Good Samaritan Announces 2019 Healthy Community Award Winners
June 21, 2019
The tenth annual Healthy Community Awards, sponsored by CHI Health Good Samaritan of Kearney, Nebr., recognizes contributions of those who, through their leadership, education and assistance, make Central Nebraska a healthy place to live. Continuous volunteer efforts throughout the Kearney community and Buffalo County are necessary to encourage healthy living among residents and provide a higher quality of life. The Healthy Community Awards program provides a unique opportunity to celebrate those achievements.
A community advisory group selects winners, based on their contributions, in six categories from nomination received each year.
This 2019 CHI Health Good Samaritan Health Community Award winners are:
Advocacy - Susan Bigg
Prevention - McKenna’s Rae of Hope Foundation
Recreation - Jennifer Behlmann
Education - Lynn Goodell
Partnership - Kearney Animal Assisted Therapy
Leadership - Denise Zwiener
About the Healthy Community Awards - The Healthy Community Awards recognize area residents and organizations for their work in developing programs that make Central Nebraska a healthier place to live. An advisory committee oversees the Healthy Community program. The program is presented by CHI Health Good Samaritan. This is the ninth year for the awards program..
Denise Zwiener receives 2019 Healthy Community Award for Leadership
In the early 1990s, Denise Zwiener was just out of college and working for the Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce. At the encouragement of Dr. Bob Rosenlof, Zwiener served as the KACC representative for a new group formed to focus on the health of the community. She said, at first, it was difficult to understand how this group could help businesses, but she soon fell in love with the work and could see it was making a difference in the community.
The timing was right in 1999 for Zwiener to make the switch from serving as a committee member to becoming the first full-time employee for the Buffalo County Community Health Partners, now Buffalo County Community Partners. The organization was one of the first projects of its kind in Nebraska, with a mission to assess, promote and strengthen the health of Buffalo County.
Under Zwiener’s leadership, BCCP has grown from 1.5 employees in 1999, to 12 employees today. She’ll be quick to tell you the staff don’t do it alone. This past year, more than 4,000 volunteers donated 104,120 hours of their time to the projects implemented by BCCP.
For her efforts with BCCP, Denise Zwiener has been selected to receive the 2019 Healthy Community Leadership award sponsored by CHI Health Good Samaritan. The Leadership Award is presented to the group or individual who has shown outstanding leadership in the community by preventing, promoting or protecting health issues.
Some of those issues include decreasing binge drinking of alcohol in teenagers by 60 percent since 2000, and being one of the first communities in Nebraska and the nation to bend the trend of obesity downward in Buffalo County residents.
“The work we do every day wouldn’t be possible without the assistance we received, especially from Good Samaritan, whose leadership was essential in helping with funding and policy creation,” Zwiener said. “They have been beside us all along.”
The BCCP team receives oversight from a board of directors that is comprised of a cross section of community leaders.
“Denise has an amazing ability to absorb information, identify challenges and connect with people to find solutions,” said Nikki Gausman, The SAFE Center executive director and BCCP board member. “Many positive changes have occurred under her leadership including increased collaborations between community organizations, changes to local policies impacting health and the continued development of a wider focus on health that looks beyond physical health. Denise leads by example with a genuine concern for the well-being of others in Buffalo County.”
The work of BCCP has affected the lives of thousands of Buffalo County residents. Zwiener often hears from citizens letting her know the work she and others are doing is making a difference. She has experienced that as well.
“I was born, raised and educated here. All the work we do every day has directly impacted my family,” Zwiener said. “There is a reason God put me in this place.”
For more information on the work of the Buffalo County Community Partners, visit www.bcchp.org.
Kearney Animal Assisted Therapy receives 2019 Healthy Community Award for Partnership
Big, small, fluffy, and not so fluffy. Over the past 26 years, Kearney Animal Assisted Therapy (KAAT) pets have come in different shapes and sizes, but their mission remains the same: to bring unconditional love, comfort and education into everything they do.
Rowen, a 130-pound Bernese mountain dog is just one of the current 41 animal volunteers who provide therapy visits to patients and staff at CHI Health Good Samaritan on a regular basis.
His owner, handler and current KAAT program leader Kim Williams says, “The hospital provides all the latest technology and extraordinary medical staff to care for patients. While pet therapy provides a piece of the outside world, a piece of normalcy you might say, to go that extra step in healing the body and soul of our patients. When people see Rowan, the first look is surprise and the second is joy. He can provide a few moments of happy distractions from worries for patients, family and staff alike. That utter joy and contentment, even if it’s only for a few minutes, can make all the difference. My fellow handlers and I are honored to serve the hospital and our community.”
In addition to regular hospital visits, KAAT also lends its services to Good Samaritan for annual Wag Therapy events, Kindergarten Days, Inpatient Rehab, visiting pediatric patient before surgery, weekly visits to Richard Young Behavioral Health and visiting patients on Christmas Day. KAAT’s service also extend to the community including visits to area nursing homes, schools, libraries, parades, and special events when invited.
In appreciation of 26 years of collaboration, Kearney Animal Assisted Therapy will be presented the 2019 Healthy Community Partnership Award at a luncheon Friday. The Partnership Award is presented to the group or individual who has partnered actively with Good Samaritan to provide health services in the community.
“We believe in providing excellent care to our patients that addresses the whole person—mind, body and spirit. That’s why we’ve always been supportive of and grateful to pet therapy. Pets can lift spirits, calm worried hearts and help our patients heal in ways humans sometimes can’t,” says Mike Schnieders, president of Good Samaritan. “We wanted to recognize these un-sung heroes and their dedicated handlers who have volunteered countless hours over the years to helping others.”
For more information about animal assisted therapy, to become a volunteer or
arranging for a pet visit, please contact Good Samaritan Volunteer Services at 308-865-7150.
McKenna’s Rae of Hope Foundation receives 2019 Healthy Community Award for Prevention
When Todd Schirmer talks about the need for Mental Health First Aid training, he compares it to CPR.
“Lots of people have CPR training and would be quick to jump in to give CPR to someone in crisis. Yet we come in contact with a lot more people dealing with mental distress and we don’t know how to help them. That’s why more people need Mental Health First Aid training,” Schirmer explained.
Schirmer, working through the McKenna’s Rae of Hope Foundation, is helping the region to understand the importance of seeking help for mental health concerns. He wants the region to understand that mental health is no different than any other health concern. The McKenna’s Rae of Hope Foundation will receive the 2019 Healthy Community Award for Prevention for its work to prevent teen suicide by fostering awareness, resilience and social change. This award is presented to an individual or group who has provided a service or program that makes a significant contribution to preventing injury, illness or disease.
Mental Health First Aid training is one of the ways the foundation works to reduce the stigma associated with getting treatment for mental illnesses. Schirmer says the foundation is dedicated to reaching youth with this message.
“Once you change the way the youth view mental health, it becomes the norm as they grow into adults. We want to keep the mental health topic top-of-mind.
“Changing the perspective for teens makes them more willing to seek help when they need it, to talk about what is going on with their own mental state, and to watch out for their friends,” Schirmer said. “They have a lot more access to their friends’ emotional state, so if they reach out to a trusted adult to get a friend some help, we can save lives that way as well.”
The foundation’s newest project is a partnership with Kearney Public Schools to fund the #BeKind program.
“#BeKind is a culture-changing program that comes with a curriculum and teacher in-service to create a positive culture of kindness and acceptance within the schools. It’s a pretty neat program,” Schirmer explained. “Members of the junior class will become leaders to develop activities. #BeKind will be implemented system-wide, from elementary to middle school to the high school.”
The program has received funding for three years, and Schirmer said the foundation plans to track the impact of the #BeKind program. “If it goes well, we hope to expand it to other schools.”
While the foundation focuses its efforts within the Tri-Cities, it has reached more than 20,000 students across the state through funding for speakers and programs that raise awareness of mental health. The foundation has also awarded a total of $20,000 in scholarships in two categories, one for students entering the mental health field, and one recognizing students with high character.
Schirmer said that reducing the stigma associated with seeking help for emotional and mental health is a critical step to building a healthier community. “We know that when people have mental health issues, they can get better if they receive proper diagnosis and help.
“That can save lives. That can make a positive impact on our community.”
He praised the Kearney community for tackling what once was a taboo issue. “There’s a lot of momentum going on right now. We want to keep the conversation going so the community continues to keep making that change.”
The foundation is named for McKenna Rae Johnson, a local girl who died from suicide in 2017. Schirmer is close family friends with the Johnsons.
“It’s been a learning curve for me because I had no background in mental health,” he said. “I educated myself because I wanted something to change. And I got good people to help the foundation and I rely on their knowledge.”
Schirmer wants parents to know that traumatic events can have a serious impact on a young person’s mental health. “Whether it is divorce, death or even moving to a new community, parents need to make sure we address that and take care of it.”
He understands the stigma associated with this, as well. “Just because your kids are going through something, it’s not a reflection on you as a parent. We should want to help our kids and make sure they are getting the help they need. It can and does get a lot better with that support.”
He also wants the community to know that help is available. “Anyone struggling should contact the 24/7 South Central Behavioral Services crisis line. The number is 308-237-5951.”
The Healthy Community Awards program is a unique opportunity to celebrate the good health of Kearney and Buffalo County citizens and those individuals and groups who, through their leadership, education and assistance, help make the community a healthier place to live. The Healthy Community Awards program signals an overall commitment and dedication to improving the lives and health of residents within the region. Contributions from individuals, non-profit organizations and health care providers throughout the Kearney and Buffalo County community are significant in the continued efforts to encourage healthy living among residents and provide a higher quality of life. A community advisory group selects Healthy Community Award recipients based on their contributions in a particular category. In addition to the Healthy Community Prevention Award, five other award categories exist. The remaining categories are: Education, Recreation, Education, Partnership and Leadership. A luncheon recognizing the Healthy Community Award winners will be held in conjunction with the Community Olympics on June 21.
Jennifer Behlmann receives 2019 Healthy Community Award for Recreation
Among the memories Jennifer Behlmann cherishes is the first Special Olympics opening ceremony she attended.
“It was breathtaking to watch the athletes parade in and open the games,” she says.
Now, 20 years after her first experience as a Special Olympics volunteer, Behlmann is the head of delegation for Kearney Special Olympics. It’s a logistics-heavy role: organizing athletes and coaches for practices, coordinating fundraisers, booking travel arrangements, setting-up and tearing-down at events, submitting results and entries to the state organization, and much more. All that work aside, it’s her non-tangible efforts that make perhaps the biggest impact.
“She is a selfless individual assisting in bettering the lives of kids and adults with disabilities,” says Jade Brown, recreation superintendent for Kearney Park and Recreation (KPR). “One of her greatest qualities is that she truly loves and cares for the athletes, and treats them like her own kids.”
For improving the health of the community, Behlmann will receive the 2019 Healthy Community Recreation Award. This award, presented by CHI Health Good Samaritan and nominated by KPR, honors an individual or group who has shown outstanding leadership in organized youth or adult sports, wellness and fitness activities in the community.
Behlmann became involved with Kearney Special Olympics when her son was in middle school. He was invited to participate, and enjoyed it, but struggled a bit to participate unless Jennifer was present.
“Eventually, I decided if I was going to be there, I might as well make myself useful,” she says. “I decided to start helping with practices and began chaperoning trips to allow Dustin to participate. That was 20 years ago. Five years ago, I took over as head of delegation for Kearney Special Olympics.”
Currently, 77 athletes compete for Kearney Special Olympics. Of those 77, 60 are active and 47 were registered for the Summer Games in Omaha—a record number of competitors for a state tournament. Brown says the organization’s engagement can be attributed to Behlmann’s community connections.
“She has established relationships with businesses, people, clubs, associations and more to help Kearney Special Olympics operate to the best of its ability,” Brown says. “Her goal is that all persons with an intellectual disability have the chance to become useful and productive citizens who are accepted and respected in their communities.”
Providing an outlet for physical activity and improving the athletes’ health are also at the top of Bellman’s objectives.
“Many of my athletes do not have the opportunity to participate in healthy activities on their own,” she says. “Many of them cannot afford to sign up for a health club. Special Olympics allows them to practice, get exercise, and be a part of things.”
“The benefits for Kearney Special Olympics athletes are tremendous: improved physical fitness and motor skills, greater self-confidence, friendships, a more positive self-image and increased family support,” Brown says, “Jen goes above and beyond for these goals to be met.”
And when she’s asked about moments that stand out in her voluntarism, Behlmann’s answer comes easily.
“When you know you are touching hearts and changing lives a little at a time by being a positive force and allowing people to participate in sports activities, no matter what level they are at, it means the world to me,” she says. “The majority of my athletes will never participate on a school team or any other level. This gives them the opportunity to be a part of something. I am continuously amazed when I watch the athletes compete. Year after year these are the stand out moments. Nothing else even comes close.”
Susan Bigg receives 2019 Healthy Community Award for Advocacy
Susan Bigg, owner of Horizon Designs, knows first-hand the devastating effects Alzheimer’s has on those diagnosed with the fatal disease and their caregivers, family and friends. While one out of every six people age 65 and older will be affected, for Bigg, Alzheimer’s struck her husband, Stan, 24 years ago at age 61. Since that day, Bigg has been advocating for a cure.
Active with the Alzheimer’s Association local chapter since 2013, Bigg recently took the fight to the national scale. Sue ventured to Washington DC as an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Association of Nebraska assigned to Congressman Adrian Smith for the last three years to advocate for legislative research funds for a cure and other legislative action to benefit families and those suffering with Alzheimer’s.
“Sue is tenacious in her public policy efforts as an ambassador of the Association to Congressman Adrian Smith, keeping his office up to date on research information, the impact and scope of the disease, and reminding him and his staff of what the personal devastation of Alzheimer's looks like. She is not one to hesitate to walk directly up to him and demand he listen to the impact Alzheimer's disease has on caregivers and families,” says Cassandra Larreau-Bailey, director, Alzheimer’s Association.
Back home, Bigg also dedicates considerable time each year to planning Kearney’s Walk to End Alzheimer's.
“She works tirelessly all year to ensure our walk has the strongest and most strategic community partnerships, represents Kearney and the surrounding communities, and reaches anyone who has been impacted by a dementia diagnosis. Through her efforts with the Kearney Dawn Rotary and her own company's sponsorship, she has contributed over $17,000 since 2012 to the Kearney Walk to End Alzheimer's program,” says Larreau-Bailey.
For the past three years Sue has been initiated The Longest Day Event to bring awareness and raise funds for Education and Research for a cure!
For her volunteer work battling Alzheimer’s disease, Susan Bigg is being recognized with CHI Health Good Samaritan’s 2019 Healthy Community Advocacy Award. The award is presented to an individual or group who creatively implements programming on behalf of a specific population. It will be presented at a luncheon Friday.
Bigg says the most rewarding part of her advocacy is meeting families suffering with this disease and helping to break the stigma they face. “It is a disease, there should be no stigma. I want to encourage others to not give up! There are no survivors, but maybe one day. Progress is being made, awareness is growing, and people are starting to seek help like never before,” says Bigg.
“Sue is a voice for those who are tired, lonely and do not know where to turn when they hear the word ‘Alzheimer's.’ She is a beacon of light in a dark journey for those families searching for resources and hope. With her in our fight against this disease, I am certain we will find a cure and celebrate our first survivor,” says Larreau-Bailey.
For more information about Alzheimer's, visit www.ALZ.org.
Lynn Goodell receives 2019 Healthy Community Award for Education
According to the American Diabetes Association, in 2015, 30.3 million Americans had diabetes—and another 84.1 million American adults had pre-diabetes. That ADA also estimates 1.5 million Americans are diagnosed with diabetes each year.
Volunteering at the HelpCare Clinic, Lynn Goodell sees patients who add to those statistics. His goal: Help them take charge of their health and remove their diabetes risk.
“Diabetes and pre-diabetes are a huge area of chronic disease in the US,” Goodell says. “Care of diabetics is something we have to continually work at.”
For helping patients understand diabetes, their risks and managing the disease, Goodell will be accepting the 2019 Healthy Community Education Award. This award is presented by CHI Health Good Samaritan to an individual or group who provides educational opportunities and is an advocate of health in the community.
Goodell has been a volunteer RN at HelpCare, a nonprofit medical clinic established to serve the uninsured in Buffalo and Kearney Counties, since the clinic opened in 2015. A married father of three adult children, he came by the nursing profession after retiring from a career in sales. Still feeling the need to give, he went to nursing school and graduated from an accelerated program in 2011.
Throughout his course work, he enjoyed the field of diabetes education. First working with Buffalo County Community Partners’ Diabetes Referral Network, Goodell’s experience naturally evolved into an opportunity to assist HelpCare Clinic’s diabetes patients.
“Lynn has focused his efforts on patient with diabetes, working with them to improve all aspects of their chronic disease management,” says Goodell’s award nomination. “And through his own time and expense, he trained and became certified to teach the Diabetes Prevention Program, a lifestyle program for those at risk for developing diabetes.”
That program saw significant success for its participants. Instead of reaching the group goal of 5-7 percent weight loss, its participants surpassed it with a 10 percent body weight loss. The group also recorded a noteworthy reduction in A1C levels.
Big successes like that, and small ones in between like patients making healthy changes in their diet or consistently checking their blood sugars, are rewarding for Goodell.
“Our patients have successes and struggles,” Goodell says. “We encourage them through the struggles and celebrate the successes.”
“Patients with chronic health issues need guidance and patience as they change lifelong risky behaviors,” says Goodell’s award nomination. “HelpCare patients are uninsured, low-income individuals with very little resources to manage a chronic disease or maintain a lifestyle that can decrease their risk. Lynn has provided an option for them to take charge of their health and impact their risk.”
Goodell says he sees helping others as a way to leave a legacy.
“If you can make a difference in peoples’ lives—and they may not even notice it—you can have an impact for generations.”