Pantry up. What year was that?
Michael Reinmiller, Representative of the Lincoln Little Free Pantries: That was Dec[ember]. It was like a day before Christmas, the year the pandemic hit. So it would [have] been 2020. Yeah.
And we put it up and I thought, it’s a box out front. Who knows if anything’s… if anyone’s gonna touch it? And it just happened to be, since it was the holidays, you know, I put it on Twitter and stuff. And then all of a sudden… since it was the holidays, even before the pandemic, there was food insecurity. And it was getting hit quite a bit already because LPS was closed. So all those kids weren’t getting their breakfast and lunch and after-school snacks. So it was getting hit pretty hit hard. And then… pandemic.
And we all know that the dirty ‘P’ word. The pandemic just… it was a game changer.
All of a sudden people were losing jobs, people were stuck at home and scared to even go out to pick up food. So all of a sudden it was a way for people stuck in the house, that wanted to go volunteer, they could go and volunteer. And it was relatively safe [be]cause you could get food delivered to your front porch and then take it and deliver it to pantries without having to have like the whole hazmat suit on and all that, you know. [Be]cause people were so really, really scared at first.
And the dominoes started falling. People wanted more pantries. As of today, we have over 44 of them that are associated with the Little Free Pantries in Lincoln. And I think there’s more than that, that aren’t associated with us.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And a couple of those just went up recently. Didn’t they?
Michael Reinmiller, Representative of the Lincoln Little Free Pantries: Yes. I believe the most recent one is at 6300 A street at the Unitarian Church of Lincoln.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Because something happened to that one right?
Michael Reinmiller, Representative of the Lincoln Little Free Pantries: No, there… that one was… no the… I think…
Well, one was damaged over by it’s like Randolph and 27th, that park there? Wind damaged it. We had so much wind this year. We had doors breaking off. And the thing is if you’re in a hurry with hungry kids in the car and you got some food and you forget to latch it or it doesn’t latch all the way, the next thing you know that wind just rips the door off.
So I’ve now got a group of volunteers even that, if they’re damaged, I call my volunteers and say, “Go to this address and see what you can do.”
So it’s kind of fun seeing how, you know, it’s like those things that you flip over and the sand trickles down. If there’s a need, the sand is found that’s, you know, into this spot and to fix that and different volunteers and they know how to fix that.
And I have a group of volunteers that leave, I would guess, $200 worth of feminine hygiene products once a month on my front steps. And then what I do is I drive around and go from pantry to pantry and fill ’em up. And feminine hygiene products… I don’t know if your listeners know the cost of feminine hygiene products. I double-dog dare you to go look up.
What is it?
I think they come in packs of 36. Look up what a pack of 36 are. And I don’t know how long that lasts. But I’m guessing you gotta get at least a box every 30 days and maybe more. I mean, they’re crazy expensive. And it’s not like something you can ignore. It’s not like, “Ah. I don’t need those this month. I’ll be fine without ’em.”
It’s not an option.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: So you do have things that are not food in the Little Free Pantries also, I take it.
Michael Reinmiller, Representative of the Lincoln Little Free Pantries: Yes. We try to have things… well, any kind of need that a household and a family might need. Things that don’t freeze right now. If you hadn’t noticed, it’s a little chilly out.
But things like dry laundry detergent, that’s an expense that we all need and if it helps a family get through a couple of tough weeks, put a box of laundry detergent in. I don’t know. There’s coffee; [it’s] a food, to me. It’s like part of the pyramid of food in my book. But coffee! We all want a cup of coffee now and then. Everybody deserves it.
But other things that are non-food, we hear lately… I’ve been putting socks, hats, and hand warmers. You know, those little hand warmers that you shake the powder and they get warm for six or eight hours. I’ve been putting hand fulls of those. And if I put ’em in one, there’s one at… was it 12th and F [streets]? I think 12th and F. There’s also one at the hub. If I fill those with hand warmers, they’re gone in three hours. It’s shocking.
But I mean, anything. Toothbrushes, toothpaste. I don’t know if… about toothpaste in the winter yet. I’ve put it out and if it freezes, I assume it still works. But just try to think of, if you’re gonna put stuff in the pantry, just try to think about what you can put in it that extreme temperatures won’t damage. Like a can of soup can freeze and burst and that’s a huge ugly mess. But peanut butter, if it does freeze, it doesn’t damage the content.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: True. You just thaw it out and, and go about your life.
Michael Reinmiller, Representative of the Lincoln Little Free Pantries: Yeah, exactly. And then like flour and sugar, those are all things that we all need. And flour freezes; who cares? You know?
I think last Christmas; I don’t know who it was, I wish I knew, I would love to thank them. But someone went around on Christmas Eve and loaded hams. Like spiral-cut hams. And put them in the pantries for someone to make. And if they froze, who cares? Right? It’s a ham. And I just thought that was such a cool and expensive donation. But could you imagine if you’re hungry and you gotta feed your kids and someone put a spiral cut ham in the freezer, in the pantry? And granted it’s so frozen now, it doesn’t matter.
But I was just trying to pay attention to the temperatures and be thoughtful of what, you know, could be good and bad.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Sure. [Be]cause you certainly don’t want anything… I mean, ruining the structural integrity of the little free pantry would certainly be a concern because then all of that food would go to waste.
Michael Reinmiller, Representative of the Lincoln Little Free Pantries: Yes, yes, yes. And, you know, food insecurity and hunger and poverty, it’s this downer. But I try to always put a… I always try to look [at] what can we laugh at about this situation, like this, a joyous occasion kind of thing. And so I’m gonna tell my… tell you a story that. . I’m sure it was sad at the moment, but afterward it was pretty funny.
So someone went to our pantry and pulled out a jar of, this was summer, and it was a jar of spaghetti sauce. And it was accidentally, they dropped it and it went everywhere. And I got up in the morning. I went outside. And, I’m not kidding you, it looked like a murder scene. So I cleaned that up real fast. I just thought… I was outside with the hose, picking up pieces of glass. And I know they felt terrible. I could tell they tried to clean it up. But if you can’t laugh at things, it’s life, life’s pretty rough. So I just try to, I try to laugh at the things that we can. But I, in fact, it was a couple of days later, I went back to the pantry and there was a note saying they were sorry. And I thought, “Hey, we’re all trying our best.” But I just thought it was… it did look like a scene from psycho.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And then, so, we’ve talked a little bit about how the seasons affect like the food choices that you put into it. Do you notice an increase in use depending on the seasons as well?
Michael Reinmiller, Representative of the Lincoln Little Free Pantries: When schools not in, they’re hit much more often because the public schools have before and after school and lunch programs that help those kids get food in their bellies.
And all of a sudden you go a week and a half, two weeks with no school and the cupboards get bare. And with the cost of food going up and gas going up? I mean, let’s face it. What has dropped in the last year and a half? You know. I mean, not a lot. So I know that, you know, moms and dads are working one and two jobs and rent’s going up, gas is going up. It’s overwhelming to a lot of our neighbors in our community.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Yeah. So you’re looking at summertime, extended breaks, thanksgiving break, winter break, that sort of thing.
Michael Reinmiller, Representative of the Lincoln Little Free Pantries: Yes.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And, of course… I mean, there are plenty of resources here locally that also are a great boon to those who are struggling. But I guess, I don’t know, are those resources available during the… in that holiday overlap for a lack of better terms?
Michael Reinmiller, Representative of the Lincoln Little Free Pantries: I think many of them are.
What I thought was always really cool about the Little Free Pantries here are they’re 24/7. So if you get off work at 10:30 at night and there’s a Little Free Pantry in your neighborhood, all of a sudden that means that the transportation headache isn’t in your… that curb isn’t in front of you. And the hours. That curb isn’t in front of you. So that it’s taking down some barriers that we’re keeping people from receiving food for their family.
I do not think in any, not even a fraction, that these pantries are a replacement for all of the services. I like to think that we’re a stopgap or a, “Oh my gosh, I’m out of food right now and I need food right now and it’s 6 on a Sunday night and my kids are hungry.”
So I think that’s what it is. We’re an addition to the services that Lincoln provides. And I think of that third shift position. [Be]cause years ago I used to work third shift and you got off at 6:30 in the morning and went straight to bed [be]cause you were tired [be]cause you worked all night. And so if you got up on a Saturday, on your day off, you know, you’d get up at 6 at night and everything’s closed. Or many things anyway. So everyone in our community deserves a full belly in my book.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Absolutely. And of course I mean, so obviously we know why you started it. We know when you started it and you’ve had an increase in use in the last couple of years because of the pandemic. And we are coming up obviously on a major holiday for the United States. So are you currently taking donations? Always taking donations?
Michael Reinmiller, Representative of the Lincoln Little Free Pantries: Yes, we are. We’re, our donation door is open 24/7, 365.
We have a map on our social media website. It’s Little Free Pantries LNK on Facebook. And that map has all the pantries that are throughout Lincoln’s neighborhoods. And you can donate anything to those.
I mean, I’ve even seen people donate gas cards which I thought was really cool. 10 bucks doesn’t buy a lot of gas, but when you gotta get to work and that’s all you got, you know, you try and, make ends meet.
We also have… you can also message us on Facebook. I know that we’ve had some local companies say “I’m interested in helping.” And, you know, like… I think UNMC – the Dentist College — donated I would guess a couple of hundred pounds of toothpaste and that was so cool too. We also have a little free pantry host page where all the hosts of pantries… so I say, “Hey, I just got a whole bunch of toothpaste. Who wants it?” And if I can deliver it, I can. And if I can’t, I say, “It’s the back of my truck at my house. Come pick it up and take what you want.” [Be]cause it’s, you know, it’s helping people.
So those kinds of donations make a huge impact [be]cause, you know, if they’re able to then have oral healthcare and that keeps the snowball from getting worse… because if you can’t afford a toothbrush and toothpaste and you’re just barely making ends meet, all of a sudden a year goes by and you got cavities and it’s… it just snowballs on you. So, that sounds very little. But those little things make huge impacts over time.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And, just to clarify for people who want to donate, do they have to tell you that they want to donate or can they just drop it off at locations?
Michael Reinmiller, Representative of the Lincoln Little Free Pantries: They can go right up to any of the pantries and load it up. And that’s what’s really been kind of cool is those interactions of I’m here to drop stuff – a loaf of bread – off and some toothpaste and some deodorant. And I have these homeless packs that’s like fingernail clippers, lip gloss – not lip gloss, the lip balm – those kinds of things that are needed. And, as you’re dropping it off, someone comes and takes it and they want to fist bump you and thank you so much [be]cause they… I mean, they’ll be in tears saying, “You are making an impact on my family.”
And it’s pretty empower[ing]. I mean it’s kind of; it makes you tear up. You’re helping someone in this community. I mean, often you write a check and it’s just gone. But when you see it making an impact to someone that you may even recognize, it’s pretty powerful.
Absolutely. And then, of course, you’ve mentioned your social media pages. So we’ll go ahead and link to that in today’s transcript. So if you are out there, listening this morning, and you want to check it out, look at their locations, then you can go ahead and head over to our transcript on [the] “KZUM News” archives and just click on that link as usual.
And of course, thank you so much for coming in today. We appreciate you sitting down to tell us more about the Little Free Pantries here in Lincoln, Michael. We enjoy learning about our local nonprofits.
Michael Reinmiller, Representative of the Lincoln Little Free Pantries: Well, thank you to you and KZUM especially. You guys are the glue that keeps this town together in so many ways. So I really appreciate it. Thank you so much.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Absolutely. Well thank you.
With Michael Reinmiller on his way out of the studio, we have one more guest this afternoon. Right now we have Steve Sheridan with us, representing the Center for People in Need. How you doing, Steve?
Steve Sheridan, Deputy Director for the Center for People in Need: Doing great, thank you.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Absolutely. Well, thank you for joining us this afternoon. I know it’s a little snowy outside and nobody enjoys doing anything on snowy afternoons, but we appreciate you taking the time out.
Steve Sheridan, Deputy Director for the Center for People in Need: Oh, thanks for having me.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Absolutely. So, I’m sure most of our listeners already know what the Center for People in Need is, but can we just do an overview of your history here in Lincoln so anyone who’s maybe new to the area can get a little more inform.
Steve Sheridan, Deputy Director for the Center for People in Need: Sure. Absolutely. I would say if you asked a room full of people who do know who we are, you would say, “what do you think we’re known for?”
And I think the majority of the people probably say, “well, I know they do food distribution and recently diaper distribution.” Which is very true. That’s kind of the heartbeat of kind of what we do. That’s something that’s really important. That’s something that we definitely will continue to do for the rest of our being.
What a lot of people don’t know is some of the other programs that we do have at the Center for People in need.
For example, we have our Opening Doors Reentry program upstairs, which is to help people who are getting ready to go back into the community. And so we’re able to help them with mock interviews and resumes and just kind of help preparing them for returning to out in an independent life. So we’re there to kind of support them and help them in any way we can.
We have our ELL classes. so we have a level one, two, and three. So kind of very basic, intermediate, and more advanced level to kind of help prepare those folks to find employment. And, again, we help with interviewing and resume building and things like that. [Be]cause a lot of ours, they’ve never done those kind of things before. And so a lot of ’em are looking to get jobs and help support their family.
We have some education programs. One through Southeast Community College is our P.O.P. program, which is People Obtaining Prosperity. That’s kind of a partnership with Southeast Community College where they can get 30 credit hours paid for. And then, if they meet the other requirements that go with it, they can actually walk away with a free associate’s degree in their field. So that’s something that we know; to keep and help people get out of poverty is through education.
So that’s a program that I think is… it’s one of my favorites just because of the impact that it has on people getting employment in a job that is more than just minimum wage. It helps provide for them families and to be able to get out of that poverty stricken area.
Edutech does a new program of ours. I’m not the expert in that but it’s in the IT field and we work with Google Docs. And, so, they can go in and get certified in these three or four different areas in the IT field. And these are good paying jobs. A lot of the employers consider these Google Docs like a bachelor’s. So, it’s relatively short-term training, about three to six months, that they can achieve these certificates. Our very first student that was going through there had two or three job offers before she even completed the course. So there’s a huge demand in the IT field. And, again, these are good… They may be entry level jobs, but these entry level jobs pay really well. And it’s a way for, again, for people to be able to find their path out of poverty. And so that’s something that we’re really excited in.
And, so, like I said, we have our food and our diaper distribution. We have our care room, which is gently used items that people can come in and shop once a month and get some of the things that they need: hygiene, household goods. We’ve had some coats and winter clothing and things like that, with the weather taking a turn for the worst. So we’re certainly looking for the community to any… any coats or warm weather clothing that they no longer could use. We certainly can use them.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: And, of course, one of the things that we’ve been talking about a lot is the way programs had to expand during Covid-19 and how Covid-19 has had a long lasting impact. I know you’ve mentioned that some of those programs are new. Are they a result of Covid-19 or were they just already planned expansions?
Steve Sheridan, Deputy Director for the Center for People in Need: No, they were planned. I mean, we see our footprint into the future as education. Again, we know there’s always gonna be people that need our emergency services and they’re gonna need those food, and they’re gonna need those diapers long term. But where… what we’re hoping to do is to kind of generate that pathway out of poverty and give them a way to kind of get out of that cycle. So, no, these are things that we’ve been looking and wanting to do in the future.
So we were able to get a grant and so that helped us get these Google Docs off and working and it’s been a great success. The students love it. And it’s just fun to kind of watch them kind of grow professionally in the IT field.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Yeah. So you said that you view the future as being stepping towards education. Do you already have plans for further expansion in that case?
Steve Sheridan, Deputy Director for the Center for People in Need: Well, right now we do. We’re in the middle of… for people who don’t know, there’s two agencies that are under our roof right now: voc rehab and us. They’re at the front of the building.
They’re going to vacate sometime probably early summer next year. And then we’re looking to remodel our area and kind of create a post-secondary look to it if all things go well, of course, and then kind of create that college atmosphere.
And so that’s, again, that’s what we really see ourself kind of hanging our hat on in the future, is to kind of help give that opportunity to people, to find that way to really help them and their families.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Sure. And voc rehab is moving. To a similar area? Or are they moving [out of town]?
Steve Sheridan, Deputy Director for the Center for People in Need: Yeah, they’re moving more of where other state agencies can all be combined together so it makes sense for them to kind of cohabitate. And then, so that’ll leave that side of the building vacant for us.
So, we’ll move up front. We’ll be more to that centerpiece and so more people… it’ll be easier for people to find us. There’s been many times people walk into voc rehab and go, “I’m supposed to meet with somebody from the Center for People in Need.” Well, that’s a different building, part of the building. So it’ll make it easier for people to find us.
And, again, it gives us that professional appeal. And I think that’s where we need to grow. And so people can find us and have that visual.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: For sure. So we’ve talked a lot about the different programs that you’ve been focusing on in the last couple of years, if not just the last year. But tell me, has Covid-19 made things harder in the last year for you? Or how has it affected your organization? I’ve talked about this with just about everyone else, so.
Steve Sheridan, Deputy Director for the Center for People in Need: Sure, absolutely. Yes. I would say certainly our food and diaper distribution… food in particular… when Covid-19 hit, we were doing food twice a week. Tuesdays and Fridays. And then we had four offsite locations that we would deliver food to and do a food distribution offsite.
Well, once Covid-19 hit, we moved our whole entire operation outdoors. And that was interesting cause that, you know, it was March. So, we were getting into spring. Which that wasn’t too bad. But we had a lot of rain and we had a lot of wind and we were just out in the elements. And then, of course, the winter hit and it was very daunting to say the least. It was very difficult conditions. We were able to get some money to get a tent to help us get out of the elements. And we were serving, oh, towards, I would say the holiday season 2020, we were up to about 2000 clients families a week. And so that was huge.
Now the difference is we didn’t require any kind of proof to being, you know, right now we serve 200% of the poverty level. And then we just decided that if you showed up you needed our services. We were gonna provide you with some food. And so we didn’t really take any kind of measures that way. We just wanted to make sure we got people through.
Now we’ve kind of gone back to verifying that, you know, we do serve that 200% of the poverty level. But our numbers have not gone down. As a matter of fact, they’ve gone up. We’re serving on average over 1800 families a week in our food distribution. And so that number just has gone up more than it’s stabilized. So we’re continuing to see those new numbers.
So, I know Covid-19 has to do with it. And then inflation and the cost of goods. And, you know, when gas prices were really high… and right now you can’t just go to the grocery store and just buy what you need for your families because the cost of of food is so outrageous right now. So we’re seeing a lot more families that maybe took a break from us, didn’t really need our services because I think they were just kind of getting by. And then, with all the inflation and cost of everything, we’re starting to see families that need us again. Which is great that we’re here to be able to support that. But it’s just unfortunate that they just, they’re no longer able to just kind of get by.
But, you know, we’re here and that’s what we do. And we’re gonna serve as many people as we can. But, you know, Covid-19 definitely has played a part in that. But so is, you know, the economy.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: So with that increase in services and your expansion of services, does that mean you’re looking at adding more individuals to your team?
Steve Sheridan, Deputy Director for the Center for People in Need: Actually, we’re pretty streamlined right now in our processes. We have about 32 employees and that’s… and which is great. We have great staff and just really good heart and hard workers. But we also utilize a lot of volunteers. So we couldn’t do what we do without the wonderful volunteers and the consistency of the volunteers that we have. So they play a major role, especially in our distributions.
And we have, you know, throughout the building doing different things too that help us. So it is at some point. Yes. We plan on growing. Especially as we get into more of our education field.
That is something we’ve recently received some ARPA money. And, with that, we got a grant to redo our kitchen, which is a warming kitchen we’re gonna turn into a commercial kitchen and do some teaching some food service.
So, for example, people will come through our food distribution and they’ll pick out something and… or they won’t pick it out because they don’t know how to serve it, how to cook it for… we kind of joke around; like spaghetti squash, you know. It’s like, well, what do you do with spaghetti squash? Well, so we decided that we’re going to teach people what to do a spaghetti squash or zucchini or different things that might not be indigenous to the lands of the people that we see. And so we’re gonna do some online teaching so people can understand different ways of preparing food and give out recipe cards and different things like that.
So, I think it’s a way for us to be able to teach people how to utilize the food that they get better and not to waste it, but yet be able to serve their family. So we’re really excited about that. We’re just in the very early stages of the design plans. So we’re working with some teams to help us get there. So we’re very excited.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Fantastic. And, of course, one last question here since I know we are running a little short on time. But you mentioned that you’ve gotten a couple grants, you’ve got some ARPA funding, but I’m assuming you take donations as well for anyone out there who’s listening?
Steve Sheridan, Deputy Director for the Center for People in Need: Absolutely. Yeah. Again, as all the nonprofits know, we really rely on our donors to help support us, keep our doors open, keep us operational so we can do the hard work, we can get out there and serve the people and help in any way that we possibly can. So that donors are terrific and we value them a great deal as well as our volunteers.
So if anybody’s looking to support us monetarily is awesome. Your time is awesome. Any acknowledgement, any groups that are interested in coming in and getting a tour to look at all the great things that we do, I’d be happy to take people around, show ’em what we do and, you know, talk more about our future.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: For sure. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. We appreciate you telling us about all of the wonderful things that the Center for People in need have been working on throughout 2022. I know it’s been a rough couple years with everything happening.
Steve Sheridan, Deputy Director for the Center for People in Need: Yeah, for sure.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: We’re glad to hear about all of the wonderful things that you’re doing.
Steve Sheridan, Deputy Director for the Center for People in Need: Thank you so much for having me.
Amantha Dickman, News Director: Before we head out, I’m going to ask one more time. If you haven’t already taken our Perceptions of the News Survey, please go take it. It doesn’t have to be right this very moment but it does need to be soon. We start recording our first-ever Media Literacy Series in January. And our panelists love addressing questions on air-on.
So please head over to our homepage at KZUM.org or our social media pages. We have several posts with both the QR code and the links to the survey. And, of course, know that I appreciate everyone who has participated. You all have been fantastic in sharing your thoughts and experiences with us. So, thank you very much for your openness.
As we are wrapping up for the day, I just want to remind everyone that we have a few more non-profits joining us to talk about the work they did in 2022. So please join us next Saturday at 11:00 a.m. In the meantime, happy holidays, everyone. Stay warm out there.
We are fast approaching the end of the hour, so here are your reminders for today:
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Speaking of our website, if you happen to miss a show, you can always head to the “KZUM News” tab where we archive all of our shows and include a transcript with links to that day’s content.
And, lastly, I just want to give a shout-out to Jack Rodenburg of the Rodenburg music experience. He put together all of the amazing original music that our news program uses. So, once again, thank you, Jack.
That wraps up our reminders for now. As you head out into the world, I hope you have a lovely day. Thank you for listening and we hope you’ll join us next time.
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