Rough hands, soft heart.
That might describe Sandra Schulkey who’s faced some tough times, but who’s also known the tender compassion of people at Care Corps Family Services and other area residents.
This Thanksgiving, the local woman is counting her blessings, which include help from the Fremont agency, the friendship of area residents, her family, and a cleaning job — even if it means her hands are a little rough.
Life today looks so much better than it did in July when Schulkey walked through the doors of Care Corps. The loss of loved ones that included the death of her son who was killed in 2000 had taken a toll.
“My mom passed away and I went into a tailspin about three years ago,” Schulkey said.
Schulkey was living in Omaha when one of her daughters asked her to move to Valley to be closer to her and another daughter and the grandchildren.
So she did.
But Schulkey said she made a mistake and lost her apartment. She sold her belongings. What she didn’t sell, she gave away and moved in with her oldest daughter, first, then her youngest.
Schulkey had heard about Care Corps so she called and talked to Corbin Burmester, a shelter staffer, now training to become a case manager.
Burmester explained the program, but said there was no room at that time.
He encouraged Schulkey to keep calling back.
She’d appreciate such support from Burmester, whose family had known their own tough times.
The young staffer was just 2 ½ years old when he and his parents were in a terrible car accident in January 1996. His dad, Jeff, who was in a medically induced coma for two weeks, was able to return to work that August. His mother, Dawn, who wasn’t expected to live, gradually came out of the coma with severe brain injuries.
Corbin had a broken arm and a shaken baby brain injury from the jolt. He would need to learn to walk again.
Years later, he was providing encouragement to Shulkey.
Schulkey remembers when a spot was open at Care Corps, but she couldn’t a ride.
She started crying while talking to Burmester.
“He calmed me down and he said it would be OK,” she remembered.
One morning, Burmester told her a room was available and a friend gave Schulkey a ride. Schulkey was told she could bring one bag, so she packed one as full as she could.
Schulkey still remembers the time and date — 2 p.m. July 8 — when she came to Care Corps.
“When I walked in, I was nervous and scared,” Schulkey said. “I’d heard horror stories about homeless shelters.”
A staffer processed paperwork with Schulkey, who then walked to her room.
“I almost started crying,” she said. “I thought, ‘I’m 54 and starting over again.’
“I’d never been homeless before. If my girlfriend had still been in the parking lot, I probably would have turned around and walked out.”
Staffer Aaron Bottorff reassured Schulkey, who returned to her room.
The next morning was a new day.
“I knew I was safe,” she said. “I knew I was warm and I had food and I knew I’d be OK.”
She remembers meeting Burmester in person.
“You made it,” he said. “You’ll be OK.”
“I started bawling,” Shulkey said. “I met the guy who helped me get here.”
She continued meeting people.
“Everybody was nice to me and then I met my wonderful case manager (Amanda Kimball),’” Schulkey said.
Schulkey, who said she was on disability years ago, was asked about that.
“Give me two weeks and if I can’t find a job, I’ll apply for Social Security Disability,” she said.
But she didn’t want to go on disability.
Schulkey said she’d worked as a medication aide and certified nursing assistant and got a job interview at a local nursing home.
She borrowed a bike from Care Corps and headed to the interview, but had a flat tire on the way and then learned she’d been given the wrong address. She rescheduled the appointment, but accidentally wrote down the wrong day.
Schulkey ended up getting a job at another nursing home and started working.
Then she got pneumonia. Care Corps staffers arranged rides for her to go to Urgent Care and a hospital emergency room.
She lost that job.
Schulkey thought she had another job, but that didn’t work out.
At the same time, Schulkey was able to work what’s called spot jobs. She cleans house for an older couple.
And all the while, she kept saving her money. She bought a car. In October, she rented a two-bedroom apartment.
Schulkey remembers when she met Burmester’s mother Dawn, who is in a wheelchair, and his grandmother, Micky. Dawn lives with Micky and Gary Burmester.
“You must be very proud of your son,” Schulkey told Dawn, who is unable to speak.
“Yes, we are,” Micky said.
Schulkey would start cleaning a rental property for Micky.
Micky and her family starting finding furniture for Schulkey’s apartment at auctions, who worked to pay them back.
As of this month, Schulkey has a furnished apartment. She eventually hopes to apply for a job at Care Corps, either to go to work there or volunteer, “to give back something they gave me.”
Schulkey said she loves her daughters and, looking back, appreciates their tough love.
She appreciates Care Corps, too.
“Even when you had the worst day, I had everybody backing me up and saying, ‘You can do this.’”
Schulkey said the agency helped her get medicine when she didn’t have the money for it. She was able to talk to a counselor if she needed one.
“I did what they told me to do and as long as you work the program and don’t drink and don’t do drugs, then it works,” she said.
Schulkey said Care Corps does have clients do chores, but works those in around the individuals’ work schedules.
On Monday, Schulkey reflected on the last few months, amazed by how her life has changed. She didn’t have to go on disability and said she’s made some wonderful friends.
She calls Corbin Burmester her “angel” and Micky her “saint.” Of Dawn, Schulkey said: “She makes you smile every time you see her.”
And as Schulkey talks about the Burmesters, you forget those rough hands.
All you see is the soft heart.
Shawn Shanahan is grateful for agencies — like Care Corps Family Services — along with businesses and individuals who work to help others.
Shanahan is executive director of Fremont Area United Way.
“United Way is the fundraising, fiscal backbone and lead collaborator for our community non-profits, partnerships and successful outcomes,” she said. “We’re working together with our 10 non-profit partners to create and develop change in our community to improve lives by fighting for health, education and financial stability for every person.”
The 10 agency partners are: Lutheran Family Services; Habitat for Humanity; The Bridge; Fremont Family YMCA; Low Income Ministry of Dodge County; The Hope Center for Kids-Fremont; Dodge County Head Start; Jefferson House; Care Corps Family Services; and Joseph’s Coat.
This Thanksgiving, Shanahan appreciates the blessings available to people throughout the area.
“The Fremont Area United Way, as well as businesses, non-profits and community members, are blessed to reside in such a giving community — giving of time, talents and treasures to create lasting change in the community in which we all like to live, work and play,” Shanahan said.
She cites other blessings.
“We are blessed with great community partners that are working along with us in providing a hand up instead of a hand out and working collaboratively to address the underlying issues and the need to create lasting change,” Shanahan said.
Shanahan said the 10 non-profits are doing great work and hopes area residents will ponder something during the holidays.
“I want us to take time to reflect on how our community would look different if we didn’t have donors supporting change and wanting to fund the impact and provide the hand up,” she said.
If that were the case, some children wouldn’t be academically, socially and emotionally ready for school. Some kids wouldn’t have a safe place to go after school. Funds wouldn’t be available to meet the immediate needs of food, shelter and clothing.
There wouldn’t be the opportunity for people to learn about money management. With that thought, Shanahan points to Lutheran Family Services which provides the “Getting Ahead in a Getting by World” coursework. Such education can help people move out of poverty.
Shanahan said United Way is thankful for Care Corps for providing more than shelter.
“Care Corps provides life skills classes, parenting classes, helps with employment connections, case management, and provides a shelter where families can stay together and reach success,” she said, adding, “They are providing the tools and resources needed to prevent re-entry into homelessness or continued homelessness.”
Shanahan notes that many shelters in Nebraska aren’t family centered or family driven.
“Families are separated while entering some shelters in Nebraska,” she said. “We’re blessed that the homeless families in our community get to remain in one room as a family during this traumatic time in their lives.”
The Fremont Health Medical Center Board of Trustees, with the help from outside consultants, has been in the process of exploring strategic partnerships with various health systems; and has found considerable interest from local, regional and national systems, Fremont Health President and CEO Pat Booth said.
“At the heart of this exploration is our unwavering commitment to have the very best possible healthcare available right here in our community,” Booth said. “And because of our operational and financial strength, it seemed like the optimal time to pursue a potential partnership with a health system.”
Booth said that earlier this year, Fremont Health completed a comprehensive update to the organization’s strategic plan; while also modeling various financial projections looking five and 10 years into the future, under various competitive and reimbursement scenarios. Booth said that by almost any measure, Fremont Health is a strong and successful organization.
“At the same time, the assessment identified several challenging trends facing the healthcare industry and, more specifically, how they will impact Fremont and the surrounding area in the future,” Booth said. “This process also highlighted the uniqueness of our organization – a small and independent health system, serving a largely rural community with little population growth, and just 30 minutes away from an increasingly competitive metro marketplace.”
Partnerships are already benefitting Fremont Health and its clientele, Booth said.
“Several years ago, Fremont Health began making a concerted effort to affiliate and collaborate with a wide variety of organizations – hospitals, clinics, and health networks,” he said. “Most of these partnerships revolve around clinical programs, and all of them are designed to bring outstanding physicians and services to Fremont that might not be here otherwise. We also participate in a regional Accountable Care Organization and provider networks that help prepare us for the changing care models of the future. It has become clear these relationships will be even more essential as we move forward.”
Booth added that the Board of Trustees and Senior Leadership team are all focused on ensuring that the organization’s mission of “improving health” for people in the community is preserved and strengthened through any potential partnership.
“While it’s still too early to determine what, if any, action the Fremont Health Board might take, we are encouraged by the level of interest shown,” Booth said. “As a hospital chartered by Dodge County, if Fremont Health were to join another health system the Board of Supervisors would need to approve this action. We anticipate knowing the next steps early in 2018.”
The summer of 1919 was one of the darkest times in Omaha’s history.
The lynching of Will Brown, burning of the Douglas County Courthouse, and subsequent race riots still live on as some of the most disturbing events to ever take place in the city.
For author Theodore Wheeler, the infamous time period in Omaha history acts as the backdrop for his debut novel “Kings of Broken Things,” which follows three young outsiders adrift in the city at a time of unprecedented nationalism, xenophobia, and political corruption.
“In April of 1917 is when the U.S. declared war on Germany and entered into World War I and then in September of 1919 was the Omaha race riots and the lynching of Will Brown,” Wheeler said in a phone interview with the Tribune. “When I moved to Omaha 12 years ago I just learned about the history of the city and obviously the race riot of 1919 was a really big part of that and kind of the most spectacular and infamous point in Omaha’s history. So I think I was drawn into that and why it happened and all the different events around it.”
Wheeler will be holding a book signing and presentation for his novel “Kings of Broken Things” at Keene Memorial Library on Sunday, December 3rd from 2-3:30 p.m. The book was published by Little A and released in August.
The story centers around three individuals Karel Miihlstein, Jake Strauss, and Evie Chambers who all become inexorably entagneld with the schemes of a ruthless political boss whose will to power knows no bounds.
Miihlstein is an adolescent immigrant boy from Austria after his family was displaced during the war on the Eastern Front, who discovers he has an unknown talent for America’s favorite pastime.
“Karl discovers that he has a great natural talent for baseball after he moves here, which he had never played before coming to America,” Wheeler said.
Strauss finds his way to Omaha looking for a second chance after committing a violent crime, but soon finds himself right back in his previous ways.
“Strauss is a second generation German immigrant who comes to Omaha after he nearly beats a boy to death in his hometown,” Wheeler said. “He is kind of fleeing from that and ends up with the criminal elements of Omaha at the time based off of his talent for violence basically.”
Chambers is a kept woman trying to make ends meet and looking every which way to escape her cheerless existence.
“Evie Chambers is a kept woman who Jake kind of falls in love with and she is connected to different characters in other ways as the novel plays out,” Wheeler said. “You kind of see her emerging as the novel goes on, getting more control of her own life.”
The novel also includes fictionalized representations of real life Omahan’s such as Tom Dennison, who was a political boss and racketeer during the time, and Josie Washburn who was a prostitute and madam in Omaha who became a reformer later on in life.
Along with including actual historical figures in the novel, Wheeler will also present a variety of photographs from the time period at the signing event at Keene.
“I think especially with Omaha, which has one of the worst records nationally, of preserving historical buildings and tearing down historical districts like Jobbers Canyon which is the largest destruction of a historical site in U.S. history, you can’t walk by these buildings anymore so it is helpful,” Wheeler said. “And for older people who may remember those buildings it is cool for them to be able to see them again and place them and remember a little bit about it.”
The signing event will feature a 20 minute reading of “Kings of Broken Things” by Wheeler along with the photo slide show and a Q&A session following his presentation.
Wheeler is a reporter who covers civil law and politics in Omaha, where he lives with his wife and their two daughters. His fiction has been featured in Best New American Voices, New Stories from the Midwest, the Southern Review, the Kenyon Review, and Boulevard and received special mention in a Pushcart Prize anthology.
A graduate of the MFA program at Creighton University, Wheeler was a fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany; a resident of the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska City; and a winner of the Marianne Russo Award from the Key West Literary Seminar. He is the author of Bad Faith, a collection of short fiction.