Event for families with special needs children opens additional spots to meet demand.

Sarah Swanson and Mandi Reinders both are parents of children with disabilities. In smaller towns, they noticed parents with special needs children were not receiving the necessary information or resources, and they wanted to help those communities.

With the help of the Family Care Enhancement Project at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Munroe-Meyer Institute, along with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Public Health and the Nebraska Early Development Network, Swanson and Reinders have organized a new event focused on families with special needs children.

Set to take place at the Edgerton Explorit Center in Aurora on Sept. 23 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the event’s overall goal is to provide a child-friendly environment with a variety engaging activities for Nebraska families.

“The place we picked was intentional. We wanted to pick a central location for families that lived outside of Omaha,” said Swanson, the consumer and family program specialist at the Munroe-Meyer Insititute. “We wanted to be able to provide hands-on activities and resources, like our vendors, that they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Nebraska Total Care, an organization that delivers healthcare through local and community-based resources, and Assistive Technology Partnership, which lets Nebraskans with disabilities try equipment with a specialist at home, school and work before purchasing, will have representatives at the event.

“I have two children with disabilities. Sometimes, it’s hard for us to go out and participate within the community,” said Reinders, a parent resource advocate at the Munroe-Meyer Institute.

“This event gives families the chance to do that. It allows them to feel more comfortable because no one is staring at them. There are people there that understand and will be great resources for them.”

The event has filled its original 75 spots and organizers are expecting around 20 families in attendance. It has opened 25 additional spots in order to expand its outreach. Those interested can register online until the extra spots have been filled.

“Parents are the backbone for children with special needs. They provide so much behind the scenes that most of the time goes unrecognized,” Swanson said. “We’re hoping that this event gives those parents and families the necessary connections for their children in an inclusive setting.”



Neighborhood watch groups hope new signs improve visibility

Omaha citizens watching over their neighborhoods are hoping new signs will raise the profile of their group.


The Omaha Coalition of Citizen Patrols started a rebranding effort Wednesday by replacing the first of 226 signs across the city.


The coalition of 36 neighborhood patrols counts between 350 and 400 volunteer members, each trained by Omaha police. Their goal is to reduce crime and assist police. And they hope that the new, more reflective signs will further that effort by being easier to read, particularly in the dark.

The sign installed Wednesday at the intersection of Spring Lake Drive, Hoctor Boulevard and C Street begins what will be a months-long effort. A grant from the Mayor’s Office in April gave the group $4,904 to replace all its signs throughout Omaha by mid-December.


“With the signage getting old, we were looking to rebrand,” said Roger Hansen, president of the OCCP.

The idea for the project came together when members noticed that residents were unaware of the old version. Now that the sign is reflective, coalition leaders are hoping it will be more noticeable.

“We wanted to get the word out to the people of Omaha,” said Bill Hanes, OCCP secretary. “The more the city knows about us the more we can do to help them.”


In 2016, the volunteers donated over 11,000 hours and traveled over 62,000 miles.


“Thank you for always being the extra eyes and ears for the community,” Omaha Police Capt. Kathy Gonzalez told coalition officials as the sign was installed Wednesday. “You have been great witnesses for several different events and we truly do appreciate everything you all have done.”


YMCA of Greater Omaha awarded $482,800 grant

YMCA of Greater Omaha was recently awarded a $482,800 grant from the United Way of the Midlands.

The grant will fund after-school and summer programs, educational programs for refugee children, aquatics, youth sports and a program for teenagers that will address issues such as peer pressure, gangs, healthy living and body image.

The grant supports a percentage of each of the programs, a spokeswoman said. For example, Ready in Five, a program that helps refugee children prepare for their future academic careers, will have 82 percent of its program funded by the grant.

— Brittany Hamor


Lingering, weird ‘Game of Thrones’ questions answered. Sort of.

After last night’s season finale of “Game of Thrones,” fans are wondering what to do with their Sunday nights. Rumors are swelling that the final season of the HBO show won’t air until 2019. So what to do in the meantime? Spin theories, imagine your favorite would-be couples together, and, oh yeah, talk about that incest thing. Read local fans’ takes below, and tell us what you think in the comment section.

How will Jon Snow and Daenerys react when they find out they’re related?

Jon Snow and Daenerys got together in the episode, but they don’t know they’re related yet. That’s a little dicey. Incest is all over the show. I’m assuming they’ll probably stay away, from each other but you can never really predict what will happen in that show.

— Joan Wehr, 53, Chicago

At the end of the season 7 finale, Jaime Lannister leaves King’s Landing. Where is he headed?

My theory is Jaime is headed to see his brother, Tyrion, in Dragonstone to tell him Cersei lied, and he will help him defeat her.

— Mikayla Cruickshank, 22, Lincoln

Who wins in a fight: The Mountain or The Hound?

Mountain and Hound are actually brothers. Mountain has been brought back to life a bunch of times. I’m not entirely sure what’s left in him or if he has any humanity left. I personally prefer Hound, but I’m not sure he would be able to beat Mountain in a fight. Although, Hound wouldn’t go down without a fight.

— Ramsay Wehr, 20, Chicago

Where would Tormund Giantsbane and Brienne of Tarth go on a first date?

Brienne is tough as nails. I think Tormund would bring her to some kind of fight like the Mayweather versus McGregor one. She’s a great character.

— Ray Wehr, 53, Chicago

Would you rather have a dragon or an endless supply of wildfire?

I would have a dragon over an endless supply of wildfire any day. I would feel like a beast and it would be cool to train a dragon.

— Kristian Whitney, 22, Omaha

Who’s the more awkward dining partner: Bran Stark or the Night King?

I think Bran over the Night King would be more awkward to have dinner by the way they both act in the show. I think Bran has more of a crazy side to him and a darker past.

— Kirstyn Soukup, 19, Lincoln

Who is your favorite “Game of Thrones” couple?

My favorite couple in “Game of Thrones” is Jon Snow and Ygritte. They’re just so great together.

— Rachel Jensen, 22, Appleton, Minnesota

My favorite couple on “Game Of Thrones” is Ned Stark and his wife. You can tell this couple has a genuine love for each other, while King Robert and his wife are only together for their image.

— Riley Beranek, 21, Fremont, Nebraska



A Novel Idea: Dokken’s dream of owning a bookstore leads to opportunities within the community

By: Brittany Hamor

Cinnamon Dokken laughs about her used bookstore started in the outskirts of downtown Lincoln in a warehouse basement. There were no shelves, no air conditioning and no heat. Just 700 books and a college senior with a big dream to someday have a successful local bookstore.

In 1992 that dream of opening an actual bookstore became a reality. This month Dokken is celebrating 25 years from the grand opening of A Novel Idea.

“I didn’t even have the first month’s rent in bank when we signed the lease,” Dokken said. “I took a risk and fortunately for me it worked.”

At the beginning of her venture she had no money to her name and could not even afford to hire any movers. She gathered all her friends and family to help her move the entire collection of books into the new location.

Her collection that started with 700 books had expanded to 20,000 during the time she was in the warehouse. Halfway through the move they ran out of bags and boxes. They moved the rest of the books by hand.

“From the start Cinnamon had so much help from the community she never wanted to take that for granted,” Katherine Bergstrom, in-store manager since 1994, said. “She’s made it a mission for the store to give back in any way we can. It’s easy to take the little things for granted and I’m blessed to be working in a place that recognizes that.”

Dokken never forgot the help the community gave to her and gives back to a variety of local charities.

“My dad used to always tell me growing up that we had to pay our civic rent,” Dokken said. “Ever since then giving back to the community has been central to who I am as a person.”

Every week Dokken does “Thank You Tuesday” and 3 percent of the gross sales go to a charitable organization.

“I didn’t just want to raise funds for well-known organizations,” Dokken said. “I also wanted to highlight organizations doing good work in the community and increase volunteers in the Lincoln area.”

Recently, Dokken has teamed up with Produce From The Heart. This organization is based out of Lincoln and has a goal to fight hunger throughout Nebraska.

“We collect donated, unmarketable or excess produce from local farms, farmer’s markets, community gardens and household gardens. The donated produce is then transported to a food pantry, church or soup kitchen within the community,” according to http://producefromtheheart.org.

Dokken stays personally connected to the community by co-hosting a monthly radio show on the Wimmins Show called “That’s What She Wrote.” The show is also hosted by Deb Andersen. Andersen has been a radio host since 1977 on KZUM 89.3 and helped Dokken create the podcast that allows women writers to have their voices heard.

“About a year ago I had an epiphany that I needed to have a book-related segment on the Show and that Cinnamon was the perfect person to do it. She’s knowledgeable and very connected to the literary community here,” Andersen said. “She has added so much to the show with her stimulating conversation and her wonderful smile! She’s the best thing that’s happened to the Wimmins Show in decades. I adore her!”

Dokken makes it a priority to make all her guests very comfortable and leads them into stimulating conversation. She’s thoroughly prepared and meets with her guests before the show.

“Since it is live, I always take my guest to Village Inn beforehand in order to avoid uncomfortable topics on air,” Dokken said. “It’s mainly just an excuse for me to eat pancakes and talk to really awesome people.”

Dokken reflects her unique personality in the community and makes sure her store has a unique identity as well.

“The most popular employees in the store are definitely the two cats,” Dokken said.

The “first edition cats” as Dokken called them happened by accident. The first was a gray tabby cat. It showed up in front of the store, so a customer brought it inside.  The cat had a burnt paw and frizzled whiskers.

“We shut down the entire store that day to bring it to the vet,” Dokken said. “And then by that night I ended up with a new cat.”

The second was a black cat found in a terrible condition in an alleyway behind Dokken’s apartment complex. Dokken ended up taking the cat to the emergency vet.

After saving the cat’s life a neighbor recognized the cat as her own.  Dokken refused to give the cat back since the neighbor had left it in such terrible condition. The altercation between the two escalated and soon the police became involved.

“I was so stubborn. I said I wasn’t doing anything until I talked to my lawyer and someone from the Humane Society,” Dokken said. “I was 25 at the time I didn’t have a lawyer. Luckily, they didn’t call my bluff.”

The sergeant eventually ended up in the store. He and Dokken discussed the cat situation for a half an hour.

“I finally just ended up telling him (the sergeant) the cat was mine,” Dokken said. “He told me to have a nice day, walked out and that’s how the cat ended up in the store.”

When the “first edition cats” died Dokken had a month-long contest for her customers to see where she should get her new cats.

“We ended up raising $1500 for the Capital Humane Society and $3100 for the Cat House,” Dokken said. “We donated the money to both organizations and got two cats from the Cat House, much simpler than the first edition cats.”

Although giving back to the community is a priority for Dokken, she also prides herself on outstanding customer service.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a freshman in high school. No matter how busy the store is she (Dokken) always helps me find what I need or helps me find a new book to read,” Mikayla Cruickshank, seven-year customer at A Novel Idea said. “I always leave here in a better mood than when I came in. You just can’t find that at bigger bookstores.”

Face to face connections is something the company did not want to lose during an age of many technological advances.

“We stopped selling books online because we missed having the one on one connections with our customers,” Bergstrom said. “We wanted to help customers find books they didn’t even know they were looking for and come back asking for more suggestions.  That means we are doing are job well.”

Being an owner of an independent bookstore allows Dokken to create strong bonds with her customers and to those relationships to her are priceless.

“I am able to know our customers at an entirely different level than a bigger book store and I absolutely love that,” Dokken said.  “I can tell you what most of my customers have on their shelves at home and that’s something you’ll only find at A Novel Idea.

Make-A-Wish goes beyond granting a wish

By: Brittany Hamor

Ever since Collin Wehr was 6 he would read the newspaper with his father, Ray Wehr, at the breakfast table in their Chicago home.  They would discuss the stats and the latest injuries to their favorite football team, the Chicago Bears.

His sister, Ramsay Wehr, used to run down the stairs to the kitchen every morning, belting out the latest country hits on the radio. She never cared about sports. All she ever wanted to do was move to Nashville and become a famous country artist.

That dream quickly changed when Collin was diagnosed with brain cancer.  He took his final breath on March 20, 2013 at only 11, and that’s when she knew she was going to carry on his legacy.  Ramsay, 19, then set herself on the path to become an aspiring sports broadcaster who is immersed in athletic communications at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Collin was a normal third grade student at the time. He loved playing sports and socializing with other classmates.

He rarely missed a day of school, so when he started getting flu-like symptoms for weeks at a time his parents grew concerned.

They made an appointment at Children’s Memorial Center in Chicago where he was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a brain tumor that’s wrapped about the brain stem, according to the St. Jude’s website.

At 10 he went through five surgeries, chemotherapy, a spinal fusion, hearing loss, a feeding tube and many hours of physical therapy.

“I remember him playing sports and our dad would always coach the team. Their favorite was football though,” Ramsay Wehr said. “But when he got sick his dream of being a professional football player transformed into reporting about football. Sometimes you have to change your dream when your faced with obstacles.”

Collin always had a huge personality. He would talk with all the doctors about all the NFL players’ latest injuries, playoff or game predictions and stats for every NFL team with NFL Network in the background.

“Any time there was a football game on the nurses and doctors would sit there and watch him call plays and color commentate,” Ramsay Wehr said. “Even at his young age he had a gift for sports broadcasting.”

When the Wehr family called Make-A-Wish they were not sure how long Collin had left. Four days later the foundation came knocking on the hospital door.

“They asked him what he wanted for his wish,” Ramsay Wehr said. “He thought about it for a little while, stared them right in the eye and said you know I just really want a guitar.”

That’s when Make-A-Wish taught him their motto: “Think bigger.”

“He looked around the room and noticed the TV,” Ramsay Wehr said. “The Chicago Bear’s game was on, and his eyes lit up.”

His wish was to be an NFL Network Bears beat reporter for the day. He was joined by his favorite NFL Network analyst, Tom Waddle.  This was where Ramsay Wehr was exposed to the world of broadcasting.

The Make-A-Wish foundation was able to fly a whole NFL Network crew from Los Angeles to Chicago. The crew consisted of two camera men, two audio assistants, one producer and one assistant producer in December 2013.

“I got to meet and interact with this group of people all day and watch them interview all kinds of people,” Ramsay Wehr said. “I finally understood why he was so interested in sports broadcasting and that’s when I knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”

Collin was able to stand in the crowd with other reporters in order to interview the players before the game. All the excitement in this moment did not phase Collin. He was a natural. This was his dream and he was soaking up every second.

“I got nervous when everyone kept telling me to watch Collin because fighting for the interviews can get intense,” Ray Wehr said. “It brought tears to my eyes when all of the reporters stopped and lined up behind him so he could get the interviews he wanted.”

Collin’s Make-A-Wish was not only a pivotal moment in his life, but in Ramsay Wehr’s too. This is where the bond between Collin and Ramsay grew stronger.

“Sports have always meant a lot to Ramsay and her family. It was their way of bonding. When I joined the family, metaphorically of course, they taught me all about sports,” said Cassandra Louie, Ramsay Wehr’s best friend. “Through her brother’s make a wish, Ramsay was able to find a way to combine her love of sports and of performance. I can’t wait to see her on ESPN someday, knock on wood!”

Six months later Collin passed away after two years of fighting his cancer.

“Make-A-Wish showed me that my brother and I had a common dream,” Ramsay Wehr said. “When he passed I knew one day or another we were going to reach it.”

Shortly after Collin passed away, it was time for Ramsay to apply to universities. All she knew about college was that she wanted to go into sports broadcasting and turned to a guidance counselor to seek advice.

“I was a mess when it was time to pick colleges. He (the guidance counselor) suggested I check out the University of Nebraska-Lincoln,” Ramsay Wehr said. “When I went on tour I instantly fell in love with the college because they had all the things I wanted, like hands on experience in my field.”

She made it her goal to get as involved as she could her freshman year to make sure she could get to be a part of HuskerVision during her sophomore year at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“Aside from live game entertainment HuskerVision also works to produce Nebraska Athletics Television content that airs nationally on the Big Ten Network as well as through local affiliates. Over 100 fully produced television shows each year provide national exposure to Nebraska athletics,” according to the Huskers website.

As a freshman, she was involved in the Media Smarts learning community, Chi Omega sorority, president of Sandoz Hall government, Residence Hall Association speaker of the house and the director of volleyball and wrestling at Iron N.

“When she has a goal she goes after it with everything she has got,” said Joan Wehr, mother of Ramsay and Collin. “I am so proud of and in awe of all her hard work to make a career in broadcasting a reality.”

Now the Make-A-Wish gift has gone full circle, as a member of Chi Omega their philanthropy is helping create wishes for other Make-A-Wish children. The sorority has hosted a “Wing Fling” every year since 2002 and has raised almost $13 million. The Wing Fling gives students access to unlimited wings for $6 and all the proceeds go to making a child’s wish come true.

“She’s always the first one to volunteer for anything during this philanthropy,” said Kensie Burnside, Wehr’s sorority sister. “Seeing how motivated she is about everything she does makes her a person aspire to be.”

Make-A-Wish gave her and her brother the opportunity to bond over their love of sports broadcasting during his last few months. She vows to give back to them in any way possible because what the foundation did for her is something she’ll cherish for a lifetime.

“I volunteer a lot of hours during this philanthropy because it’s so close to my heart,” Ramsay Wehr said. “If I am lucky enough to be working in a professional field I promise I will be the first one to make their wish come true. The impact Make-A-Wish has on these kids is priceless.”

Her main goal is to work for ESPN or NFL Network after graduation and hopes to get an internship with either company next summer.

Her brother is what motivates her to achieve all her goals and strive to have a future in the professional football world.

“I can’t wait to see where my future takes me, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of my little brother,” Ramsay Wehr said.