The Joy of Giving Sets Omaha’s Child Saving Institute on Solid Ground for the Future
Omaha is known as an unusually philanthropic community and the following story for Metro Magazine (www.spiritofomaha.com) charts how a venerable childcare institution found support for a badly needed new building from a circle of dedicated divers and why these well-heeled individuals contributed to the project. The result is that the drab, old and cramped institutional-looking structure was remade into a gleaming, new and expansive showcase. What a difference a few million dollars can make.
The new, redesigned Child Saving Institute
The Joy of Giving Sets Omaha‘s Child Saving Institute on Solid Ground for the Future
©by Leo Adam Biga
Originally published in Metro Magazine (www.spiritofomaha.com)
The Child Saving Institute has a brand spanking new home for its mission of “responding to the cry of a child.” CSI dedicated the new digs at 4545 Dodge St. in March, turning the next chapter in the organization’s 106-year history. The social service agency addresses the needs of at-risk children, youth and families.
The project was made possible by donors who saw the need for a larger, more dynamic, more kidscentric space that better reflected the organization’s expanded services and more comfortably accommodated staff and clients. A $10.7 million campaign secured funds for a complete makeover of the old building, which was stripped to its steel beams, redesigned and enlarged. An endowment was created.
The goal was soon surpassed and by the time the three-year campaign concluded, $12.2 million was raised.
Upon inheriting the former Safeway offices site in 1982 CSI officials knew it was a poor fit for the child care, emergency shelter and adoption programs then constituting the nonprofit’s services. The mostly windowless building was a drab, dreary bunker, its utilitarian interiors devoid of color, light, whimsy, fun.
The two-story structure was sound but lacked such basic amenities as an elevator. The day care and early childhood education classrooms lacked their own restrooms. Limited space forced staff to share offices. Inadequate conference rooms made it difficult for the board of directors and the guild to meet.
The drab, old Child Saving Institute
There were not enough dedicated facilities for counseling/therapeutic sessions. As CSI’s services have broadened to address youth, parenting and family issues, with an emphasis on preventive and early interventive help, more clients come through the doors.
Additionally, the organization’s outdoor playground was cramped and outmoded. Limited parking inconvenienced staff and clients alike.
“We were dissatisfied with the building,” CEO Judy Kay said. “It had at least been 10 years prior even to the decision to build that we knew we needed a different space.” She said CSI once explored new building options but “gave up, because, honestly, we all became so frustrated and we didn’t have the funds to do it.”
Enter philanthropists Dick and Mary Holland. The late Mary Holland was a CSI board member with a passion for the agency and its mission. At his wife’s urging Dick Holland toured the place Mary spoke so glowingly about. Two things happened. His big heart ached when he saw the children craving affection and his bad knees screamed from all the stairs he had to climb.
Holland pestered CSI to install an elevator. One day he and Mary summoned then-CEO Donna Tubach Davis and development director Wanda Gottschalk to a special meeting. “And at that meeting he said, ‘Ladies, it’s time to have an elevator. We’re going to get started on this project,’ and he handed us a very large check. It was for just under $3 million,” Gottschalk recalled.
He wasn’t done giving. After Mary passed CSI remembered her at a board luncheon. Upon accepting a plaque in her memory daughter Amy surprised CSI with a million dollar check from her father.
“I don’t think anybody in the city could hear anything more meaningful to them then to have Dick Holland say I will help you,” said Gottschalk.
Mary and Dick Holland
The CSI campus is named after Mary Holland. Dick didn’t want his name anywhere but conceded to the elevator being dubbed, “Dick’s Lift.” RDG Schutte Wilscam Birge’s redesign more than doubled the square footage, opened up the interior to create bright, spacious work areas, added multiple meeting rooms and provided vibrant colors and active play centers. The large lobby is awash in art and light.
CSI can now serve twice the number of children in its day care.
The Hollands’ generous donations launched the building-endowment campaign. A committee of past board presidents set about raising the remaining funds.
“We were very blessed with their help.” Gottschalk said. “These past board presidents obviously also had invested a lot in CSI and cared very deeply about it.”
She said donors become “total advocates” and ambassadors for CSI. As a result, she said, “we were able to raise the $12.2 million with about 30 people.” None of it may have happened, she said, had Holland not taken the trouble to see for himself why his wife was so moved.
“Mary had become an important participant and she got me interested in it,” he said. “Together we began to do whatever we could for the Child Saving Institute. It just became one of the loves of our life. It was a pleasure to work with them and we got all kinds of things done. We saw opportunities to do more things, bigger things, and in a decent environment.”
“He was truly then invested in child saving and what we do here,” Gottschalk said. “The passion that he has for kids just keeps coming through.”
The Hollands’ enthusiasm won over others.
“We got some of our friends interested in it,” he said.
Such links can pay big dividends.
“I think it’s always about the relationships,” Gottschalk said. “It’s a one-on-one relationship. It can be with any one of us on staff. A lot of times those relationships are through board members.”
CSI was delighted when Holland offered to loosen some well-heeled friends’ purse strings. Gottschalk accompanied him. “He’s very powerful. It’s very hard to say no to Dick,” she said. Sometimes the Hollands worked on their own.
“One of the donors asked to meet with just Dick and Mary,” she said. “They walked out of this gentleman’s house with a million dollar check.”
One friend the Hollands turned onto CSI was the late Tom Keogh. The retired architect volunteered there nurturing babies.
“He rocked, he cuddled, he wiped noses. He’d eat with the kids. He was phenomenal,” said CSI Developmental Child Care Director Kathleen Feller.
“It made Tom’s retirement very meaningful,” his wife Rae said.
When a weak immune system dictated Tom avoid the child care area he helped in other ways — filing, stuffing envelopes and serving on the board of directors.
“He also brought with him his architect’s mind,” said Kay, noting that Keogh shared with staff a book he read that urged connecting children to the outdoors. His enthusiasm set in motion a nature playground.
“Tom was very instrumental in helping develop that,” Kay said. “He worked with a young man he had mentored who helped design it.”
The playground became his sweet challenge.
“He solicited in-kind donations from nurseries, irrigation companies sod companies, stone companies,” Rae said.
He didn’t stop there. “Tom went out and raised a lot of money and contributed himself,” Gottschalk said.
Rae said her husband rarely approached others to support his causes but in the case of CSI he did. “It had to be something that he was truly interested in before he would ask anybody else to contribute,” she said.
That same passion got Rae involved, too. Since Tom’s death she’s continued the family’s support.
She said before donating to an organization it’s vital “you get to know what their beliefs are and how they handle things. There’s no replacement for that personal contact.” CSI won the Keoghs over. “We got to know the staff and the operation,” she said. “We were very impressed by how they treated the children. They’re very careful with the care they give. It’s a very warm environment.”
For her, as it was for Tom, giving’s return on investment is priceless: “It’s very simple,” she said, “I think you gain more than you give. The personal joy I receive in giving is important to me.”
Former CSI board member Charles Heider, who contributed to the building-endowment, was long ago sold on the agency. “I saw the mission and how they were carrying out their good work,” he said. “I was impressed by their good management. It’s a very good organization.” When the building campaign got underway he didn’t hesitate.
“I was quick to respond when they asked if I wanted to be involved financially.”
It’s gratifying for him to see CSI realize its building and endowment goals.
“The satisfaction is that they are obviously moving forward. If they weren’t they wouldn’t have the new building,” he said. “The enthusiasm they have with this new facility is very evident. They built a very attractive building.”
Heider said behind the gleaming facade is a track record of substance and service.
“Buildings by themselves don’t satisfy the mission,” he said. “CSI has a marvelous record of assisting young people. My wife and I have enjoyed giving to it.”
The Paul and Oscar Giger Foundation that Janet Acker and her two siblings administer has long supported CSI.
“We’re just a little foundation,” Acker said. “We can’t support everything. We have to pick and choose and do little projects. We fund a lot of programs that affect kids and music. We’ve given pianos away all over Omaha.”
For CSI’s nature playground the foundation donated an outdoor xylophone in memory of Acker’s late aunt, Ruth Musil Giger. The instrument belonged to Giger, who was a piano/organ instructor. “This was a real match with Aunt Ruth’s interests in music,” Acker said.
Previously the foundation supported CSI’s emergency respite center and adoption program. While the foundation’s support can’t compare to the mega gifts of others, Acker said, “You need a lot of little donors to pull off a big project.”
Gottschalk said CSI depends on contributions from “our bread and butter donors” to help fund daily operations. Donors who give a few hundred dollars or even at the $25 or $10 levels are vital, she said, as major funds are often restricted for certain uses. If CSI’s to remain sustainable, she said, a safety net must secure donations of all sizes, from diverse funding streams, year-round.
Everyone has their own reason for giving. What’s the joy of giving for Dick Holland? “Results,” he said. In CSI he sees an organization helping undo the damage some children suffer and an agency needing a new space to further its mission. “We were in a position to put up enough funds to make some of the ideas a reality,” he said. “It’s always great to have ideas but somehow or other somebody has to pay, and pay big, in order to get something done.”
He said he makes his donations public because “I’ve learned I actually influence a few people. I’m sure if somebody hears I’m into a thing big they say, ‘Well, he’s not just playing around.’ I hope it’s true.”
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Author-journalist-blogger Leo Adam Biga resides in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. He writes newspaper-magazine stories about people, their passions, and their magnificent obsessions. He's the author of the books "Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film – A Reporter's Perspective 1998-2012," a compilation of his journalism about the acclaimed filmmaker, and "Open Wide" a biograpy of Mark Manhart. Biga co-edited "Memories of the Jewish Midwest: Mom and Pop Grocery Stores." His popular blog, leoadambiga.wordpress.com, is an online gallery of his work.
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