Holiday lights, garland, reindeer – Edwina Sheppard hasn’t experienced holidays like this in her Kountze Park neighborhood for decades.
“I can’t tell you how much emotion I have in me when I see what’s been going on in this block,” Sheppard, 72, told Omaha’s WOWT-6. “This is the time of year when you reflect, and you’re grateful.”
This year, Sheppard – who has lived in her Kountze Park home for 42 years – and other residents are grateful to have their neighborhood back. For years, it had been sinking into disrepair – many homes were abandoned; one had succumbed to arson. But thanks to Habitat for Humanity – spurred by Sheppard, who made repeated visits to the Omaha City Council to express her concern for the area – 10 new homes were built during a recent building blitz funded by First National Bank.
Now the neighborhood is celebrating the holidays with the help of First National’s “Give Joy” campaign. Volunteers from the bank recently decorated the 10 new homes, and four additional homes, with a variety of lights and festive decorations. The cheerful event marked the kick off for the “Give Joy” campaign, an initiative that shows the bank’s commitment to ensuring that quality, affordable housing is available to everyone.
The Kountze Park neighborhood residents get to keep the decorations, and First National Bank has donated gift cards to help them pay their electric bills over the holidays.
Located between Sprague and Laird Streets on 22nd Street, the Kountze Park neighborhood is now seeing a resurgence of new families – and lots of kids.
“When I moved in, all the homes were occupied, the neighborhood was full of people, full of families,” Sheppard said. “I raised my daughter in this neighborhood.”
Sheppard said she used to wonder what the kids attending nearby King Science Center magnet school, who are bused in from other parts of the city, thought about her neighborhood.
“Those buses come right down our street. And they would see this rundown neighborhood,” she said.
Not anymore. Now the Kountze Park neighborhood has been invigorated. Sheppard knew her neighborhood was worth saving, and her repeated visits to the City Council convinced others.
When she later saw Habitat for Humanity workers park on her block, while transforming a nearby neighborhood, she did what she always does – she said “Hi.”
“A hello doesn’t cost anything,” Sheppard said. That “hi” led to a meeting with Habitat for Humanity of Omaha’s Executive Director, Amanda Brewer, which led to First National funding the project.
“They listened to my story about the neighborhood and how it needed to be rebuilt,” Sheppard said.
Habitat not only helped the new families that moved into the neighborhood, but it also helped those like Sheppard who were already living in the Kountze Park area.
“They changed my life coming in here,” she said. “I can stay in my home, it has value again. It’s a neighborhood again.”
The recent “Give Joy” launch has an extra special meaning to First National. It was Herman and Augustus Kountze, after all, who founded First National Bank in 1857.
“It all ties back to those Kountze brothers,” Sheppard said. “They started First National Bank and now the bank is giving back to this neighborhood after all these years.”
Sheppard called the project a blessing and said the often-used term “it takes a village” really rings true in this case. We couldn’t agree more, and couldn’t be more proud to be a part of that village.
Your contribution to First National Bank’s “Give Joy” campaign, no matter the size, will truly help make a difference for countless families, neighborhoods, and communities. Please join us by donating today to your local Habitat for Humanity affiliate and giving joy to others.