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Leigh Esau


Leigh Esau is a little shy when it comes to sharing her story. She’s not actually a shy person, but telling her own story just isn’t her thing.

Leigh is the founder of the Foster Care Closet in Lincoln. It’s a place where foster kids can get brand new clothes during and before they go to a foster home. She has served thousands of kids in the foster care system with clothing. The Foster Care Closet has been open in Lincoln for 10 years and now has a location in Omaha and is opening two more in Scottsbluff and Kearney.

Leigh’s goal is to take her model and make it a national standard for foster kids across the country, because these kids are often the ones left behind, she said.

Before she was 1, Leigh was placed in a foster home. Her home-life was chaotic and unstable and she went back and forth between her foster home and biological home for the first three years of her life. She was found abandoned at age 3 and was in foster care for another few years before being adopted by a family in a rural town in Colorado at the age of 7.

At the age of 14, Leigh said she boldly talked about growing up and being a foster parent in the way that most kids talk about wanting to be a teacher or firefighter. It was on her radar and heart.

When Leigh met her husband, Pat, at the age of 15 she said she knew they would get married. She called him up, asked him out and three years later they got married.

The young couple moved to California and then settled in Lincoln where they raised their children. Leigh said it’s when they became foster parents that they quickly noticed how few belongings children had when they showed up at their house.

When she and her husband took in a foster child, they’d rush out to the store to grab diapers, clothing, formula, shoes, car seats and whatever they needed. It was expensive and also sad that they couldn’t spend that time investing in the child who had just walked through their door.

Leigh began talking with friends about how to fix this problem. She started taking second-hand items from people to use herself or pass along to other foster parents who could use them. This was the start of the Foster Care Closet, and a year after Leigh started collecting clothes they moved operations to a storage facility and then an official space. By 2008, the Foster Care Closet was in its current 3,200-square-foot location.

But the Foster Care Closet has far extended Leigh’s original idea of gathering clothes, toys and diapers.

“This is my favorite part of the whole place,” said Leigh as she flicked on the lights.

It was like an apartment. There was a big living room, an office area, bean bag chairs, toys – it felt like a home, which is exactly the point.

In 2012, Leigh added an intake center to the Foster Care Closet. This space above the shop is where kids and caseworkers can hang out after the child is removed from their home and before they go to their foster home.

It’s a step toward making this traumatic process smoother and more comfortable for kids while they’re waiting to move to a foster home, Leigh said. The kids can eat, pick out five new outfits to take with them, watch TV, play or just sit down and take a breath.

These seemingly small details matter to Leigh, because they matter to kids. She’s witnessed tired and confused teens light up when they go to pick out new clothes, because they know they won’t have to go to school the next day wearing the same outfit. She’s seen other kids start to trust adults just because she brought them a snack.

“I can’t change the system, but I can change how kids are introduced to foster care,” Leigh said.

One of the reasons Leigh said she doesn’t like to share her story is because people often assume she works with foster kids because she is a former foster kid, but that’s not true. Leigh said it’s less about her own experience than it is about the kids she’s seen walk through foster care.

She is convinced the process can be better, that kids can have dignity and a voice despite their circumstances.

That’s why she does her work. Why she’s checking prices, folding clothes and looking for sales at Old Navy and Sketchers. It’s why she’s buying a new round of jeans in the off season and stocking up on bulk bundles of socks and undies. It’s for the kids whose stories have rubbed off on her, who have made her own story richer and somehow stronger because of their courage and resilience.

Because for Leigh, her story matters most when it’s about making their stories heard.

Ben Welstead


Ben Welstead has a good story, and he knows exactly when it starts – 2007.

Back then he was a church youth group director who was busy organizing events, meeting with kids and taking the occasional summer missions trip.

It was these trips that got him thinking about alternative ways to fundraise. He noticed his youth group kids lived in t-shirts and jeans and they were always looking for a cool new shirt to add to their collection, so Ben thought he’d try screen printing for himself.

Ben has always been somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades, so screen printing seemed like just another hobby to add to the list.

He bought a screen printing starter pack and then watched YouTube videos to fill in the blanks. It was a very trial-and-error process with lots of frustration and mistakes, but when Ben finally pulled his squeegee over his very first screen he realized he’d finally figured it out.

That was the start of Basement Ink, Ben’s literally basement-run print shop.

At this point, Ben and his wife, Renee, were both running businesses out of their home. It was busy, stressful and new. They were keeping their heads down, working, making deadlines, figuring out how to run businesses and pushing forward.

And then the phone rang.

While Ben had been starting his business, he and Renee had also become foster parents, and that phone call was about a possible placement.

Two girls – sisters – and then came the question, ‘Would you be interested in possibly adopting them?’

Umm, maybe? The next few months were filled with weekend visits, meetups and a lot of hard questions and conversations with friends and family about what it meant to be parents.

Were they ready? Could they raise these sisters? How do you love a child who you barely know?

It was a hard season with desperate moments and little sleep. The girls moved into their house, they figured out routines, likes, dislikes and on National Adoption day in 2011 they made Cora and Ruby their daughters.

Being parents is revealing, said Ben, and as they adjusted to the joy and pain of being a family a few things surfaced.

Ben realized he couldn’t work at home anymore. There was too much stress, too much anxiety and too much loneliness. Sure, he was in his own house and around his family, but he was constantly thinking about work because it was in his house. It became unhealthy, and as Ben reached a breaking point, Renee handed him a listing for a rental space.

On the day he signed the lease on his new work space, another call came – twins, biological siblings of their daughters.

“We just knew they should be with us,” Ben said.

And six months later, Louis and June became Welsteads too.

For a while things worked out OK. Ben’s family had tripled in a matter of years, it was crazy, in a good way but also a bad way. Ben was still putting in an obscene amount of hours, he was constantly apologizing to clients for missed deadlines and more importantly he felt disconnected from his family when he was home.

Something had to give, but he was at a loss for what needed to happen.

Then, he got a text.

Another screen printer in town, Jason Davis of Screen Ink, had a job opening and wondered if Ben would be interested in merging operations. It was the answer Ben needed, and a few months later he sold his printing equipment, left his rental space and joined Screen Ink.

These days, Ben doesn’t spend weekdays mindlessly printing shirts alone in his basement, he’s collaborating with a team for the first time, finding creative ways to stretch Screen Ink and then biking home with a freed mind to his family.

On the weekends he cheers at soccer games, takes the kids on family bike rides and carts them to birthday parties. The days are busy and full, but so much better than before, he said.

To say a lot has changed over the past nine years of Ben’s life would be an understatement. Everything changed, but Ben wouldn’t have it any other way.

The way he told his story was honest and sincere. It wasn’t some nice spin on things, it was unfiltered, rich and raw.

It’s a story with so much struggle, but also so much beauty. It’s about becoming a family, being a family and embracing change.

But it’s also a story that’s not finished, there’s more to come from Ben and the rest of the Welstead clan, and that’s a story we’re excited to watch unfold.

Jason and Cindy Nabb


There’s something about the Nabb’s house that just feels like home.

Maybe it’s the smell of freshly brewed coffee, the toddler teetering around with an orange in her hand, the two kiddos sitting at the dining room table working on their school work or the morning sunlight filtering into the living room where we sat and chatted.

By the end of our time together, I knew what made their home feel so welcoming – love. Now, before you jump to any conclusions or start asking about what philosophical kind of love I’m talking about, just read this story.

Jason and Cindy Nabb have been married for nearly 17 years. They have eight children ranging in age from 18 to almost 2 years old. But Jason and Cindy don’t have a typical love story, and certainly not a love story that they thought would lead them to where they are now.

“She was dating one of my friends when I met her,” said Jason, he and Cindy looked at each other and laughed.

That’s basically how their story went. They were two dysfunctional youngsters who had an extremely broken and dysfunctional relationship.

Their early love history had a weird pattern. Date, get engaged, break up, drink, date, break up, drink some more, don’t talk, get pregnant with somebody else, just friends, don’t talk.

Cindy said on the day they were supposed to get married (the first time) they met up and got coffee in Lincoln before she traveled to Minneapolis and Jason moved to Tulsa. They literally couldn’t have been going in more opposite directions.

But then Cindy gave birth to her baby, Olivia, and called Jason to tell him she had become a mommy. He got the message after he’d been at a Super Bowl party and thought to himself, ‘What am I doing?!’

The next year, on their would-have-been one-year anniversary, Jason asked Cindy to marry him in front of their entire church in Lincoln.

A year later, Jason started the paperwork to adopt Olivia.  

As Jason and Cindy told their story, I watched as their daughter Ashley sat quietly and listened. It didn’t look like the first time she’d heard this story, because she kept smiling, looking as if she was glad she knew the way the roller coaster of a tale would end.

But getting married wasn’t the end of Jason and Cindy’s love story. If anything it was the beginning. They went on to have five more biological children – Simon, Isaac, Meredith, Ashley and Sam – and a few weeks ago they adopted two more children from foster care.

The Nabbs have a full house, and you don’t even want to know their monthly grocery budget. Cindy said a lot of people who don’t know them look at her like she’s crazy to have this many children, but the people who know them understand that it just makes sense because they know Jason and Cindy.

When they bought their current house, they knew they wanted it to be a place they shared with others. Sure, they had a big family, but they also had extra room.

They opened up their basement to a single mom and her daughter who stayed with them for a season. It was a sad, difficult and messy situation, but it didn’t scare them out of serving.

“We want our kids to know that there’s a sacrifice that comes with serving,” Jason said. “There are people who need help and they’re worth sacrificing for.”

This is when the Nabbs seriously started considering foster care.  

“Especially coming from the backgrounds that we have…we feel so redeemed,” Cindy said. “Why wouldn’t we want to give that to someone else in return?”

After going through the process of getting licensed, the Nabbs received lots of calls for kids to be placed in their home. The call that led to a placement was for two sisters who were 3-months and 3-years-old.

And so it began. Therapy appointments, learning assessments, meeting with and encouraging the girls’ biological parents, talking through the situation with their children, praying.

It was a hard situation to enter into. It was hard on their marriage and their family. It was sad to see the stories of two, young girls and their parents struggling and oftentimes failing, but it also showed and taught them how to love more deeply.

“I think of commitment as a synonym for love more than anything else,” Cindy said. “You don’t change your commitment to your kids or your spouse because circumstances change.”

It’s about choosing to love, despite your weaknesses.

Their love and decision to love led them to the courthouse on January 19, 2016 to make Crystal Elizabeth and Luna Isabel part of their family.

Jason and Cindy said they didn’t set out to adopt – they also didn’t set out to have six biological children – but that’s the beauty of it all, right?

They would be the first to tell you that they haven’t loved well at all times, they’re not perfect, but love is a big part of their story.

The Nabb’s story is one that’s about more than the mushy, gushy love that quickly feels artificial.

Their story is about an imperfect love for each other, the overwhelming love of their community and the unfailing love of a God who multiplies their love for one another.

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