Executive Director Joe Higgs and Project Intern Greta Carlson spoke as part of the Sustainability Leadership Presentation Series (SLPS) at Metro Community College about how to use organizing for environmental sustainability. Over 100 faculty, staff, and students watched the webinar in universities across the state of Nebraska. The presentation taught about how leaders can use the cycle of organizing and organizing practices to organize their communities and enhance their sustainability efforts by growing power through their community. Joe Higgs used the example of how IPL trained OTOC leaders formed their environmental Sustainability Action Team to work on local environmental issues in Omaha. OTOC leaders first kept hearing that people were concerned about environmental issues after a great flood in 2011. Then, at an issues conference, enough people were interested and willing to take leadership, that an action team has formed and is now working on issues like the city’s new waste contract and potential ban on plastic bags. These issues use power to talk to and influence city council members as they create policies that affect the environmental sustainability of Omaha.
To view IPL’s presentation online, follow this link.
To learn more about Metro’s SLPS program, follow this link.
Nearly 40 people attended a discussion at Urban Abbey, focused on the problems of substandard rental units and what can be done about them. IPL trained leaders on OTOC’s Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization Team sponsored the event and attendees included landlords, renters and interested citizens.
His talk was followed by guest speaker Gary Fischer–Family Housing Advisory Services Legal Counsel. He gave an in-depth report about both substandard rental housing and evictions. His presentation included handouts of maps showing eviction notices throughout the city. He said two traits correlated to eviction notices: poverty and locations which are highly populated by African Americans.
Mr. Fischer said Council Bluffs enacted a landlord registration and inspection ordinance after there had been five children who died in fires in substandard housing units. Fees from that plan pay for inspections. Omaha faces resistance of landlord registration and inspection because reliable landlords do not want additional costs/burdens when they are being responsible. He noted that additional problems come from substandard housing units that have lead and dander, both adding to health problems, especially for youth. Other youth agencies are working to address this.
Mr. Fischer talked of how evictions affect school children and distributed maps and data showing which schools are most impacted. Karen McElroy, who had visited Liberty elementary along with Joe Higgs, told how that school makes a great effort to work with families who are impacted by evictions.
Mr. Fischer was followed by Terri Mahoney, a member of the Housing team, who gave a brief history of her lifelong experience as a renter and of the problems and uncertainty she has faced.
Intern Greta Carlson shared information about a program she and OTOC have developed to educate refugees and immigrants about tenants’ rights and responsibilities. It has been presented numerous times and in multiple languages.
People broke into small groups to discuss problems and possible solutions. Gloria Austerberry then brought everyone together to listen to results of the talks and hear possible solutions Attendees had the opportunity to become more involved through a variety of options listed on a signup sheet.
If you are interested in getting more involved with substandard rental housing issues in Omaha, email Charlie Gould at email@example.com
IPL Executive Director Joe Higgs and other leaders are teaching about leader development in congregations this spring. The trainings revolve around the importance of including justice in our institutional missions, developing leadership in our institutions, and tools for creating relationships that lead to leadership development. The trainings reached 193 leaders throughout the four-part series, with 78 different people attending several of the four sessions, including those who were new to organizing and those who are experienced, from over sixteen different congregations, including members from some new congregations we are starting to work with. Trainings were held in different locations throughout the city to allow many parts of the city to be involved.
Session 2 about developing leaders at St. Benedict the Moor
Urban Abbey hosted three different Issue Cafes in the Month of February for leaders and community members learn more about relevant issues happening in Omaha.
Michael O’Hara from the Sierra Club (pictured left) spoke about the logistics of the city’s upcoming solid waste policy. Why do we need to care about the trash system? 1. It really affects the environment- methane outputs from landfills, trash trucks driving around, etc. 2. How many trash bins fit in your garage- we would like choices about what size and how many bins each household needs. The OTOC Environmental Sustainability Action Team urges citizens to contact their city council members to ask for community involvement in the planning process and for the council to be engaged and aware when reviewing and choosing a proposal. For talking points about how to contact your city council members, click here
Julie Kalkowski (pictured above) also came and presented about the importance of financial independence- and how that can actually affect your health. Julie has developed a Financial Hope program that is helps single mothers to become financially independent. Julie is currently recruiting 400 single mothers to join her program as part of a study about the effects of financial independence on health. Through Julie’s experience and expertise on financial independence she also encouraged the Predatory Lending Action Team to keep working to get limitations put on predatory pay day lending. Julie sees the affects of these debt cycles in her anti-poverty work. Want more information about Julie’s program, click here. To learn more about Pay Day Lending regulation, click here.
Jo Giles, Policy and Training Director for Strong Nebraska (pictured right), was OTOC’s guest speaker at the March 27 meeting of the Urban Abbey Series. The Coalition for a Strong Nebraska is a coalition of 85 non-profits who are committed to ending poverty through public policy engagement.
Ms. Giles biggest message was that non-profits can lobby. While the coalition does not lobby itself, it will train people in lobbying skills.
The discussion then turned to an overview of some bills being considered currently in the Unicameral in the areas of Property tax, Healthcare, Education and Civic Engagement. Ms. Giles noted that a big factor influencing the passing of a bill is the ability of the state to pay for it. As of Tuesday, Nebraska is experiencing a $200M budget shortfall.
Those bills that have a priority designation have the best chance of getting out to the floor. Sen. Vargas’s LB194 about Pay Day Lending has been named his priority bill, but has still not left the Banking Committee. We will have to wait and see if it will make it to the open floor.
For additional information on learning how to lobby, receiving a weekly update on legislation, or finding a tutorial on using the legislative website, look here.
The Institute of Public Leadership (IPL) wants to make it clear how grateful we are to you, our supporters. Your contributions of time and money are making a difference, and we would like to show you specific examples of how this is true. Here is a list of people who our donors have invested in this year:
IPL Board Member Allison Latenser shares about the meaning of IPL in her life: ““The training I have received from IPL has enabled me to form a connection with different kinds of people from all over Omaha. Together we have discussed our concerns and our hopes for this city. We have identified possible action steps and informed ourselves through research. We have worked hard on our presentations and have approached our elected officials as a team to ask for their support in making positive change for the community.”
Your generous donations and a grant from the Omaha Community Foundation have made possible a new IPL project to teach refugees about their rights and responsibilities as tenants. Our goal is to teach refugees who are renters how to address housing issues so they have decent, safe homes and good relationships with their landlords. Understanding your rights so you can better stand up for them is part of the education philosophy of IPL and what we are teaching leaders to do.
IPL has hired three bilingual interpreters who were refugees and who have been in Omaha for several years as leaders. Our interpreters are Lah Wah who speaks Karen, Netra Gerung who speaks Nepali, Gilbertine Niyonzima who speaks Swahili and Kirundi. They give presentations to refugee communities in schools, churches, and resettlement agencies. One of the three, Gilbertine Niyonzima, shares her thanks for this program: “I am thankful to IPL for funding this education program for new refugees in the US, which teaches tenant and landlord responsibilities in a language he/she understands. I am privileged to help them understand things I was so confused about a couple of years ago. I am glad this program allows me to help my community and get paid to do it.”
This year IPL has had many interns thanks to your support. Over the summer, three students from Creighton worked with OTOC action teams and Executive Director Joe Higgs to learn about organizing and researching issues. We also had an intern from University of Nebraska Law School who helped develop the Refugee Rental Rights and Responsibility trainings. They all did amazing work and we hope to continue working with students in the future.
Our newest intern is Greta Carlson who is a part of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, a service corps organization that places young people in organizations throughout the country. She will be a part of IPL for an entire year and is working full time with us. She arrived in August from Texas and has been involved in Refugee Trainings, IPL leadership, OTOC Action Teams, communications, meeting people and building relationships, and learning how to handle the cold. Here’s a small snippet of why Greta is thankful for IPL:
“I am so thankful to IPL for giving me a job! But this is a lot more than just a job for me. I’ve truly enjoyed building powerful relationships, learning about the method of social change that IPL teaches and OTOC uses, and practicing skills I can use for the rest of my life no matter what I am doing. This whole year is like a training session for my life!”
Your support enables IPL to invest in many training opportunities for community leaders. We are part of several nonprofit coalitions which help us be more effective in our leadership and policy development work.
You help us send leaders each year to national training programs for community organizing through the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) and Interfaith Education Fund, our own national network of community organizations. These week-long workshops allow emerging leaders to meet leaders from all over the US and learn the concepts and best practices of community organizing.
All of these training opportunities lead to personal growth for the individuals who attend and better equip our organization with the skills we need to have a real impact on the common good in Omaha. Here is a message from Charles Gould who is on the OTOC Housing Revitalization Action Team, OTOC Leadership Team, and attended an IAF National Training earlier this year:
“Thank you for the opportunity to learn more about organizing. I got to go to a national training this year where I learned the value of sharing the principles of organizing. I’m glad to be a part of an organization that is building community in a meaningful way by teaching those leadership skills.”
The Institute for Public Leadership gives leaders the tools they need to gain power and have a voice. This year, San Andres Lutheran Church, a Spanish-speaking church in South Omaha, became a dues paying member of OTOC.
Many members of the church are originally from El Salvador and have Temporary Protected Status (TPS), an immigration status given to Salvadorans living in the US in 2001 after an earthquake made it unsafe to return. Many of the 250,000 Salvadorans with TPS in the US have made their home in Omaha for the past 17 years. Now, the current administration may be ending TPS for people from El Salvador.
IPL trained leaders have been getting to know these new Leaders and are helping them share their stories through newspaper articles, community meetings and dinners so that they can grow the number of their allies fighting for their right to stay in the country. IPL is helping this group learn to better organize and have a collective voice. Pastor Sergio Amaya of San Andres Lutheran shares his thanks for the support and training:
“I am grateful that IPL and OTOC are helping Omaha get to know our Salvadoran TPS community. We have begun building relationships that will make our community stronger and a better place for us all. Our Salvadoran families are hard working, and most own their homes and have children who are citizens. We need your help to be able to continue to make Omaha our home.”
After being approached in 2016 by agencies who work with Omaha refugees, IPL has a new refugee training program that is educating refugees about their rental responsibilities and rights. The trainings are geared towards reducing the number of rental housing issues refugees are having. Through research done by OTOC intern Shannon Sein this summer, a curriculum has been developed to help refugees understand what a healthy rental agreement should look like, both in what they are expected to do as tenants and what their landlord is supposed to do. They talk about the importance of paying rent on time and what a security deposit is for, as well as tips on how to get it back at the end of your lease. Refugees can be taken advantage of if they do not what to expect and what their rights are, and we want to equip refugee communities to know how to handle these issues. Several trainings were done over the summer and will continue.
On August 15 and 16th, OTOC leaders Mark Hoeger and Karen McElroy and IPL Executive Director Joe Higgs joined community leaders from across the United States in Houston, Texas to discuss how to work across race and class lines in these polarized times. Karen, Mark and all of the eighty leaders and organizers present in Houston were part of organizations affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundations, the largest and oldest community organizing network in the United States.
The leaders met with Dr. Glenn Loury, Professor of Social Sciences and Economics at Brown University, and author of Race, Incarceration and American Values. Dr Loury is a leading scholar in the fields of economics, politics and social structures affecting African American communities in the US. Loury’s work documents the changing face of racism, from the end of Jim Crow laws, to the more recent impact of mass incarceration of people of color.
The meetings took place in the days immediately following the troubling events in Charlottesville and Loury emphasized that relying on identity politics is not going to result in meaningful change. Rather, he encouraged the leaders and organizers present to keep doing the patient work of organizing to build relationships across lines of race, class and culture in order to develop strong coalitions of people who will seek the common good of their community, not just narrow special interests.
Mark Hoeger notes that “it made me appreciate anew the importance of what we at OTOC/IPL in Omaha and all the IAF affiliate organizations across the country are doing” in regards to having structural organized efforts to equality through the democratic system.
To Karen McElroy, the experience was a way to explore what other organizations are doing and how OTOC can improve housing inequality, early voting, and post incarceration programs. On the days immediately after the racial violence in Charlottesville, we came away renewed in our commitment to the careful, patient work of building relationships.
Tom and Margaret Hoarty opened their gracious Country Club home for IPL’s annual fundraiser held in conjunction with Omaha Gives!, the 24-hour community giving day.
Over 100 people dropped by for food, drink and conversation with others who are working to make Omaha a more just community. Refugee cooks prepared great food, many contributed their favorite bottle of wine and there many fun people to meet.
IPL and OTOC leaders worked together to make this day a great success for IPL.
199 people gave online through Omaha Gives and another 20 gave by check
Of the 193 medium sized organizations, IPL ranked in the top 4% for the total number of donors
And IPL ranked in top 3% for the total amount raised by medium sized organizations
You gave over $31,000 to support our critical work training emerging leaders in our community—Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!!
In one of the most exciting parts of the evening, IPL once again won a First Place participation award of $3,000. The award went to the medium sized organization with the greatest number of contributions during the last 8 hours.
IPL is working with leaders of Omaha Together One Community (OTOC), the Women’s Fund, Nebraska Appleseed, Voices for Children and others to educate members of the public and the Unicameral about the impact that Pay Day Lending has on working families.
Pay Day Lenders are currently allowed to charge interest and fees reaching 461% APR in Nebraska, one of the highest in the country. For instance, if you went to a Pay Day Lender to borrow $300 to fix your car or purchase medicine, it would cost you $530 in interest and fees to borrow that $300 for just 5 months.
Some Nebraskans have paid as much as $10,000 in fees for a $500 loan which they were not able to pay back over several years. Borrowers must pay back all of the principal, interest and fees in two weeks or renew the loan and pay only the interest–no partial payments of principal are allowed. This is a trap for desperate families who have no other options.
IPL helped OTOC and community leaders learn about LB 194 sponsored by Senators Vargas and Linehan that would have reduced the allowable fees so that borrows could actually pay of the loan instead of becoming caught in an endless debt trap. LB 194 is currently caught in the Banking Committee and will not receive a vote this year at the Unicameral. IPL and our partners will continue to educate around this issue.