Agency for Change - Jim Blue, Executive Director of CEDARS » KidGlov

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Welcome to Agency for Change, the podcast that brings you the stories of people creating positive change in the world. We explore what inspires these changemakers, the work they’re doing, and how they share their message. Each of us can play a part in change, and these are the people who show us how.

Lyn Wineman
Hi, everyone. This is Lyn Wineman, founder and chief strategist of KidGlov. Welcome to another episode of Agency for Change podcast. Today’s topic may be a difficult one because the reality is harsh and the challenges are disturbing. Sadly, all homes in this day and age are not safe for every child. Poverty, drug use, mental illness, criminal activity, and neglect place many children at extreme risk. Today’s guest, Jim Blue, executive director of CEDARS, is all too aware of this reality. He’s going to share how this organization is working with families and joining with others to help more kids have a safe environment where they can grow and thrive. How are you today, Jim?

Jim Blue
I’m doing very well, thank you. Thank you for giving me this opportunity, too.

Lyn Wineman
Absolutely. I always enjoy talking with you, and I’d like to start by sharing more about CEDARS because you have a very diverse organization. Would you just give us an overview of the programs and services you offer?

Jim Blue
Be happy to. Thanks for asking. This is how I think of CEDARS. We are this community’s, in its broadest sense, effort to try to protect kids and to try to help families thrive. And I am just personally really proud of the 75-year history of this organization. A portion of that 75-year history, I’ve been involved in CEDARS, but it was here long before me. In 1947, Reverend Charles Danner and his wife, Alberta, took a 14-year-old child, in February, into their home that was sleeping on O Street. And as I understand it, within months, their house was full of kids that had no safe place to spend the night.

Jim Blue
This community grabbed on to what they were doing, put their arms around them, and created the future of the CEDARS organization. Today, we provide everything from emergency shelter to, probably, one of the largest foster care programs in the state of Nebraska, with nearly 180 kids today in the care of our great foster parents; to apartments; to really critical crisis services like our street outreach program, and drop-in center. The whole range of prevention services. That’s where the field is, in prevention services to try to prevent kids from being in unsafe environments in the first place. The best way to do that is to intervene with the family. That’s a long answer. I could do a half an hour answer for you too. That’s as short as I can get it.

Lyn Wineman
That’s a great answer. And Jim, I appreciate you starting with that story because it makes me wonder if when they took in that first child and then filled their home, if they could even imagine what CEDARS would become today. And it’s such a great example, I think, of the ripple effect, we’re all starting things that could grow into something in the future. And this may seem like a really obvious question, but what is the importance, Jim, of helping kids and families in crisis? And what is the ripple effect of that?

Jim Blue
That’s a really complicated question, Lyn. And I don’t know that I can answer that as well as I would like to for you. But when you present that, my mind goes right to the individual kids that I’ve had the privilege of knowing and how CEDARS has been family for them. I think of one young lady who was with us recently. Seventeen years old, she had been abused by a family member for years. Her mother knew she needed to leave the house for her own safety, but this girl said, “The only place my mom would let me go is CEDARS.”

Lyn Wineman
Wow.

Jim Blue
And that is so humbling, but just the smartest young lady. She’s finishing up high school and taking classes at Southeast Community College. She’s already got her bachelor’s degree figured out. She wants to get into the special victims unit in law enforcement so she could help kids who are in the same experience that she had. She’s never seen the show, Special Victims Unit. She hadn’t heard of it but she knew she wanted to do that. And I told her, “Don’t stop your ambitions at that. That’s wonderful, but don’t stop them there.”  So, when I think about this one child and CEDARS intervention with her and how that may ripple into the future, not just with her in 30 years, but with her kids and grandkids, it just makes me proud and humble at the same time. So like I said, I don’t know if I answered that very well, but that’s right where my mind went to.

Lyn Wineman
I think you answered it exactly because honestly, it’s enough to help one kid. But when you think about that kid and her future family and the generations, and if she does go into special victims, all of the kids and families she’ll help, I think that’s a great inspiration.

Jim Blue
I ran into her last week and she said, “Come on, just tell me, I’m your favorite, aren’t I?” I said, “You are one of my favorites. I’ll tell you that. You are one of my favorites.” I’m sorry. Go ahead.

Lyn Wineman
This is great. You’ve taken me on a tour of CEDARS and I’ve had the chance to meet some of your team members and some of the kids. And what always amazes me is that you are running this very diverse, large, busy organization. And yet the kids know you and you know them and you know their stories. And I think that’s a neat thing about your leadership style, Jim.

Jim Blue
Thank you.

Lyn Wineman
You mentioned the organization has been around 75 years. That’s a long time. Do you feel like over that time, the world has actually become more difficult for kids and families?

Jim Blue
I don’t know, Lyn. People have asked me that occasionally in the past and I certainly think about it. Everything is relative. I imagine that life could be really tough for a kid in 1947 in post-World War II, Lincoln. Things could be really tough. Community wasn’t developed. There weren’t as many support services for kids and families. School was a wholly different thing, could be tough. Well, how is that relative to today with all the influences of social media, the constant figurative noise in lives? So I don’t know the answer to that. I think what’s important is that we focus on today and what we can do for kids and families right now to help them be strong for the future. That’s the best I can do.

Lyn Wineman
That’s great. I think that’s great, Jim. So since we’re thinking about today, it is 2020, and we’re in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. How has that impacted the work that you do?

Jim Blue
I don’t know that I can come close to fully articulating the unique challenge which has been presented at all levels of the CEDARS organization. Our direct service people are having to work in ways that were never imagined when they got into this field. It seems like I am every day faced with a new decision matrix. Now we have some 15 different, what we call major programs, foster care, emergency shelter, childcare, afterschool programs, CLC programs. And it’s just that every one of those teams is operating in different ways. Foster care is in some contact of course, with kids and foster parents and families of origin, but a lot of their work, hopefully is done virtually.  But in our emergency shelter or in our childcare centers, it is direct contact. So that’s a different set of considerations. Lyn, what we have done as a leadership team is really tried to avoid making rules for the organization. There’s some 200 employees and clients and foster parents. We really try to avoid making rules, except for the most basic of which is, if you’re on CEDARS property and you’re within eight feet, wear a mask. That’s a rule.

Lyn Wineman
A good one too.

Jim Blue
That is a rule. But beyond that, we are trying to support our team leaders, foster care, et cetera, to make their own protocols based on the guidance that we sent out about protecting each other, but to make their own protocols based on safety and service needs. So every program is operating differently, it seems like. We are not aware of any employee who has contracted the coronavirus from another employee.

Lyn Wineman
That’s amazing.

Jim Blue
We have an internal tracking system, which an employee of ours, Joy Crawford is her name, oversees in HR. She’s a 25 year employee of CEDARS. That tracking system has just been fabulous, and it has helped us mitigate, and so far, eliminate the spread of virus from one employee to another, or from employee to a kid. Any positives that we’ve had, the employees have contracted it from outside of CEDARS. And through Joy’s great work, we’ve been able to identify it early and separate them from the potential spread to CEDARS colleagues or even clients.

Lyn Wineman
That’s amazing.

Jim Blue
Long answer.

Lyn Wineman
It’s all right. It’s that the pandemic has impacted all of us in many ways, but your team is on the front line and they’re doing important work. So it’s great that you have those systems in place. And I appreciate the fact that you offer people in different roles, in different positions, flexibility to do what’s right versus tying their hands with, maybe, regulations that don’t make sense.

Jim Blue
And if I may, Lyn, a manifestation of that is so what are we now, 30 years into the coronavirus? I don’t know. Eight, nine months, 10 months into it.

Lyn Wineman
It feels like 30 years. I think eight months is my last count.

Jim Blue
So, we’ve had a long enough time where some circumstances are starting to repeat. I think about four months ago, we had a room in our childcare center, which had to go on quarantine because we had a positive in that classroom and wherever that was four months ago, that was a big thing. I was intimately involved in that decision about the quarantine and how to communicate it. Well, earlier this week, we had another room at that childcare center where there was a positive. In a childcare center, everybody’s on top of everybody. We can wear masks and such but everybody’s on top of each other. So earlier this week, we had another positive in a room there. And the program director informed me about it and that they had moved to quarantine without me being involved in it. So the world keeps turning and we keep learning and hopefully, the folks closest to the kids and families can feel empowered to make the right decisions.

Lyn Wineman
Yeah. We’re all getting better at this. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but we’re getting better at it. So Jim, I want to talk to you a little bit about foster care. And I think this is an interesting fact because I think as a community, we generally see reports on the news about unemployment rates. We know about sales tax returns. We get reports when the blood bank is low on certain blood types. And now we see the daily COVID-19 counts. I never see regular reporting on how many foster families are needed. Is that because you have an abundant supply of foster care families and have no needs?

Jim Blue
Well, Lyn, you’re a really smart and plugged-in person but I appreciate you asking that question like you don’t know the answer. I really do.

Lyn Wineman
I’m setting you up here, Jim.

Jim Blue
You’re one of those plugged-in people that I know in the community. I appreciate you giving me an opportunity to talk about that. It’s heartbreaking. In a normal month, we’ll receive requests for a foster home for about 120 unduplicated kids from all over the state.

Lyn Wineman
Wow.

Jim Blue
And if it’s a good month, we have enough of the right type of foster parents for that individual child to place about 10. That’s why we have kids in shelters, why we have kids in treatment programs that they don’t need to be in, why we have kids staying in unsafe environments. About 120 kids are referred to us every month and we place about 10 of them. And it’s all about not having enough of the right type of foster parent. It’s heartbreaking. Foster care is the best place for most kids who cannot be at home. It’s in a family, it’s in a neighborhood, it’s in a neighborhood school. What do we expect of our kids when they grow up? We expect them to be responsible leaders of their family and responsible leaders of their neighborhoods. And that’s where kids who can’t be at home with their biological parents, that’s where they should be.

Jim Blue
And so I hope that before my career is over, we can make a huge impact in Nebraska about having a safe, correct place for children who cannot be at home with their parents. We have kids of all ages, Lyn. We have babies right out of the hospital, four and five-year-olds and of our 180 placements, we have some 25% that are teenagers. Some people are leery of teenagers. If I could be a foster parent, and I can’t be because I oversee everything here, there’s no one that I can get support from in the organization. I have to oversee everything. But if I could be a foster parent, I would go right after a 14 or 15 year old, 16 year old kid because those kids I know that are sitting in shelter, they know what it is. They know what they’re missing.

Jim Blue
They know what they’re missing in not having a family. I’ve seen so many kids whose lives have changed around completely because someone or some family stepped forward and said, “I want to give a kid a new chance.” So many kids have told me that new chance has changed the trajectory of their lives. I hope we can make a big difference out of that, a big difference in the world of foster parents before I’m gone.

Lyn Wineman
Wow. So Jim, when you think about the ripple effect that we talked about at the beginning and how changing the course and helping a kid can change generations to come, stepping up and being a foster parent has to be one of the most noble things somebody can do. And I’m sure you’ve heard lots of stories from foster parents about why they love doing it and what the rewards are. Could you share some of that? The rewards from the family side of being a foster parent, just beyond doing the right thing and being a good person.

Jim Blue
There is a family that I’ve had the privilege of knowing, for about five years now. And they have two younger kids, a five and seven year old. They’ve already been through the baby years and the toddler years and such. And they don’t really want to do that again, they live a little bit out in the country. And so their kids who are five and seven now, have not had a whole lot of exposure. They would like to be a temporary foster home for a teenager to show their kids about what love means and about what community means and what family means, which is so much more than their little world. So this family, it’s not about just what they would be able to give to that teenager.

Jim Blue
It’s about what they’re giving to their kids to see what it means to embrace others. But we also have folks who have no kids, couples who have no kids and none are on the horizon, but they want something more. And the opportunity to bring a baby into their home gives them perhaps a sense of being beyond the day-to-day and it completes their life. So it can give so much to really anyone who’s a responsible adult to be a foster parent for a child that needs them so much.

Lyn Wineman
That’s great. I appreciate you sharing those stories because I think stories really help people understand the great advantages and what a neat experience it really could be. So, Jim, I want to talk a little bit about your capital campaign. I know CEDARS is undertaking a major effort and honestly, it takes courage to launch a capital campaign in the midst of a global pandemic. Can you tell us more about that effort and what you’re working towards?

Jim Blue
Happy to, Lyn. Thanks for asking. Yesterday, right now, our capital campaign is at about 60% of our goal, so we’re going public.

Lyn Wineman
Congratulations.

Jim Blue
And so, we’re going public now, and I saw the email promotion and the subject line was CEDARS launches a $3.5 million capital campaign for essential facilities. You say courage. I say, what kind of idiot does that during a pandemic?

Lyn Wineman
In the midst of a global pandemic.

Jim Blue:
I guess that’s me. Yeah, we’ve had great support so far, but first, what we’re doing. So, this building at 66th and Pioneers is the mothership of the organization. We have services and offices in Bellevue, we’re at Hartley Elementary School, Clinton Elementary School, North Ridge Community Center, 27th and O, our drop-in center downtown, and then certainly we have foster parents throughout Eastern Nebraska, but this is our mothership.

And the first part of this building was constructed in 1953 with the kitchen and dining room being clear on the East edge of the building. It’s been added onto several times, both farther to the East and then programmatically to the South in about ’09. So our kitchen and dining room, aside from the need just to update it for the future, there was a lack of privacy. We’re a T here, the structure of the building, and the dining room where kids and shelter and life skills and other programs eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, were right at the center.

Jim Blue
Anyone wanting to get from one wing to another had to walk through the dining room. So by privacy alone, wanted to do this. We identified, we went through a really traditional facilities plan and we were going to engage in a really traditional capital fund drive, raise all the money and then in 2023, we were going to build a new kitchen, dining room/activity center and make better drive-up access to the shelter for families and law enforcement, et cetera, build a new sports court. We’d do that in 2023, after we raised the money, but our not-friend, the coronavirus, decided to spread throughout the world. Our food service guy came to me and said, “We need to shut down the dining room.” That was in late March. “Because it’s not safe. We’ll have 15, 20 kids in an area that’s not real huge. And everybody walking through too, we can’t do it.”

Lyn Wineman
Very big.

Jim Blue
We even serve them food in the program areas in styrofoam, which from an ecological standpoint, drives me crazy, the styrofoam, but there’s not a feasible alternative. So our board of directors agreed with me that we need to do this now. We’re an organization that has no debt. Our financial strength is elemental to the strength of our services in the future. Some of the local financial institutions, Union Bank, Pinnacle Bank, Cornhusker Bank got together and provided a really nice financing package to allow us to get this work done. Construction is going on right now for the work that was to be done in 2023. By April, we will have our new dining room/activity center/kitchen built onto the back, onto the South of the building. We’ll have our new basketball court. And as I look out my window, the hoops and nets are up already, and this will be done by late spring of 2020.

Lyn Wineman
Wow.

Jim Blue
We are conducting a really aggressive rather non-traditional capital fund drive right now, which went from July 1st of 2020, and will end on June 30th of 2021. We’re talking to all of our families and friends and anyone in the community that would like to learn more about this, about how they can support this. We have two goals, Lyn. One is safe, modern environments for our kids and our employees and then to give people in the community an opportunity to be part of this really, really essential project here. So it’s a $3.5 million campaign. We started in mid-July and we just crossed over the $2.1 million mark. And we are sending the message out broadly right now, saying please help. Please help. This is for the kids.

Lyn Wineman
Jim, the support you have already received, I think speaks volumes towards the respect for the organization, but I think also the respect for you. And so first, congratulations on that and good luck. And KidGlov is a supporter of that effort fully.

Jim Blue
Yes, you are. Yes, you are, thank you.

Lyn Wineman
And I would encourage anyone else out there that’s listening to do that. And I’d like to take this opportunity to talk a little bit more about you and your story. You’ve been at the helm of CEDARS, not the whole 75 years, but quite a long time. And I’m curious, how did your career path lead you to this point?

Jim Blue
Yeah, I’m pushing 30 years here with the CEDARS organization and I’m 58 now. So I was pretty young. I was about 28.

Lyn Wineman
You started pretty young. Yep.

Jim Blue
I don’t know how my career led here. That’s the end of my answer. I was blessed to have a family which had wonderful stability and wonderful love, and I want to do what I can to give that stability back to kids who too many have known too little stability and love. So that’s my theme. Beyond that, I always liked kids. I tend to like kids better than adults.

Lyn Wineman
That’s funny. That seems obvious though.

Jim Blue
Through my late teen years, high school and college, I worked at the Knolls Country Club, which was a two-pool large private club. I was a lifeguard and pool manager. I was pool manager at age 18 or something like that, supervising lifeguards. I don’t know how that happened. In college, I worked as a tech on a night shift at a youth treatment center in town. So, I always carry that appreciation for 3:00am in the morning with me today. I worked with homeless populations up in Omaha, quite a bit. Came back down to Lincoln in about ’88 and really enjoyed working in the field of refugee resettlement, families coming over largely from Southeast Asia. And then I came here to the CEDARS organization in ’91. None of that pathway was particularly intentional, but I have just been thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of that ride and try to do some good. So I am blessed.

Lyn Wineman
That’s great. It’s interesting too because both you and your lovely wife, Suzanne, are in the nonprofit field. She’s the executive director of Matt Talbot Kitchen and Outreach for those who don’t know. But earlier this year, you were honored as a couple by the NEBRASKAland Foundation for your careers of helping people in need. Can you tell me more about that honor and what it’s been like for both of you to be in this nonprofit human service field?

Jim Blue
I first saw Susie when I was about 21 and I still remember today, the first time I saw her.

Lyn Wineman
Oh.

Jim Blue
So, for me, at least, it was one of those love at first sight things. And-

Lyn Wineman
I didn’t know you to be such a romantic, Jim.

Jim Blue
Well, you can talk to Susie about that. Our life has been one for many, many years. We accepted that statehood day award recognition for our organizations. Yes, we appreciated the honor. That was nice, but we accepted it for our organizations. People say this all the time, but there’d probably be about 200 other places that night that Susie and I would rather be than at the state capital at that banquet, going through all that rigamarole. There’s many other places we’d rather be but it is an honor. The list of people who have received that in the past, Bob Kerrey, General Lempke, the list just goes on and on. So we’re really honored by it.

Lyn Wineman
That’s a very distinguished list. So Jim, what advice do you have for people who want to make a difference in the world?

Jim Blue
That was me thinking when I said uhhh.

Lyn Wineman
That’s usually what that mechanism is for.

Jim Blue
That’s my thought mechanism. Well, it sounds pretty common, but my mind right away goes to that don’t focus on the big things. Start with the small things. Shoot, start with your dog. Be nice to your dog. A family member, maybe who’s on the other side of the present political divide, you don’t need to sit down and say, “I’m sorry that you disagree with my political views,” but you may sit down and do something fun with them. So meet over the divide to do something that joins you.

Lyn Wineman
That’s amazing.

Jim Blue
Start small in your neighborhood. There’s many people over the years that I have been in contact with that come and say, “Oh, I want to start my own nonprofit.” Well, fine. That’s up to them. But there’re a whole lot of really wonderful nonprofits that already have a structure, already have all the regulatory compliance stuff in place and well-oiled, and there’s an opportunity for a person to step in. Even doing something small, tutoring, and then just see where the Holy Spirit takes you from there. So start small and then turn it over and see what your life can become.

Lyn Wineman
That’s really great advice. I’m going to build on that a bit. One thing about me, Jim, I love motivational quotes. Actually, it’s something that helps me get through the pandemic right now. I’d love some Jim Blue words of wisdom that I could add to my list. Do you have a quote that you could give us?

Jim Blue
I don’t think I do, Lyn.

Lyn Wineman
Now Jim, I’m going to say something because I have, while we’ve been talking, I’ve taken several notes. Let me give you back some Jim Blue words that I’ve heard.

Jim Blue
You’re so good, Lyn.

Lyn Wineman
Don’t focus on the big things. Start with the small things. I heard you say that. I heard you…I loved what I just heard you say. Reach through the divide, do something that joins people. I’ve never heard that in a quote before, but I really like that. And then early on, you said the world keeps turning. We keep learning. I thought all three of those were great quotes.

Jim Blue
So, I think the quote I would give you, Lyn, is the world keeps turning and we keep learning. That would be my motivational quote for you. Thanks for giving me that.

Lyn Wineman
That’s great. I think that’s a good one. That’s a good one.

Jim Blue
I just mostly hold tight words of people that I really respect and maybe I am more drawn to instructional quotes than I am motivational. So I’m sorry I’m not a real good responder for you on that.

Lyn Wineman
I think you’re a great responder. I’ve collected three.

Jim Blue
In the words of President Lincoln, a House divided cannot stand against itself. I don’t know if that’s motivational, but it sure is-

Lyn Wineman
Yeah, but it’s good, very relevant for the times we’re in. So Jim, we have listeners from all across the country. For anybody who may not be familiar with CEDARS and would like to learn more, how can they find out more about you and the work you’re doing?

Jim Blue
Well, feel free to give me a call. That’d be great. But of course, the easiest way these days is to visit your favorite search engine, Google, it may be, and type in C-E-D-A-R-S and you’ll pretty quickly see the CEDARS organization pop up with our website. We made some really nice revisions to our website lately. It will be not only pleasant to look at, but it should provide wonderful ease of access to anyone who would like to learn more about us, who would like to perhaps learn more about being a foster parent in a nonthreatening way. We’ll just get information out to you. Become a financial supporter. Certainly, we always have employment opportunities for folks too. So, it should be an all-purpose Google search for you.

Lyn Wineman
Fantastic. So Jim, as we come to the end of our conversation today, just as a wrap up, what is one last, most important thing you would like people to remember about CEDARS?

Jim Blue
Remember the kids. That’s all I want.

Lyn Wineman
Remember the kids.

Jim Blue
Yep.

Lyn Wineman
That’s awesome.

Jim Blue
Remember the kids.

Lyn Wineman
Fantastic.

Jim Blue
Everything flows from that, as does our future.

Lyn Wineman
That’s great. Jim, congratulations on your great career and the success you’re having and thank you for the good work that you’re doing. I really appreciate you taking time to talk with me today.

Jim Blue
Thank you for the great work that you and your colleagues at KidGlov do for Nebraska. You have done such wonderful things for so many really wonderful human service organizations to help them be the best they can be for Nebraska. So thank you for KidGlov.

Lyn Wineman
Thank you, Jim. Hey, have a great day.

Jim Blue
All right. Thank you.

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