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Ashley Carr


Ashley Carr is best known by over 2,000 refugees and immigrants in Lincoln as “Ashley Dina Har.”

In English, this translates to ‘very crazy Ashley.’

As a refugee resettlement case manager, Ashley’s days are a lot like her nickname – crazy. She drives her clients to doctor appointments and school, teaches them how to ride the bus, helps them apply for jobs or takes them shopping at a local thrift store.

Her job is to help shoulder the burden for people who are coming to the United States for the first time, she said, and it’s humbling work. 

So many of her clients refer to her as ‘very crazy Ashley’ because she loves to make people laugh. Whether she’s cranking up country music as she drives around town or stumbling over phrases in another language, Ashely does it all with a smile that welcomes and invites people to settle in to Lincoln.

Her job is what she dreamed of doing, even though it’s so different than what she expected.

Ashley said it was during a study abroad trip to Italy that she really started to understand her love of different cultures. She was immediately fascinated by the Italian culture and wanted to immerse herself in the everyday life of the people – but there was a problem, she didn’t know the language. It was frustrating to want to enter into another culture, but not be able to because there were so many barriers. This experience is what sparked her interest in refugees and immigrants.

While she laughs now about that fact that her temporary discomfort during her study abroad trip opened her eyes to the experience of refugees and immigrants, it stirred up a passion for people that is so evident in her work.

Ashley started out as an intern at the Lincoln Literacy Council, where she eventually received a full-time job, before becoming a case manager with Catholic Social Services.

During her work, Ashley said her eyes have been opened to the heartbreaking stories of people escaping difficult situations with the hope of finding safety and a renewed sense of home. Many of them come to Lincoln with few possessions and little knowledge about American culture, other than what they’ve seen on TV or heard from family and friends.

During the refugee resettlement process, refugees take culture orientation classes in their homeland before they come to the United States. But Ashley said the reality of what they experience is so different than what they’ve learned during their classes. Things like running water, ovens, vacuum cleaners and how to take a shower are anomalies to many refugees, depending on their country of origin. There’s a huge learning curve, Ashley said, but she’s been so impressed with the resilience of her clients.

After two years as a refugee resettlement case manager, Ashley said it’s hard not to become numb to the traumatic stories that she hears. She said the initial intake meeting is often highly emotional. They tell her stories of what or who they’ve lost during their resettlement process and Ashley sits and listens.

She said it’s difficult not to dwell on these stories when she’s away from work, however, she also wants to remember the special moments of each case. One of those moments is when she meets a family at the airport for the first time.

Ashley is at the airport all the time, but these trips are special.

For many refugees, driving in a car is a big adjustment, so being in an airplane can be extremely overwhelming. She said they often get off the plane tired from days of travel, confused and nervous about their new home. They’re greeted by other family members or friends who have been in their shoes before… and then there’s Ashley, smiling and ready to hug them or shake their hand, welcoming them to their new home.

She said that no matter how many airport runs she’s done, she always tries to treat each airport reception like it’s the first one. She never wants to do it because it’s just part of her job, she wants to welcome people to Lincoln because she’s excited they’re here.

During one of her first meetings with a new client, Ashley said she likes to explain that she’s there to help them find resources and adjust to their new surroundings, but most importantly, she reassures them that they’re safe.

She looks them in the eyes, understanding as much as she can about their story, and says: “Your suffering is done.”

She explains that life won’t be easy, but they don’t have to live in fear anymore, and this is a welcomed and surprising sentiment for most refugees to hear.

“Their countries have disregarded them, so this is a big turning point,” Ashley said. “I feel grateful to be able to tell them that.”

For Ashley, her work has become more than clocking in and out of the office everyday.

Her clients have become her friends. They invite her over for meals, holiday gatherings and birthdays. Ashley has become an extension of so many families and cultures in Lincoln over the past two years, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ashley has helped restore dignity and hope to people by making Lincoln a home, not just a destination.

It’s not an easy job. It’s heavy and oftentimes overwhelming. The hours can be long and every family has a unique set of challenging needs, but Ashley said she can’t give it up. Her work has become a place where her passion and greatest joy align. It’s where she’s learned the most about herself and her city, about cultures and people who she never could have imagined meeting.

Her clients have taught her to see what matters, to value what matters and to see and hear the stories of people who matter.

Lawrence De Villiers


The son of a notable French politician, a member of the aristocratic De Villiers family, a comedian and a chef – Laurent De Villiers has been all of these things, and now he’s a Nebraskan.

These days Laurent goes by Lawrence, but that doesn’t mean he’s forsaken his heritage. He’s French through and through. You can tell by his accent, his general mannerisms and the fact that he owns The Normandy, a local French bistro.

His story is complicated. It spans continents and is marked by periods of rebellion, confusion, joy and renewal.

But Lawrence says his story really started went he met his wife, Renee.

The two met when Lawrence was doing volunteer work with a Catholic Franciscan order in the Bronx. Renee was working at a local shelter and the two quickly became friends. They were from very different backgrounds – Lawrence grew up in a high-brow, political family, Renee grew up in the small, laid-back town of McCool Junction.

After they started dating, Lawrence and Renee moved to Paris for a year before coming back to Nebraska and settling in Lincoln.

It was around this time that Lawrence noticed the lack of French cuisine in Lincoln. He craved it and realized the only place he could find it was in his own kitchen. So, he started small. He opened up a booth at the farmer’s market where he sold crepes and pastries and then started catering authentic French meals to his more eager customers.

Lawrence knew that he needed a full-scale restaurant, and Renee encouraged him to keep exploring this idea.

So, after a short stint in the Railyard’s Public Market, Lawrence bought a former bar and grill at the corner of 17th and Van Dorn streets and transformed it into his French bistro.

“It looked nothing like this when we moved in,” Lawrence said, looking around at his manicured dining room. “But it also took time.”

He was patient when it came to growing his business. He started with authentically French food that he catered to the palettes of Nebraskans and his atmosphere followed suite. In France, he said, you find a lot of small mom and pop shops that serve amazing food and that’s what he wanted to create in Lincoln.

He knew it didn’t need to be complicated, but it needed to be done right and that’s what he did.

Having a local restaurant in Lincoln is hard, it takes time, resources and lots of patience, but Lawrence does it for his family. He and his wife now have three daughters, and carving out a place for his restaurant and his family have become a major part of his story.

It’s a story he didn’t anticipate being his own, mostly, because it’s the opposite of so much of his early life.

Lawrence’s childhood was full of expectations. His family was wealthy and well-known and they hope he’d follow the same path, but early on Lawrence knew that wasn’t what he wanted.

He wanted to start something, run his own business, make and earn his own money – he wanted to be free of his family’s expectations. This search for freedom, along with marrying his wife are what led Lawrence to Lincoln.

It’s a place that’s vastly different from France, but also so different from his elite childhood. Lincoln has quickly become his home, and a chapter in his story that he’s proud to share with his customers.

“We’re not rich, but we’re making it,” he said. “I couldn’t find a better place to raise my children, for my marriage, for my relationships with people – we’re very blessed here.”

Nate Woods


Nate Woods points to a grouping of framed photos on the wall.

“He’s going to graduate from high school this year, and she will too…” he said, moving his pointer finger from one photo to the next.

Nate is standing in a quiet hallway inside The Malone Center. In a few hours these halls will be filled with the sound of pattering feet and excited voices of the kids enrolled in the after school program. It’s this boisterous, controlled-chaos that is, by far, Nate’s favorite part of the day.

But other than the people who use the community center, Nate said, few people know much about the story behind the building and its programs. It’s a story that’s close to Nate’s heart, because his story is connected to the Center.

The Malone Center was started in 1955 as a way to strengthen the African American community and serve as a hub for educational, cultural and social programs for all people.

But its roots go deeper than its founding in 1955, and Nate Woods knows this because his grandfather, Millard Woods, was the original founder.

In the early ‘30s, Millard wanted a place for people of all races to gather. Nate described how back then there was still a high level of segregation that left colored people out of other social gathering spots. So, Millard started what he called the Urban League out of a yellow, two-story house.

The precursor to The Malone Center became the place to find information about jobs and schooling, but also a social hall with sewing clubs, dances and basketball games that filled the house with nearly constant energy.

Nate was only six years old when his grandfather passed away and is honest about the fact that he doesn’t remember much about him. He wasn’t around to experience the early years of The Malone Center, but Nate understands an important part of his grandfather’s story because of The Malone Center.

Nate has worked as the assistant director at The Malone Center for the last 13 years. He’s helped start numerous programs and watched as kids transition from preschool to high school. He’s like a dad to most of the kids there, he knows their names, interests, strengths and weaknesses. He’s the person parents call if they’re concerned about their kid.

Nate just gets kids and he know that matters, because not so many years ago he was one of those kids running around and shooting hoops in the gym.

While Nate lived on the west side of Lincoln, he remembers finally getting to the age when his mom would let him bike across town to The Malone Center. He’d shoot hoops with friends until it got dark and then he’d bike home.

It was his routine, his place, and that’s what Nate loves being able to give to the people who utilize The Malone Center today. 

Nate loves his job. He said he wakes up every day, excited about the new challenges and surprises that await him. He knows that not everyone feels that way about their work, and he thinks it has something to do with living under his grandfather’s legacy. 

Here’s the thing, Nate may not have known his grandfather very well, but the way he describes him – caring, kind, energetic – is the way so many people describe Nate. He walks around the Center joking with the maintenance guy and giving one of the preschool teachers a hard time, he’s fun to be around and that seems pretty special.

Nate points to one last picture on the wall.

“That’s my grandfather,” he said, looking intently at the painted picture.

“I think he’d be proud of this place.”

And for Nate Woods, that’s what matters.

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