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Immigration, Mental Health, and Predatory Lending Advocacy at City Council

November 22nd, 2017

In the past two months, OTOC Action teams have been present in city council meetings to testify on different issues.

OTOC adds support to City Council Resolution to tell Congress to act swiftly for DACA Dreamers

On October 17th, Jean Reiner of St. Stephens and the Immigration and Refugee Action Team testified about a Resolution for Omaha City Council to urge Congress to act swiftly on behalf of Dreamers and create a plan to protect DACA recipients. The Council voted in favor of the resolution after OTOC and many other individuals and organizations testified in favor of the resolution and City Council’s support of people in Omaha with DACA status. City Council passed the Resolution with five in support, two passing.

Jim Morely at City Council

Jim Morley testifying at he City Council meeting

OTOC and Allies get unanimous City Council support on Pay Day Lending and Mental Health

Omaha City Council  voted 7-0 on Tuesday Nov 21 to support LB 194 or similar legislation to better regulate Pay Day Lending. CM Pete Festersen introduced the resolution for the City to include this support in their  Priority for the 2018 Unicameral Session.  Jim Morely of Urban Abbey and the OTOC Predatory Lending Team testified that OTOC has ahad several house meetings in the last month and an Issue Cafe at Urban Abbey last Friday, all about Pay Day Lending. He said that over 90 people have attended these sessions and most were amazed that lenders are permitted under Nebraska law to charge so much in fees and interest and to trap borrowers in a cycle of debt. 

Jim was joined by leaders of several of our allies in this effort including Amanda Brewer, CEO of Habitat for Humanity, Nebraska Appleseed Attorney Ken Smith and Julia Tse of Voices for Children. The lively hearing involved lots of questions from City Council members, all of whom pledged at OTOC’s May 1 Accountability Session that they would work with OTOC to seek reform of Pay Day Lending in Nebraska. Their unanimous action today means that they have taken the first step in keeping their pledge to OTOC.

Click here to see KETV’s Coverage of the Council’s support for LB 194

Sarita Penka testifying at the City Council Meeting

Sarita Penka testifying at the City Council Meeting

Sarita Penka of St. Leo Catholic and the Mental Health Action Team testified in favor of two resolutions related to making Mental Health Care more accessible. The first resolution indicated City Council supports legislation that would allow mental health care professionals to initiate Emergency Protective Custody proceedings, and not just law enforcement officials as is now the case in Nebraska. Sarita told a moving family story to which CM Brinker Harding asked follow up questions and Sarita responded with authority and wisdom. 

Sarita then testified in favor of a resolution seeking a change in state law to  allow patients in Emergency Protective Custody to be transported to other states if no beds are available in state. Sarita cited the example of the wisdom of allowing patients from Omaha to be taken across the river to Council Bluffs if there a mental health beds free there at a time when none are free in Omaha.

Both of the Mental Health resolutions also passed City Council and will be included in the City’s Legislative Priority List for 2018. Click here to see the Omaha World Heralds story about City Council’s Legislative Package


OTOC is growing relationships, awareness and solidarity with Salvadorans with Temoprary Protected Status

November 4th, 2017

OTOC leaders have been working with Omaha’s Salvadoran people who are recipients of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), an immigration status given in 2001 because of the major earthquake in El Salvador. These families have been living and working in Omaha since then, renewing their TPS status every eighteen months. Now their immigration status is threatened as the White House Administration threatens to cut their protection along with many other countries that have TPS in the US. To learn more please click    HERE.

Media Coverage of Temporary Protected Status:

On November 9, Nebraska Lutheran Bishop Brian Maas, Catholic Archdiocese Chancellor Rev. Tim McNeill, and College of St. Mary President Maryanne Stevens, joined OTOC in an OWH Guest Column asking for an 18-month extension of Temporary Protective Status (TPS).

To see the article, click here: OWH Opinion Guest Column

OWH article pic

On November 4, OWH feature writer Erin Grace wrote a  front-page story about Wilfredo Rivera, a 20-year resident of Omaha who is a supervisor in a meat packing plant, homeowner, church member and father of U.S. citizen children. Erin met Wilfredo though OTOC and invited the public to hear Wilfredo and others at a November 6 OTOC/IPL Issue Café at Urban Abbey.

To see the article click here: OWH Grace Article



Wilfredo with his daughter- cover photo of newspaper article

Local Actions:

UA speaker

Mario, the head of the Salvadoran TPS Society in Omaha

On November 6, ninety-five concerned community members came to an OTOC/IPL Issue Café at Urban Abbey to hear from Creighton Law Professor Dave Weber and 4 long-time Omaha residents with TPS. OTOC leaders challenged those present to educate their congregations and members of Congress about extending TPS so that Salvadorans, Hondurans, Haitians and others who have lived productive lives in the US for many years will not be forced back to homelands where they would be in extreme danger. 

On October 14 OTOC, IPL, San Andres Lutheran and TPS Association of Nebraska shared a papusa and tamale dinner so where   TPS families shared their stories with 70 OTOC and community leaders. The benefit raised funds to help San Andres join OTOC and for 13 Omaha residents with TPS  to travel to Washington D.C to talk to their members of Congress about extending TPS



OTOC Leaders meeting TPS families over shared meal




Get Involved:

We need your help to protect these members of our community. 

Please call our Congressional representatives about our neighbors who have Temporary Protected Status (TPS).  We have been told that our senators and representatives actually count the number of calls they receive about specific issues and are more likely to respond to issues for which they have received many calls.

Senator Deb Fischer  202-224-6551

Senator Ben Sasse 202-224-4224

Representative Don Bacon  202-225-4155  (most of Omaha area)

Representative Jeff Fortenberry 202-225-4806  (some parts of Sarpy County)


Sample Script you can use:

“Hi my name is ________, and I live at ______________ in ___________.  I’m calling about our fellow Nebraskans who have Temporary Protected Status and are now at risk for deportation. 

There are over 440,000 persons with TPS in the US.  They were granted TPS as a result of armed conflict or natural disasters.  Many of them have lived in the US for years because they can’t safely return to their countries of origin.  They work and own homes in the US.  Their children and grandchildren are US citizens.  

Over 400,000 of them are from two of the most dangerous countries in the world – El Salvador and Honduras— or Haiti where almost 60,000 people remain in makeshift camps after the 2010 earthquake. 

I am asking that you

  • Become informed about Temporary Protected Status
  • Consider the risks to these families of returning to unstable and dangerous countries
  • Affirm the importance that we as US citizens place on family unity. Thank you”

You can also write a letter to the editor to create more positive press in Omaha

Please consider writing a letter to the editor for the Public Pulse section of the Omaha World Herald. This will help spread the word and show that people are concerned if many people are writing in.

The parts of a letter (should be under 200 words):

– Start with why it matters to you- personal connection that gives you credibility. Can be your own story of immigration, someone you know, or Wilfredo’s story

-Then use a shared belief or value that most people would agree with- family, American Dream, upward mobility, community, equality, etc.

– Share a fact or story that shows that the value is not being upheld.

            -Build off of another story or event that you read or attended:

– “Grace: In Omaha nearly 20 years, El Salvador native with protected status faces uncertain future.” Omaha World Herald. Nov. 4, 2017

-“Brian Maas, Maryanne Stevens and Timothy F. McNeil: Don’t end protected status” Omaha World Herald. Nov. 9, 2017

-OTOC Issues Café at Urban Abbey with Wilfredo Rivera on November 6 

-OTOC TPS Factsheet (HERE)

Submit letters to: OWH Public Pulse

You will need to give your name, phone number, and address (number and address are not posted with the letter).

You could also send this same letter to your Members of Congress. Just do a search for their website and look for their comment form under “Contact”

OTOC officially endorses the Carbon Fee and Dividend plan in response to climate change

September 14th, 2017


OTOC’s Environmental Sustainability Action Team (ESAT) is committed to educating and promoting solutions to climate change. At the September 11, 2017 OTOC Steering Committee Meeting, ESAT presented the Citizens’ Climate Lobby plan for reducing CO2 emissions. It is a plan for federal legislation termed Carbon Fee and Dividend.  The Steering Committee came to a consensus to endorse the plan as a way to reduce CO2 emissions and their harmful effect on the climate.

As a method of transitioning consumers away from carbon fossil fuels and toward sustainable energy sources, the Carbon Fee and Dividend plan puts a fee on fossil fuels at their source, i.e., mine, well or port. The fees will then be passed on to the consumers of products that fossil fuels affect.  The collected fees will be divided equally and a monthly dividend will be sent to each household in the country. Thus, households that have spent less on fossil fuel products will receive the same dividend as those households that have spent more on these fossil fuels.  Household members may spend the dividend in any manner. This is a market based approach to move our economy away from a reliance on carbon based fossil fuels and towards renewable and cleaner energies.

ESAT wants to help educate our community and has training materials prepared, so if your church or institution would like to learn more about the Carbon Fee and Dividend Plan, contact Mary Ruth Stegman at

Also visit the Citizens Climate Lobby website to learn more about their campaign.

carbonfeeanddividend edit

OTOC Leaders stand in solidarity as DACA program is threatened

August 29th, 2017

sergio daca

OTOC Leaders attended the Stand with DREAMers press conference in Lincoln on Tuesday. President Trump has cancelled the DACA program which now puts an expiration date on DACA recipients’ documentation, unless congress passes something like the Dream Act into legislation soon.

OTOC stands with immigrant and refugee families. We offer our heartfelt support for so many young people and their families during this time of uncertainty. Dreamer youth and their families contribute much to our Omaha community and economy.  

Nebraska’s members of Congress can fix this by acting quickly to pass the Dream Act of 2017 and updated, common-sense immigration laws.We need your action today:

Please call your elected officials to ask to ask for their urgent support of the Dream Act of 2017 and updated, common-sense immigration laws.

U.S. Capitol Switchboard #: (202) 224-3121 

Call the switchboard and then work through the prompts to call Representative Don Bacon or Jeff Fortenberry, and both Senator Ben Sasse and Deb Fischer

DACA youth and allies are invited to learn more at an event Thursday September 7th at College of St. Mary Gross Auditorium at 6 pm. 


OTOC leaders attend seminar with Glenn Loury, race and economics expert

August 24th, 2017

On August 15 and 16th, OTOC leaders Mark Hoeger and Karen McElroy and IPL Executive Director Joe Higgs joined community leaders from across the United States in Houston, Texas to discuss how to work across race and class lines in these polarized times.  Karen, Mark and all of the eighty leaders and organizers present in Houston were part of organizations affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundations, the largest and oldest community organizing network in the United States.

cropped gllenn loury

Glenn Loury in Houston

The leaders met with Dr. Glenn Loury, Professor of Social Sciences and Economics at Brown University, and  author of Race, Incarceration and American ValuesDr Loury is a leading scholar in the fields of  economics, politics and social structures affecting African American communities in the US. Loury’s work documents the changing face of racism, from the end of Jim Crow laws, to the more recent impact of mass incarceration of people of color. 

The meetings took place in the days immediately following the troubling events in Charlottesville and Loury emphasized that relying on identity politics is not going to result in meaningful change. Rather, he encouraged the leaders and organizers present to keep doing the  patient work of organizing to build relationships across lines of race, class and culture in order to develop strong coalitions of people who will seek the common good of their community, not just narrow special interests.

Mark Hoeger notes that “it made me appreciate anew the importance of what we at OTOC/IPL in Omaha and all the IAF affiliate organizations across the country are doing” in regards to having structural organized efforts to equality through the democratic system.

karen in houston

To Karen McElroy, the experience was a way to explore what other organizations are doing and how OTOC can improve housing inequality, early voting, and post incarceration programs. On the days immediately after the racial violence in Charlottesville, we came away renewed in our commitment to the careful, patient work of building relationships. 

OTOC leaders learning to do Individual Relational meetings

August 10th, 2017

Fifty five OTOC and community leaders attended the final summer traininGreta and Paulg session about organizing where Paul Turner taught about the most fundamental tool of organizing–the individual meeting.

This  workshop focused on how engage others in individual meetings in order to develop effective public relationships. If you want to build strong working relationships with people, learn how to do good individual meetings.

To learn more about individual meetings, click on these links:

Individual Meeting Chapter from Roots for Radicals

Individual Meetings and Cycle of OrganizingCrowd with Paul at front

Ernesto Cortez teaching about individual meetings

Leaders watched Paul conduct an individual meeting with Greta Carlson, the new Lutheran Volunteer Corp intern with Institute for Public Leadership.

Kevin Graham at front


Kevin Graham of First United Methodist challenged all those present to do at least 3 individual meeting by November 13 when OTOC will hold a Delegates Assembly.

OTOC leaders continue their work to reduce housing blight

August 10th, 2017

Paul RomeroFive leaders of the OTOC Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization Team testified Tuesday night in favor of $1.1 Million for demolition of condemned structures in the 2018 City Budget. They also issued two challenges to the Mayor and Council.

In 2011, the City was spending only $240,000/year on demolition and had a backlog of 800 condemned properties. Since 2013, OTOC has successfully advocated that the City spend $1 Million each year for demolition until the backlog is eliminated. The current backlog of  175 structures could be  eliminated by 2020 since the Land Bank will contribute an additional $500,000 this year for a total of $1.6 Million in 2018 for demolition. OTOC advocated for creation of the Land Bank in 2014-15 and stays involved in giving them regular feedback about priorities.

OTOC leaders issue New Challenges

Even when our forward-thinking city initiatives are in place, the process as it is now is moving too slowly,” said Charles Gould of OTOC.  OWH, August 9, 2017

Charlie GouldOTOC leaders also challenged the City to:(1) more quickly register properties qualifying for the Vacant and Abandoned Property Registry; and (2) use the registry fees to secure abandoned buildings so they don’t deteriorate as quickly. OTOC advocated for creation of the Registry in 2015 and Charlie Gould noted that waiting 4 years for properties to go to foreclosure for unpaid taxes is too to long. Instead, he advocated that the City foreclose for unpaid Registry fees within two years or sooner so the property can be rehabilitated instead of demolished.

Creighton Center for Service & Justice student intern Paul Romero presented data demonstrating the “Demolition Pipeline” of neglected homes in Omaha. Karen McElroy and Dave McLeod both reminded the City Council members  that neglected rental properties are aKaren McElroy large part of the problem in the eastern part of Omaha. On May 1, in front of 350 OTOC delegates, 6 of the current City Council members agreed to work with OTOC leaders over the next year to improve the regulation of substandard rental housing. Institute for Public Leadership (IPL)is helping OTOC leaders learn  more about  strategies that have worked in Council Bluffs, LaVista and other cities.



OTOC and IPL held five engaging events at Urban Abbey during July

June 26th, 2017

Institute for Public Leadership partnered with OTOC to hold 5 great events at Urban Abbey during July. The events included both celebrations of our culture though song and stories, a workshop on writing letters to the editor and safe rental housing, and discussion of a provocativeKyle Knapp new book.

Friday, July 14: Kyle Knapp played a delightful blend of folk, rock and pop on his acoustic guitar to 35 OTOC leaders and fans.  Kyle told stories and shared classic folk songs and some of his own compositions. Come see Kyle again a future OTOC and IPL events.

Tues., July 18: Juan Carlos Veloso shared Spanish language protest music from Jaun CarlosLatin America, and especially songs from Chile, his native country. Juan Carlos’ mother joined us that evening along with 32 friends and OTOC leaders. He taught us about the struggles of many Latin Americans for justice.


Thurs. July 20: Kaitlin Reece of Voices for Children and Tyler Richard of ACLU Katilin Reeseof Nebraska taught 20 engaged leaders how to develop an effective Letter to the Editor and Opinion piece to submit to local newspapers, newsletters and other sources of information.  This informative session inspired those present to write more letters on issues of interest.

Tues., July 25:  How To Assure Safe Rental Housing Leaders of OTOC’s Housing Action Team  hosted Kat Vinton from the  Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance and Prof Kate Mahern of the Creighton Law School legal clinic to discuss the dangers to children from poorly maintained rental housing. OTOC leaders focusedfoKat and Katecus on how to make Omaha’s Housing Code Enforcement more effective and follow up on commitments City Council members made to OTOC to assure rental housing meets health and safety codes. Over 40 people from diverse groups attended this session.

Thurs. July 27  Twenty Five OTOC leaders gathered to discuss the implications of the provocative new book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the 20th Century , by Timothy Snyder.  Mary Spurgeon of First United Methodist lead the discussion around the ideas in the short but important book. IPL and OTOC will hold a future book discussion in the Fall.


OTOC to hold July 10 training–developing a team of leaders at your institution to agitate your vision

June 26th, 2017

Join OTOC on Monday, July 10 for “Organizing a team of leaders to agitate your institution to live up to your shared values” on Monday, July 10 @ 7pm—8:30 pm at  Augustana Lutheran 3647 Lafayette Ave

Liz Hall, Lead Organizer of our Iowa sister organization, AMOS, will lead an engaging workshop on how to identify and develop a team of leaders in your congregation or organization which will “agitate” your institution to live up to its core values and beliefs. During this time of divisiveness, learn how to build community through discussion and honest reflection on our shared beliefs and values.

Closer up

Six of seven next City Council members commit to work with OTOC

May 5th, 2017
OTOC Audience from the front

350 OTOC Delegates filled St. Leo the Great Hall on May 1

At a May 01 Accountability session, six of the the seven winning candidates for City Council made commitments to 350 OTOC leaders. All Candidates were invited, Mayor Stothert  declined and Vinny Palermo had an OPS School Board meeting but has agreed to meet in the future. Our new City Council agreed to work with OTOC leaders on:

  • Improving Housing Code Enforcement in Rental Housing
  • Ending the Commingling of Yard Waste and Garbage
  • Ensuring Omaha Police are free to act as local peace officers, not immigration agents
  • Reigning in the predatory practices of Pay Day Lenders

Candidate Mello and Council membersDraft Final Questions for Candidates–April 30

Final Summary of How Candidates Answered

OTOC’s Questions.pubLeaders Raising Issue of Pay Day Lending






Below are videos and short summaries of how your next Omaha City Council responded to OTOC’s Questions:

Pete Festersen,  City Council District 1

Pete Festersen May 1 short answers

Ben Gray,  City Council District 2

Ben Gray May 1 Short Answers

Chris Jerram,  City Council District 3

Chris Jerram May 1 short answers

Rich Pahls, City Council District 5    Council Member Melton speaking

Brinker Harding,  City Council District 6

Brinker Harding May 1 short answers

Aimee Melton,  City Council  District 7

Aimee Melton May 1 short answers


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