Home for the Holidays … and Beyond

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.”

First National volunteers string garland and add holiday decorations to one of the new Habitat for Humanity homes in the revitalized Kountze Park neighborhood.

First National Bank volunteers string garland and add holiday decorations to one of the new Habitat for Humanity homes in the revitalized Kountze Park neighborhood.

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.

Edwina Sheppard makes sure her 3-year-old granddaughter, Ayrian Calloway, has warm hands during a recent lighting celebration in her Kountze Park neighborhood.

Edwina Sheppard makes sure her 3-year-old granddaughter, Ayrian Calloway, has warm hands during a recent lighting celebration in her Kountze Park neighborhood.

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.

Safe Neighborhoods, Growing Communities

Kids popping wheelies and peddling their bikes through the neighborhood. Neighbors waving and greeting each other by name. Taking the dog for a walk around the block. Santa making a surprise appearance.

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Santa and Kountze Park neighborhood kids at the “Give Joy” campaign lighting celebration.

Some neighborhoods consider these things normal, everyday happenings. Others – like the Kountze Park neighborhood – haven’t experienced them for decades. But now, thanks to a building blitz by Habitat for Humanity, the historic North Omaha area has been revitalized with 10 new homes.

For Cynthia Stubblefield, watching her children play in the invigorated Kountze Park neighborhood is a blessing.

“We’ve lived on main streets in the past, like Lake Street, where it’s so busy and dangerous. And now we have a neighborhood where I don’t have to worry about the kids going out and riding bikes and playing,” said Cynthia, whose family recently moved into one of the newly built Habitat homes near Kountze Park, located between Sprague and Laird streets on 22nd Street.

“We can actually enjoy the neighborhood.”

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Homeowner Cynthia Stubblefield and her family in front of their new home. From left to right: Kevin Sr., Kevin Jr., Octavia, Cynthia, Shamall and Isaac.

Especially when it’s all decked out for the holidays. First National Bank employees recently added a festive look to the Kountze neighborhood by adding lights, garland and other holiday decorations to the 10 new Habitat homes and four additional homes as part of the kickoff of the bank’s “Give Joy” campaign. “Give Joy” is special initiative that encourages holiday donations to Habitat Omaha and Habitat chapters across the bank’s footprint to continue its commitment of providing safe and affordable housing, and helping those in need truly know what it feels like to be home for the holidays.

Residents get to keep the decorations, and First National is helping with their electric bills over the holidays.

First National Bank employees add holiday decorations to one of 10 new Habitat for Humanity homes in the Kountze Park neighborhood.

Cynthia – a former Omaha gang member and current gang outreach specialist who moved into her Kountze Park home (a split-level five-bedroom, two bath) last September – is getting to know her new neighbors.

“There are four new families who live at the end of the block and they have invited us to birthday parties and to their church services. We actually know our neighbors by their first names,” she said.

Cynthia and her husband, Kevin, also appreciate the new friends their kids have made. She said the Kountze neighborhood’s new families include 33 children in the Habitat homes alone. That includes Cynthia’s four children (Octavia, 18; Shamall, 16; Isaac, 12; and Kevin Jr., 10) and her four-month-old grandson, Levigh.

“It feels good to see all these families together, doing what families do.” Cynthia said. “I was in a gang from 11 to high school, and I ended up going to Boys Town for three years. They taught me how to do things as a family, so we’ve always tried to have that. And now we have it in a nice, safe neighborhood.”

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A “Give Joy” decorated Habitat for Humanity Home

The Kountze Park neighborhood holds a special place in First National history, which makes the neighborhood’s revitalization even more special. It was Herman and Augustus Kountze, after all, who founded First National Bank in 1857.

Your contribution to First National’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 affiliate and giving joy to others.

The Power of Habitat for Humanity

From volunteer, to homeowner, to the Council Bluffs Habitat for Humanity affiliate director, Glennay Jundt has seen firsthand the power of this nonprofit. Enjoy reading an inspiring article about her journey, and join us in “Giving Joy” to Habitat and the countless families who will benefit from safe, affordable housing.

Safe, Affordable Homes Build Foundation for a Strong Community

“There are four new families who live at the end of the block and they have invited us to birthday parties and to their church services,” said Cynthia Stubblefield. “We actually know our neighbors by their first names.”

Stubblefield, whose family recently moved into a newly built Habitat home near Kountze Park, located between Sprague and Laird streets on 22nd Street, is now seeing a resurgence of new families – and lots of kids.

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Homeowner Cynthia Stubblefield and her family in front of their new home. From left to right: Kevin Sr., Kevin Jr., Octavia, Cynthia, Shamall and Isaac.

Tuesday night, Stubblefield and neighbors, employees of First National Bank and Habitat for Humanity of Omaha, along with community groups celebrated the completion of Habitat’s revitalization efforts in the Kountze Park neighborhood.

They did so amid the glow of holiday lights and decorations of 10 new Habitat homes, plus four existing neighborhood homes, First National employees decorated last week in a one-day blitz to kick off its  “Give Joy” campaign. “Give Joy is a special initiative to encourage holiday donations to Habitat Omaha and Habitat chapters across the bank’s footprint to continue First National’s commitment to providing safe and affordable housing to those in need.

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Omaha community groups, homeowners and neighbors gathered at 3915 N. 22nd Street to “Give Joy.”

“Every family deserves a stable place to call home,” said Jerry O’Flanagan, First National Bank’s Executive Vice President, Consumer Banking Group. “We support our commitment to stable housing by partnering with organizations like Habitat for Humanity so that families not only get a home, but also the joy that comes with feeling independent and safe.”

“First National Bank cares,” said Amanda Brewer, Habitat for Humanity of Omaha’s Executive Director and President. “They care about families, neighborhoods and our community. As a trusted and loyal Habitat Omaha ally, they have not only provided significant financial support, but hundreds of volunteer hours to help transform the Kountze Park neighborhood.  Through this partnership, 42 more families will be celebrating the holidays in their very own home this year.  We thank First National Bank for giving joy!”

O’Flanagan noted how fitting the celebration was, as the neighborhood is named after the Kountze family that founded First National Bank.

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Jerry O’Flanagan, First National Bank’s Executive Vice President, Consumer Banking Group, Amanda Brewer, Habitat for Humanity of Omaha’s Executive Director and President and homeowner Cynthia Stubblefield make remarks at the celebration.

“They changed my life coming in here,” said Edwina Sheppard, who has lived in the neighborhood for 42 years. “I can stay in my home. It has value again. It’s a neighborhood again.”

O’Flanagan says with community-based efforts like the “Give Joy,” campaign, he believes more communities in Omaha and across the bank’s seven-state service area will see celebrations just like the Kountze Park neighborhood. “Over the next five years, our goal is to see 5,000 housing units constructed, rehabilitated and financed in communities across our footprint from First National Bank’s investments and grants to organizations that are committed to creating access to stable, affordable housing,” said O’Flanagan.

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Neighbor Edwina Sheppard and granddaughter Ayrian Calloway at the home she’s lived in for more than 40 years.

Your contribution, 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 affiliate and giving joy to others.

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