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Dick Budig


“Today we received a beautiful gift from you… we cannot find the words to describe it…”

Dick Budig gets cards in the mail with these kinds of sentiments on a fairly consistent basis. He doesn’t really know the woman who sent him this letter, in fact, he’s never even met her… but he recently painted a portrait of her deceased son.

Over the past 16 years, painting portraits of men and women killed in war has become Dick’s hobby. He does his work completely free of charge, seeking to honor the families of these heroes and thank them for their sacrifice.

It’s work that satisfies his soul, and it’s a job he created because he saw a need that was unmet – both in the community and in his own heart.

“I’ll be 80 this month,” Dick said, looking over his glasses. “I’ve been around a while.”

He’s seen a lot, done a lot and all of it, he said, has shaped why he’s painting portraits of fallen heroes.

As a child of the ’40s, Dick said he remembers the big events of World War 2. He remembers hearing about Hitler marching into Poland, saying goodbye to his relatives who went off to fight and the look on his parents’ faces when they opened a telegram telling them their family members weren’t coming home.

He and his friends played ‘war’ endlessly, making up creative skits and scenarios that mimicked what they heard war was like overseas. But the reality of war was also very apparent to Dick, even at the age of 10. He said he missed his relatives who died in the war, and not getting a chance to say goodbye seemed wrong.

When Dick got older, he went into the military as well. Serving as a member of the Air Force, his days were spent on a SAC base where his unit guarded planes between the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

It wasn’t as bad as other wars, he said. However, there was no guarantee that he or his buddies would be coming back from war – but he did.

Dick came home to his wife and two young children and they settled in his hometown of McCook, Nebraska. Here, he attended a community college where he was a pre-med student, until he realized he couldn’t hack chemistry. He changed his degree to journalism and worked for the McCook newspaper for a few years.

But after a while, Dick said he couldn’t sit at his desk and pound on his typewriter anymore. He moved his family to Lincoln, where he transitioned from journalism to advertising. From there, his work history gets complicated.

“I did a thousand little things,” Dick said with a laugh. 

He was a hairdresser, journalist, owned an advertising agency, gold refinery, jewelry design shop, an ice cream shop and eventually a pawn shop.

At one point, he looked into buying a bank, but couldn’t afford it, and soon realized a pawn shop functioned a lot like a “poor man’s bank.”

Dick spent his days tinkering with broken electronics, fixing them up and selling them for a profit. He did so well, in fact, that he was able to pursue one of his long-term passions that he’d since put on the back burner – painting.

As a kid, Dick was always drawing. He would spend hours sitting and sketching, and one day he added color to his work, opening his eyes to the world of painting.

But with a family, there was little time to paint professionally or even pursue it as a hobby. He needed to make money, and art wasn’t a viable option for feeding his family.

After Dick retired in 2000, he circled back to painting. He’d always loved portraits and began to make time to pursue his art. He realized that he needed people to paint, and who better to paint than fallen heroes, he thought.

When he started out, families were a little skeptical of his work, and understandably so. He said oftentimes families were still mourning their loved ones and couldn’t fathom someone offering to paint a portrait free of charge, but Dick’s offer was truly that simple and sincere.

He’s starting to lose track, but Dick said he’s painted somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 portraits of fallen war heroes. He started out painting just Nebraska soldiers, but said he can’t say ‘no’ to families.

When parents contact him they often share a lot about their child with him – their likes, dislikes, character traits and personality and even how they passed away.

“They tell you these stories and it’s difficult,” he said. “These kids are gone, just gone. But there’s still something magic about an oil painting I think…”

When he paints, he doesn’t think about the soldier’s story or even their family, he thinks about the mechanics of what he’s doing. The colors he’s using, the detail and shading – every detail needs to be just right. Dick said when he paints, it’s like times stops and it’s wonderful.

Some portraits take him a few days, others can take up to a month to complete, and when a painting is done the family either comes to pick it up from his studio or Dick sends them the portrait in the mail.

“People come in here to see the portrait and they just stand here and weep,” he said. “And I get some really nice cards.”

He pulled a few pieces of paper out of a stack, “These are some of my favorites.”

Written in pencil on lined notebook paper were notes from two young girls whose father was killed in the Middle East. They dotted their ‘I’s’ with hearts and told Mr. Dick how he was their favorite artist because of the portrait he’d painted of their father.

‘This is better than money,” he said, holding up the letters. “You can’t buy this.”

Dick’s story has become about giving stories back to families. He knows that a big reason he paints portraits is because it’s his own way of mourning the loss of his family members. But it’s also allowed him to step into the lives of families from across the country. To sit with them in their pain, hear their story and give them something to remember.

He may just be painting portraits, but to the families who receive his work, Dick is their hero.

Allie Luedtke


Before Allie Luedtke was the owner of Crafthouse, she was a Lincoln resident who was frustrated – frustrated about fabric options.

Yes, fabric, as in fabric for sewing.

It might not sound like a big deal, but to Allie it was a problem. See, in college, she had the same issue. As a textile, apparel and design student at UNL, there were numerous occasions when she couldn’t find the kind of fabric she was looking for. There were no big, modern prints, no classic and soft cottons – her options were limited.

She thought to herself, ‘Someone really should fix this problem and open a more modern fabric store…’ never considering the fact that the ‘someone’ she was referring to could be herself.

Years passed and Allie found herself in another set of frustrating circumstances, this time, it was about her job. She was working in retail and really questioning her career path. She considered going back to school, switching careers… and then thought about the whole fabric store situation.

She realized that even though she didn’t consistently need fabric for school projects, nothing had changed. No one had filled the fabric void, and so the question in Allie’s head became, “What if I opened a shop?”

The idea was a nice hybrid between her degree and her retail experience, plus, she had a clear vision of her dream shop. But according to Allie she wasn’t a “business brain,” so even entertaining the idea seemed ridiculous.

As her discontent with work grew stronger, Allie said her ideas started to make their way out of her head. She pitched the idea to her husband, parents, siblings and close friends, and soon she needed to do something other than just talk about her idea.

So, Allied decided she might as well just try opening up her own shop. She and her husband worked out the business details, she had family members help design her logo and shop space and six months later she was opening the door to Crafthouse in October 2013.

At that point the shop was located on north 48th street. It was small, but overflowing with just what Allie knew had been absent from the Lincoln fabric scene. Bolts of bold and modern patterns lined the shelves, rolls of yarn were stacked in the corners and everything was a visual and textural treat for customers. It was just what Allie had envisioned.

A year later, she expanded the shop, knocking out a wall and giving herself more retail space as well as room to grow their increasing number of sewing classes.

Allie joked that while the shop expanded, she expanded as well, as she and her husband prepared for the birth of their first child. She said it was fun to have customers come in and see how she was growing and ask about her due date. Allie even went into labor while she was at her shop and had to leave to go to the hospital.

Having a new baby and owning a shop brought about a bigger shift in Allie than she anticipated. She was a full-time owner and mom who had her baby in the shop with her nearly every day.

Allie said she used to be a very private person, she kept to herself and wasn’t someone to let her personal and work life overlap too much. But that all changed when she had Calvin in the shop with her. Customers would “ooo!” and “ahh!” over her sweet newborn, but then there were the times he was fussy or stunk up the shop with a whopper of a dirty diaper.  

She’d ask customers to hold her baby while she cut fabric or to wait a few minutes while she finished feeding him. It was an overwhelming season, but also a very telling one, Allie said. She learned so much about herself and her customers.

“I’m like the hot mess mom,” Allie said with a laugh. “But it’s been cool to form friendships through that and realize that people aren’t ridiculously perfect.”

Being a full time mom and shop owner opened the door to real conversations about more than just fabric at Crafthouse. Allie said friendships come to life in her shop as people learned basic sewing techniques or just connected over a particular pattern or style.

At the end of 2015, Allie had to be honest with herself as well. Things with the shop were going well, but they could have been better. She liked the cozy neighborhood where the shop was located, but it wasn’t always easy for people to find.

Allie needed to move Crafthouse, and that seemed like a major undertaking. What if it failed? What if a new location didn’t help her sales? Could she even afford to move?

The questions came with a wave of anxiety and stress, but Allie knew she needed to pull the plug on her beloved shop and make the move.

Earlier this fall, Allie celebrated the three-year anniversary of Crafthouse and their recent move to a new location. She said 2016 has been hard, full of change and days when she didn’t know if she could keep going. But it was also when she realized the Crafthouse chapter of her story wasn’t over, it just needed a new start.

Allie never pictured herself opening a fabric store. She didn’t imagine herself dreaming about new bolts of fabric, designing her own line of custom patterns or even bouncing her baby on her hip while chatting with customers, but that’s where she’s at, and she loves it.

Not everything is perfect, her story, her shop, her life, and that’s just fine by Allie. She’s not about perfection, because she’s convinced the best stories in life are far from perfect.

Kat Scholl


Things have finally started to make sense for Kat Scholl.

Now, that doesn’t mean her life is perfect or that she has everything completely mapped out, but for the first time in a long time, she’s starting to understand her own journey.

During the day, Kat is a public information specialist at Lincoln Parks & Recreation. On the side, she and her husband raise bees. It may sound like the two jobs work together in perfect harmony, but that’s not always the way Kat has felt about her work life.

After growing up in a farmhouse in Seward, Nebraska, Kat went to Concordia University to get her degree in studio art. She’d always been creative and her parents encouraged this talent.

Kat grew up watching Bob Ross’s “The Joy of Painting” with her grandmother. Her parents gave her blank sheets of paper instead of defined coloring books to spur on her creativity, so pursuing an art degree seemed natural.

And yet, Kat felt like she needed a backup plan. Not only was art somewhat of a loose career path, but she is also blind in one eye. Kat feared losing her sight entirely, so she also got a massage therapy degree as a fallback career.

Kat said she struggled through college, wrestling with her beliefs, schoolwork and a lack of confidence in her own abilities. After she graduated, she job hopped for about 15 years, going from one position to the next. She felt unsettled and nothing felt like the ‘right’ job. It was during this time that she met her husband, Dustin.

The couple met online after Kat swore off the chaotic bar scene and Dustin was too shy to even consider meeting someone at a bar. Dustin sent the introductory message, Kat responded and the rest is history.

But shortly after they met, Dustin had a random idea.

“Hey, what if we took this beekeeper class?” he asked Kat one night, pointing to a list of classes offered at Southeast Community College.

“Are you serious? You’ve never mentioned anything about bees before…”

Dustin went on to explain how he’d always been interested in beekeeping and he’d hoped to someday make it his “old man” hobby.

“That’s cute,” Kat said with a laugh, and she moved on.

But Dustin kept at it. Leaving the class description in strategic places and dropping in a fact here or there about beekeeping, until Kat agreed to attend the first class.

Much like their dating experience, after one class, they were hooked. A year later they were harvesting their first batch of honey and planning their future honey business.

This was back in 2011, now, Kat and Dustin are the proud owners of K&D Honey Bees. This year they harvested nearly 400 pounds of honey and produced products like lip balm, lotion bars and hand cream with the beeswax.

Working as weekend beekeepers was a fun hobby, but Kat started to realize she loved it because of her family roots. She’d grown up in a family where stewardship of the land was important, and so had Dustin. Their families were both involved in efforts to care for the environment and educate others about habitat conservation.

In turn, much of Kat and Dustin’s bee work has a heavy educational emphasis. They invite customers out to watch them harvest honey, teach people what plants are helpful for bees and educate others on what role bees play in the environment.

This natural shift in thinking about her hobby also translated to her work life. Kat started doing some part-time work at Lincoln Parks & Recreation and eventually was offered a full-time position. Now her days are spent in area parks taking photos for their website and social media pages and helping people understand the role of the Department in the community.

She and Dustin have a few dozen hives out at her family farm in Seward. They dream about one day buying the house she grew up in, raising their kids in the country and maybe trying to make the bee thing a full-time gig, but for now, Kat’s thankful for where her story is at.

Her hobby and day job go hand-in-hand, and she’s excited about what’s next. She’s found a hobby, a way to help others and confidence in her work for the first time in a long time.

A writer of stories


Sharing your story with a someone can be challenging, humbling and even scary. Not with her. It’s more than just the frequent nods of approval and kind smile. She has a way of making you feel comfortable, both with yourself and your story.

Somehow you have the confidence that she’ll take the tangled web of facts and short stories and craft something articulate and beautiful. You can’t put your finger on exactly what it is, but you can tell she genuinely cares about you, values your story and has a sincere desire to tell it well.

Meet Asha (like Tasha without the “T”). Don’t worry if you mispronounce her name. She gets it.

If you were to take a quick glance at Asha’s story, it might seem pretty standard for a Nebraska girl. But look a little deeper and you’ll find that her story is more than you might have expected.

** Disclaimer : Asha did not write this story. You’ll get to enjoy her wonderful writing again next week, but this week you get to learn more about the writer herself. **

Although Asha herself lived most of her life in Omaha, her father was born and raised in India and her mother is from a small town west of Lincoln. Before meeting each other in the Philippines, her parents traveled and lived in other exotic places like India and Israel. But even after settling down in Nebraska, those distant cultures, food and people remained a significant part of their life.

Asha can remember being called upon as a child to help prep and serve home-cooked food to people visiting from around the world. There was always the expectation to stay around to hear stories and take part in conversations with their guests.

Visitors would share tales about dangerous travels, risky border crossings, strange foods and the difficulties of living abroad. Listening to and sharing stories was a big part of Asha’s childhood experience and when it came to writing them down, she was a natural.

Growing up, teachers would tell her that she had a talent for writing, but it wasn’t until a journalism class in high school that Asha began to see what her talent had to offer. When she showed an interest in writing, her parents encouraged her to get involved. Soon Asha found herself as the editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper.

She attended journalism camps, entered competitions and won awards. But as high school was drawing to a close, Asha had a decision to make. Would she study medical science like her two older siblings, or would she buck the trend and go on to study journalism? The decision might sound like a no brainer, but it was complicated.

Choosing a career in medicine would be the practical, responsible and slightly more acceptable decision. But the idea of experiencing adventure, travel and stories for herself… maybe that could be practical too? She told herself she would need a plan.

Asha purposed to find as many internships and real-world experiences during her college studies in order to land a job after graduation. She wanted to take things seriously and her “plan” somehow made the impractical choice more practical – giving her the confidence to say yes.

Asha took advantage of every opportunity for real-world practice in journalism. International trips and internships around the country were expected realities.

She was doing it. Asha was doing what she loved – traveling, experiencing diverse cultures, meeting new people and still maintaining a laser focus on her career.

Asha figured she was set. With her awards, recognition and experience, she wouldn’t have any problem landing a job and traveling the world. Everything seemed to be going as planned.

Then… life happened.

Asha met a guy – Michael. She fell in love and got married. They decided to settle down in Lincoln and the decision was a surprisingly easy one. They already had friends, family, favorite places to eat and a great community. Asha and Michael had grown attached to their city and knew Lincoln would be a great place to start a family.

The first step in settling down meant starting a career and shortly after being married, Asha landed her first real-world job. But it wasn’t what she expected. She went to work in advertising. That’s right… advertising.

Instead of traveling the world, Asha would be helping businesses find their message, writing copy for websites, video scripts and interviewing people on camera. Initially she was a bit out of her element, but it didn’t take long to get the hang of things and excel.

A short time later, she was approached with an offer. Asha was asked if she would be interested in helping start an advertising agency focused on storytelling. It sounded intriguing, even exciting. But it was definitely a risk. Did she really want to stay in advertising?

Eventually she said yes and agreed to come on board to help start StoryHook.

Fast forward to today. Responsible for almost 52 stories, Asha is the creator, writer and photographer for this wonderful series we call Stories Matter. She has been instrumental in building StoryHook and injecting well-crafted storytelling into the community. People from all over have read and loved the stories she writes each week.

Being in advertising wasn’t exactly part of the plan and if you were to ask high school Asha about her future self settling down in Lincoln and working in advertising… she might be a little disappointed that she isn’t the traveling journalist she maybe thought she would become.

Instead, high school Asha should be encouraged by the surprise of adventure. She married a loving husband, has a growing family, is surrounded by a supportive community and directly impacts the lives of people through her writing.

Asha’s story is one of tough decisions, unexpected outcomes and surprise blessings. She didn’t give up on her dreams. She found a better one. With people she loves.

Asha isn’t a great writer because of her childhood experiences, her travels, or her education – though those have uniquely shaped her into the writer and person she is today. No, Asha is a great writer because when she writes about you, you’re more than just a story. You’re a person, with immense value. To Asha, your story matters… because it’s yours.

Cinnamon Dokken


Cinnamon Dokken has never written a resume – she’s never needed one.

At the age of 22, Cinnamon and a college friend opened A Novel Idea Bookstore. What started out as collecting books turned into a business, and 25 years later the shop – dozing cats and all – is still thriving in downtown Lincoln.

“Let’s go sit in the poetry section,” said Cinnamon as she grabbed a small stool to sit on.

It was easy to tell she was in her element in the bookstore. The conversation flowed quickly as she waved at the occasional customer and looked relaxed and at home.

But owning a bookstore for 25 years has given Cinnamon a lot of perspective. She said she’s learned what decisions are worth stressing about and which ones she can make on a whim. It hasn’t been easy to build and maintain her shop, but it’s been a challenge that’s defined her story.

The bookstore’s first location was in a basement space near 16th and O streets. It had no heat, no air conditioning and they often blew the fuse with their electric teapot, space heater and stereo.

In the winter they gave out cups of hot tea to customers to keep their hands warm and when the lights went out they used flashlights to shop. It wasn’t ideal but it worked.

“When you’re used to being poor and tired and cold, it’s not a sacrifice to work a little harder and have a business,” said Cinnamon. “You just duck down and go.”

Cinnamon graduated from college in December of 1991 and the following year she found a new, bigger space for the bookstore – her current location on 14th street between O and P. Truth be told, Cinnamon said, they didn’t even have the first month’s rent in the bank when they got the space, so they hustled.

They sold books while moving into their new space and quickly got to work building new bookshelves and personalizing the shop. After hours, the shop became somewhat of a gathering place for the neighborhood. Bands would often crash there after playing a show at Duffy’s or small groups of friends would host late-night book talks over a bottle of wine.

Cinnamon watched as A Novel Idea developed its own culture and feel. Over the years the bookstore became a place for regulars, the curious college student or out of town visitors who wanted to find a local shop to peruse.

So much life has happened in the shop, both for the community and for Cinnamon. Her daughter, Isabel, was born shortly after the 10th anniversary of the shop and grew up stacking books and taking naps between the rows of shelves.

Starting a business was a risk, especially as Cinnamon acquired a mortgage and had children, but she was never afraid of being a small business owner. It’s a fearlessness that she attributes to her parents.

Cinnamon grew up in Pawnee City, Nebraska, watching her parents own and run their own businesses. Her mom owned a flower shop and her dad managed his own dental practice. The two of them were hard workers who were a big part of their small hometown.

“My dad always used the phrase, ‘It’s important to pay your civic rent.’ ” Cinnamon said. “In a small town there was a lot of opportunity to be involved, and that was part of life.”

While Lincoln is a different town than Pawnee City and owning a bookstore is a different business than a flower shop and dental practice, Cinnamon applies her father’s wisdom to her own work.

After 25 years, Cinnamon’s downtown bookshop is doing well. She’s seen more customers and sold more books this year than in years past – a surprising fact in the age of online sales and digital books.

But for Cinnamon this trend has only reinforced her love and commitment to the Lincoln community.

She’s spent her life building a business that’s served generations of readers, which she said is one of the greatest honors of her life.

“I want to set an example for my children that this is how you live life,” she said. “You celebrate and you contribute and you try to encourage the people around you to be their best selves.”

The way Cinnamon started her business was not glamorous. It took work – lots of work – but it’s also a work that she deeply enjoyed and was committed to. It’s work that’s defined her story and will continue to shape her future.

Erik Hustad & Gabe Lovelace


It started with a food truck.

Scratch that.

It really started with a conversation over a sandwich.

Erik Hustad and Gabe Lovelace grew up together. They’re first cousins, former band mates and friends. Now, they’re the co-owners of Honest Abe’s and Ground Up Kitchen.

Back to that sandwich… Erik graduated from culinary school in Seattle and worked in the restaurant business before moving back to Lincoln. He was itching to start his own thing and he had a few ideas.

This is where Gabe comes into the picture. Erik and his wife, Jess, would come over to Gabe and his wife, Emily’s, house to try out new recipes. This was a pretty common practice for the couples – it gave them an excuse to hang out and eat really good food.

That night, while experimenting with a new chicken salad sandwich recipe, Erik pitched his idea for a burger joint to Gabe. They talked about it briefly and then moved on to a different topic.

Gabe called Erik up a few days later saying something like… “Hey, were you serious about that burger idea? Because, I’d be up for it…”

Erik responded with a question… “What would you think about being my partner in some sort of restaurant?”

Gabe was all in.

“I was his third option,” Gabe said with a laugh, looking over at Erik.

“I didn’t even know he was interested! And he was the only one who said yes, quit his job and came to run this ridiculous food truck,” Erik said.

While Erik had the food know-how, Gabe had the love of food and a desire to find a new job. Gabe had started and quit college three times, worked in the healthcare industry, dabbled in music and had a long list of mediocre jobs.

So, the cousins started a food truck. While they talked about the burger idea, they quickly realized you can’t make good burgers very quickly in a food truck, so they ran with a sandwich and mac and cheese concept they called GUP Kitchen – ‘GUP’ was short for Ground Up.

They got a loan from the bank, spent nearly all of it on buying a truck and trailer and then opened up for business on what felt like a sub-zero temperature day in November 2011.

“I think my mom was our only customer that day,” Erik said with a laugh.

Within their first year of business, Erik and Gabe secured a brick and mortar shop near 70th and Vine streets where they launched Honest Abe’s, their burger concept, in August 2012.

The burger idea took off fast and the guys were a little surprised. They’d meant for Honest Abe’s to be a casual burger joint with a small, but specific menu and really good fries, but things seemed to balloon overnight.

Ten months later the duo opened Sebastian’s Table, a Midwest tapas-inspired restaurant.

They went from spitballing ideas over sandwiches to running three different restaurants in a matter of years. It was hard work and Erik and Gabe put in long hours those first few years because there was a lot at stake – they had wives, kids and mortgages. They dipped into their savings to try new things, take manageable risks and hire people they trusted.

Things were going well, but not every venture was a success. Eventually they shut down the GUP Kitchen food truck, they started and closed Sasquatch Cafe, Sasquatch Bakery and Como Se Taco. In the fall of 2015 they closed Sebastian’s Table.

“My all or nothing, dream big or go home mentality has played a factor in our successes and our failures,” Erik said. “And Gabe’s steadiness and conservative nature is the one of the reasons those successes didn’t crash…”

But it was through opening so many restaurants that Erik and Gabe learned what works and what doesn’t… and Honest Abe’s is what’s working really well, they said. It’s why they opened a second location downtown and why they’re thinking about expanding the brand even more.

It doesn’t mean they’re giving up on other restaurant ideas, not a chance, but they’ve learned a lot about how to run and maintain a restaurant in Lincoln.

As their business has grown, Erik and Gabe have learned how to step back, delegate and hire people they trust. They put a big emphasis on hiring the right group of people to create a culture that values people and the community.

They’ve also learned about themselves, how they work best together and what they’re not willing to sacrifice for their business.

These days, Erik said he gets to tuck his kids in at bedtime every night, and that’s not something he’s willing to compromise, and Gabe agrees.

The thing about Erik and Gabe is that they’re writing their own story. They’re not into industry standards or following strict guidelines. Instead, they’re propelled by their trust in each other and their belief in investing well in people.

Their collective story may have started with a band, a food truck and a conversation over a sandwich, but that’s not where this story ends.

Matt Schulte


Matt Schulte never imagined raising his family in Lincoln, but that’s what he’s doing.

Lincoln was where he spent a good chunk of his childhood. It’s where his dad ran a ministry, where he started school and played sports. But for whatever reason, as Matt got older he just couldn’t picture himself living in Lincoln.

Now, he can’t picture his life anywhere else.

If Matt’s name sounds familiar it could be for one of two reasons. He’s on the Lincoln Public Schools school board and he’s the executive director of the ministry Youth For Christ.

Between his two roles, Matt has a lot of connections to youth in Lincoln. He sees the enrollment numbers, financials and school growth as a school board member, and he sees those numbers come to life as he mentors kids in detention centers, kids in Geometry or teen parents.

But again, this was never in Matt’s plan.

Matt graduated from high school, attended college in Arkansas and after his freshman year, took a break from school.

Matt said he needed some perspective. He liked school, was doing well, but wanted some time to really test out his major – Should he go into education like he planned? Or do ministry like his dad?

Matt spent four months attending a language school in Guatemala, another four months as an intern for Campus Life and his last four months working in the Dominican Republic.

When he came back to the states and enrolled in school again, he knew he wanted to pursue non-profit ministry. Which meant when he graduated, he would leave the country again.

Matt traveled around Central America working with various ministry organizations. He loved speaking the language, exploring different cultures and getting to know the people he was in community with on a daily basis. It was during his traveling that he met his wife, Kristin. They shared a love for travel, cultures and ministry and the two got married shortly after meeting.

They continued to travel and work in Central America until six years ago when they moved their family to Lincoln.

At the time they had two young children and one on the way, and life abroad was beginning to be too much for them to keep up with. Matt had heard that the Youth For Christ ministry in Lincoln needed some additional help and decided it was the right time for his family to make the move.

That’s how Matt ended up back in Lincoln. He found himself working into the role that his dad had when he was a kid – the executive director for Youth for Christ – and something about it felt familiar and right, but also very different.

Matt worked to expand the ministry, growing it in size but also in scope. Youth For Christ now has a ministry for teen parents and incarcerated youth.

It’s through his work in ministry that Matt has come to understand Lincoln again, specifically Lincoln’s youth. Whether it’s the stories he hears through his staff members or interactions he has on a daily basis with kids, Matt knows the stories of Lincoln’s youth better than most people in town.

Matt said his work has helped him believe in the Lincoln community, which ultimately led him to run for the LPS school board in 2014.

He secured a spot on the board, winning in a 3 percent margin over the incumbent.

Being on the school board has been a huge learning curve, Matt said. His decisions impact 40,000 kids in Lincoln, and he’s convinced, more than ever, that the local school board needs the community’s attention.

When the school board discusses enrollment numbers, bussing or financial reports, Matt can think of specific kids and families who will be impacted by these decisions. His two jobs just make sense together.

His career choices also have deep family ties. Not only was his dad the area director for Youth For Christ, but his mom was also on the school board. Matt said he remembers his mom inviting members of the teachers union into their living room to have discussions about the contract negotiations. It was serious stuff and it showed Matt how involved his parents were in their community.

Now, he’s the one setting that example for his four kids. Matt said he’s very aware of his impact in the community, but he’s also aware of the little sets of eyes who watch their dad interact with the community each day.

Matt didn’t plan on coming back to Lincoln. He didn’t plan to run a ministry like his dad or be on the school board like his mom, but that’s how it played out.

He’s proud of his story, of the way he’s serving his community from two similar but very different places. He’s happy to be in Lincoln again, and to help make the city the best place it can be.

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.

Kevin Heim


When people meet Kevin Heim they quickly notice that he’s all about tennis.

From his Wilson-branded clothing to his light but permanent tan lines, Kevin knows tennis because he’s been playing or coaching for the better part of 30 years. He’s the current executive director at Woods Park Tennis Center, but he laughed about the fact that he never thought he’d be living in Lincoln.

When Kevin was in high school, he remembers hearing a professional tennis player say, “Tennis is like an education, it can write a ticket to just about anywhere…” and that thought stuck with Kevin as he navigated his life on and off the court.

As a kid, Kevin played any and every sport he could. He grew up in a cul-de-sac in Ralston, Nebraska, where he and his friends would spend hours playing games with whatever balls and bats they could find in their garages. Kevin said at one point he pulled out his dad’s old, wooden tennis racquet and used it in a game, but the racquet broke after just a few swings.

The summer after 5th grade is when Kevin really started to zero-in on tennis. He saw a flier at school for summer tennis lessons and he and his friends signed up. The classes were very casual, Kevin said, and while they learned a few key skills, the ‘lessons’ quickly diverged into a competition of who could hit the ball the furthest. However, he quickly saw that tennis was fun.

Over the next few years, Kevin and his friends rode their bikes to the local tennis courts to play for 3 hours at a time. Then, they’d ride home, order a pizza, watch the professionals play on TV and then go back out to try and hit some of the shots they’d seen on TV.

During his freshman year of high school, Kevin made the varsity tennis team. He didn’t have many expectations, but was excited to learn more and be on a team with experienced players.

When it came time for college, Kevin received a tennis scholarship to play at Midland University in Fremont, Nebraska. He loved his time on the court and went to Nationals where he realized that tennis was so much bigger than just Nebraska or the U.S.

Kevin earned his education degree and then moved to Milwaukee where he taught at a high school and coached the tennis team. During the summers he worked at a tennis club where he grew the program from 60 kids to 600 adults and junior players over an 11-year period.

His summer work started out as a way to fill his time, but then it became about sharing his love of tennis with students. Kevin said tennis often gets labeled as a sport that’s reserved for country club members, but that was never the case for him. He loved that tennis helped him be a well-rounded kid and it was a fun way to spend his time.

Kevin was extremely successful as a high school coach and with his summer work, but he still felt like he wanted to do more. He heard about a job opening for the head tennis pro at Wood Tennis and he decided he’d try his hand at moving back to Nebraska.

But it wasn’t an ideal move. When Kevin came to Lincoln in 2009 he was in his early 30s and there wasn’t much to do in town. The situation he walked into at Woods Tennis wasn’t ideal either.

The facility was falling apart, they had staffing issues and their numbers were steadily decreasing. The place needed help, but that’s what attracted Kevin to the job.

Before he’d even landed the job, Kevin was dreaming up new facilities, programs and initiatives to help Woods Tennis grow. The center had a long and strong history and he knew he could help rebuild that – which is exactly what he’s done.

Kevin walked out the front doors of Woods Tennis and hung a right, walking toward a chain-length fence that zoned off a construction area.

“That’s it,” he said, pointing to a large plot of dirt.

Next spring, that dirt will be replaced by a new, indoor tennis facility, equipped with 6 courts. And those big white bubbles that currently house the indoor courts, they’ll be gone, a fact Kevin is more than happy about.

Since his move to Lincoln, Kevin has worked to rebuild the reputation of Woods Tennis. He’s restructured the classes, hired a new tennis pro, spearheaded a Capital Campaign and taken over as the executive director. Woods Tennis has become a place for everyone in the community – young, old and people of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Kevin said he’s also loved coaching a group of wheel chair athletes for the past eight years. Several of the adult chair players have participated in tournaments all over the country, with a handful of them winning their division at the US Open. 

He’s seen the community at the Center grow and thrive despite its dated facilities. And while Kevin said he can’t wait for the new facility to be open in the spring, seeing adults and kids come early and stay late in less than ideal conditions has shown him that the culutre at Woods Tennis trumps the physical setting.

Kevin has also earned a reputation of his own. Sure, people around town know him as the guy who runs Wood Tennis, but he’s also the guy who found his own story through tennis.

He said the sport taught him a lot about himself. About discipline and determination, hard work and perseverance. It was through tennis that Kevin met his wife, developed a passion for the community and worked to make the sport fun and accessible to as many people as possible.

So much of Kevin’s story revolves around tennis. But there’s also so much of Lincoln’s tennis culture that’s connected to Woods Tennis and directly connected to Kevin Heim – and that’s a reputation he’s proud to have earned.

Alicia Reisinger


There are at least three candles burning in Alicia Reisinger’s house at any given time. The smells vary from day to day, but today it smells like oranges, the holidays and fresh air all rolled into one.

It’s luxurious and inviting, homey and relaxing. And it’s exactly what you’d expect to experience when you walk into someone’s home who makes candles.

Alicia is the proud owner of Wax Buffalo Candle Company. A business she runs out of her kitchen with toddlers in tow, three assistants and a whole lot of yummy smells.

But to Alicia the smells are just part of her everyday life, they came out of necessity – she has babies and bulldogs  – but they also came to life after a season of transition.

Alicia calls this season “the quiet season.”

She didn’t have a job and her days were spent caring for her baby and spending time with her feisty, 80-year-old grandmother, Ferne. This season was slow and simple, rich and meaningful. It was also hard and confusing because it was so different than what Alicia was used to.

The years prior to this season were anything but quiet. Alicia and her husband, Jonathan, were videographers who lived in Chicago – a city that perfectly matched their love of all things artistic and creative. Alicia describes it as the season when she and Jonathan became “them.” They lived in an apartment over a funky soap shop, worked hard, stayed up late and learned how to love each other.

But like all seasons, this one ended after Alicia found out her grandmother was battling her third bout of cancer. So, she and Jonathan packed their bags and moved to Nebraska to spend time with a woman who had shaped so much of Alicia’s life.

Making the transition to Nebraska was challenging, but it was also a new adventure for Alicia and Jonathan. They originally planned to stay for just a year, but as they grew their family and got more connected to the community it just made sense to stay.

When Alicia’s grandmother died in 2013 things felt quieter than they ever had. She’d lost her grandmother, but also one of her best friends, and she wasn’t sure what to do next.

As she grieved, Alicia started making candles, something she and her grandma would frequently do together and the first scent she poured was cinnamon – their favorite scent. She dug in deeper, researching the benefits of soy candles and buying the best oils to create clean and crisp smells.

Then Alicia started to think about how to associate smells with stories, starting with her grandma and then creating other scents that told the stories of different seasons in her own life.

She has a candle called Armitage Street, named after the street in Chicago where she and Jonathan lived after getting married.

As she developed her scents, Alicia slowly started giving away her candles as gifts to friends. Eventually, they asked her if she’d consider selling her candles in stores.

“No way!” she said. “I could never sell these! If no one buys them I’ll be embarrassed.”

Well, let’s just say, Alicia wasn’t embarrassed.

She made 12 candles to sell in a local shop in Lincoln and a few weeks later the shop called and asked for more – they’d run out. So, she poured 12 more.

Things went on like that for a while as Alicia slowly grew her company into what’s now a Midwest brand being sold in 35 stores across 11 states.

It’s astounding and overwhelming, Alicia said, because she never imagined that pouring candles in her kitchen would turn into a full-fledged business.

Some days, all of her countertops are filled with freshly poured candles and Alicia and her 5-year-old, Navy, and 3-year-old, Satchel, spend the day packing up boxes to be shipped to customers.

And while Wax Buffalo was started by Alicia, it’s really a family business.

Alicia said Jonathan really spoke into the brand and handles even the smallest details like packing up the car with candles before a big market trip.

“We’ve always been a team,” Alicia said. “We work better together… and a big part of who we are is being a part of the other person.”

The couple also still tackles video projects together, sometimes taking their kiddos with them to wherever their next adventure awaits.

But that’s really the core of Alicia’s story – learning to be ready for the next adventure, whether it’s a quiet season or a chaotic one.

That’s the thing about seasons, they change, and Alicia is getting ready for a whole new adventure. At the end of October, she’ll be having their third baby, just in time for the busy holiday season.

But she’s not too worried about it. There doesn’t seem to be much that slows Alicia down these days, and the baby, well, she said she’ll just strap him on and wear him around as she pours candles or sells them at the markets.

“Everything becomes this magical family adventure,” she said.  “It’s better that way.”

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