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A fun, rewarding weekend at Camp Catch-Up

Camp Catch-Up, a program of the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation (NCFF), has offered siblings separated by foster care, adoption, and guardianships a chance to come together at a summer camp for the last 11 years, at no cost to them.

Camp Catch-Up offers siblings separated in foster care a fun weekend to reunite and bond together. Two Appleseed law clerks volunteered as camp staff this spring.

Camp Catch-Up offers siblings separated in foster care a fun weekend to reunite and bond together. Two Appleseed law clerks volunteered as camp staff this spring.

Children and youth ages 8-19 are dropped off or can take a bus to a fun bonding weekend with their brothers and sisters. Through generous donations and the support of NCFF, Camp Catch-Up has expanded to allow for more campers in camps in the northern, western and eastern parts of the state.  Children who attended camp also received free blankets, pillows, and duffel bags to take home.

This year, two of Nebraska Appleseed’s Child Welfare legal clerks volunteered as camp staff with Camp Catch-Up, making this a new Appleseed Tradition.  Clerks Rene’ Cramer and Alex Lierz share their experiences.

“Rene’ spread the word about the camp, and I had to be a part of it myself,” says clerk Alex Lierz.  “I thought it would also be a great opportunity to interact with some of the children I will be helping through my legal work someday.”

This was Alex’s first experience at Camp Catch-Up.  She went to the Eastern Nebraska camp in Gretna and had this to say about her experience:

I was assigned a sibling group of three children who were separated in foster care.   It was rewarding to watch them work through the fears all children face at camp – fear of heights on the tight rope, fear of the dark, fear of new and strange food, etc. – and they got to do that together.

Not only did the kids have fun, but I also had a blast.  I had another co-staff member (our camp ratio is 2 campers to 1 staff) and together we started one crazy canoe battle.  This consisted of splashing other canoe’s using paddles and it ended with everyone in the vicinity completely soaked.  The canoes were also great in teaching the children to trust each other and work together to paddle in sync and maneuver around the lake.

Camp Catch-Up is great and I wish I had heard about it sooner.  It is a unique opportunity for siblings in separate placements and they get to leave on the last day of camp with fun memories of time well-spent with their brothers and sisters.

This was not Rene’ Cramer’s first time at Camp Catch-Up.  She has volunteered at the Northern Nebraska camp in Fremont for the last two years:

Another summer, another Camp Catch-Up. I believe that this type of experience, getting to know the youth on a personal rather than professional level, is the key to a successful career in the child welfare field. At camp, you are with these youth for three days straight, 24 hours a day.

Each year gets better. As my sibling group got off the bus, they were immediately greeted with Catch-Up’s version of the Nebraska tunnel walk. I immediately found my sibling group, gave them the tour, and tried to find out what I had common with my group.  Not to my surprise, we had a lot in common: we all loved double chocolate chip cookies and basketball. As soon as these connections were established, we quickly developed rapport and had an amazing weekend full of bonding and excitement!

Camp Catch-Up is able to reunite more than 150 siblings every year thanks to the efforts of NCFF and the many volunteer camp staff, nurses, and directors.  As Rene’ explains, “Camp Catch-Up is a great opportunity to get involved even if you don’t work in child welfare. Gaining a glimpse of what youth in the system go through is a valuable experience for anyone.”

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RELEASE – Nebraska groups urge Congress to protect children seeking safety

NE_Appleseed_Icons_ChildrensHealth-128

For Immediate Release

Contact, Jeff Sheldon

Communications Director, Nebraska Appleseed

Office: (402) 438-8853

Mobile: (402) 840-7289

jsheldon@neappleseed.org

Dawn Bashara

Justice For Our Neighbors – Nebraska

Office: 402-898-1349

Mobile: 402-215-1498

dawn@jfon-ne.org

Nebraska Groups Urge Members of Congress To Protect Children Seeking Safety

Today, a group of more than a dozen Nebraska organizations released a set of principles that they hope the Nebraska Congressional delegation will consider when deliberating how to address the humanitarian situation involving children fleeing violence in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador to seek safe refuge in the United States.

These groups strongly urge our policymakers to create a proposal that lives up to our values of compassion and humanity, and in all decisions relating to the children, emphasizes the children’s best interests.

“As policy makers debate the best way to address the humanitarian crisis along the border, it is absolutely crucial that the integrity of the legal system be maintained,” said Emiliano Lerda, executive director of Justice For Our Neighbors-Nebraska. “Efforts to expedite the process cannot come at the cost of depriving children their due process rights or their rights to protection from persecution under U.S. and international law.”

“As the rest of the world looks to us as an example, the first priority for our policymakers must be to ensure the safety of these children,” said Francys Chavez of Unity In Action, a South Sioux City-based community organization. “Many of them have fled a dangerous situation and survived a perilous journey to seek the chance to grow up in a safe community. Congress and our leaders must act responsibly to guarantee them a fair process that we give others who are eligible for humanitarian protection.”

“We have a legal and moral obligation to protect these children,” said Omaid Zabih, staff attorney at Nebraska Appleseed. “We call on our policymakers to maintain the protections currently in place and ensure that these children have a chance to tell their stories and apply for any relief for which they might be eligible. We also urge that these children are placed in family settings when possible and have access to legal representation as their cases proceed.”

The principles released by the groups are:

Increase funding to relevant federal agencies to ensure adequate resources are available for proper screening, placement, and services. Congress should make certain there are a sufficient number of properly trained officials or child welfare professionals – with experience in dealing with traumatized children – who have necessary legal training to ensure there are individualized determinations for all children seeking humanitarian and legal relief.

Preserve legal and due process protections in the bipartisan Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008, and reject proposals to circumvent these protections that would expedite the removal of children, many of whom could have asylum or legal relief claims. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), nearly 60 percent of children could be available for humanitarian protection. Any bill from Congress that seeks to eliminate these protections jeopardizes the lives of vulnerable children seeking safe refuge in the United States. Children who have just endured a traumatic journey to the United States are particularly vulnerable and should not undergo an accelerated and cursory screening process by Border Patrol agents, who will likely have little to no legal training to identify asylum and refugee claims.

Provide sufficient legal resources that guarantee children have access to an attorney to represent them. It is critical to ensure that the children’s best interests are fully represented since many, if not all, children won’t understand their rights or the legal process, and may be fearful or embarrassed to tell their story to a court. Therefore, it is important that children have an access to an attorney. Congress should also devote funding to increase the number of judges and asylum officers to reduce the backlog for children currently in immigration proceedings and status-determination hearings.

Children should be placed into community-based settings whenever possible with parents, relatives, or other suitable sponsors, instead of detention facilities. If community-based care is not available, then children should be placed in proper settings that adequately provide for their needs. Therefore, funding for additional detention facilities should not be a priority because they are not the preferred setting for children.

Incorporate a best interests of the child standard in all proceedings and decisions. This would guarantee that the child’s best interests is the primary factor in all decisions related to the child’s health, safety, and care, along with considerations regarding humanitarian relief.

Develop policies and provide assistance to address the violence and insecurity in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Such reforms and initiatives should invest in systems that will improve safety conditions and establish productive opportunities for children in these countries.

The list of groups who have signed on to these recommendations are:

ACLU of Nebraska

American Immigration Lawyers Association – Iowa/Nebraska Chapter

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Omaha

Center for People in Need

Creighton Center for Service and Justice

Inclusive Communities

Justice for Our Neighbors-Nebraska

Latino American Commission

Latino Center of the Midlands

Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska

Nebraska Appleseed

The Office of Latino/Latin American Studies (OLLAS) at the University of Nebraska Omaha

Omaha Together One Community

Unity in Action

Women’s Center For Advancement

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2014 Appleseed Interns and Law Clerks – Meet Megan Miller

Appleseed intern Megan Miller is a Wayne State College student from Crofton, Neb.

Appleseed intern Megan Miller is a Wayne State College student from Crofton, Neb.

“I’ve always been interested in how people affect events, and inversely, how events affect people,” Nebraska Appleseed intern Megan Miller said. “At Appleseed, we are experiencing this firsthand.”

One of Megan’s sociology professors at Wayne State College, where she is currently an undergraduate student, suggested an internship at Nebraska Appleseed.

“My professor is so amazing, and I value her opinion so much. So when she told me that Appleseed was one of the best places to get an internship, I knew I had to look into it,” Megan said.

While Megan fulfills a dual role as an intern for Appleseed’s Immigrants & Communities program as well as a communications intern, her goal is singular: equality for individuals in every walk of life.

“A lot of my undergrad work has been with the Latino DREAMers and through these incredible individuals, I feel even more strongly about my future in sociology, as well as a career relating to social issues and education.” Megan said. “I’ve always been very interested in issues relating to equality. Whether it’s rights for a gay couple, undocumented immigrant, low income family or religious minority, each person’s rights are extremely important.

“I saw Appleseed as a powerful voice speaking up for these individuals, which created a great pull for me to want to put my strengths and passions into work like this.” Megan said. “Hopefully [we’ll be working] in a tomorrow where all people can truthfully say that they experience equality, which was the hook, line, and sinker in my desire to intern at Appleseed.”

Name: Megan Miller

Hometown: Crofton, NE

Position: Communication/ Immigrants & Communities Intern

About me: In my final semester of school, I am majoring in both English and sociology and also minoring in art. I keep busy with quite a range of activities such as various honor societies, visual and performing arts, diversity organizations such as P.R.I.D.E and International Club, and also activities through Wayne State College such as working as a tour guide and coordinator for New Student Orientation.  In my free time I enjoy reading and writing, running, painting, thrift-store shopping, and the guilty but oh-so-satisfying pleasure of watching ABC’s Scandal.

Future plans: I will be graduating in December of 2014. During the months following, I will be applying to graduate schools for sociology and possibly English programs. In January of 2015, I plan to travel to Nayarit, Mexico, to volunteer teaching English, as well as gain experience speaking Spanish. I am also very blessed to have the opportunity to fine tune my painting skills with a local artist. I plan on returning to the U.S. in July to prepare for graduate school in the fall of 2015. From that point on, it’s wherever the world takes me.

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2014 Appleseed Interns and Law Clerks – Meet Christina Guthmann

Note: Each year, Nebraska Appleseed is fortunate to work with a number of bright, talented law clerks and interns. This is one of a series of posts that feature Appleseed’s clerks and interns discussing their backgrounds and experiences.

Appleseed intern Christina Guthmann is an Omaha native studying International Business at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln.

Appleseed intern Christina Guthmann is an Omaha native studying International Business at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln.

Business opens doors. Whether it’s investing in small businesses here in the U.S. or overseas, investing in people is what drives Nebraska Appleseed intern Christina Guthmann.

“When I was in high school, a couple from my church went to Mali. The husband had a business degree and started a company there.” Christina said. “Now, they’ve returned to the States where they run the U.S. operations and the Malians run the operation in Mali. Because of this company, many people are employed and able to provide for their families. I love the flexibility and opportunities that business provides.”

A student at UNL studying International Business, Christina hopes to use her degree making a difference for people in other countries. But for now she wants to gain some experience working at Appleseed with the Economic Justice team.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn about an area that I could work in after graduation. I’m excited for the experience working on different initiatives with this great group of people.” Christina said. “I thought Appleseed would be a great opportunity to see another option and industry in business that I haven’t experienced before.”

Eventually Christina wants to take her Appleseed experience and business savvy overseas where she hopes to work in the missions field.

“I hope to use my degree to work in another country possibly doing mission work. I love Spanish-speaking countries. I’ve been to Argentina twice, and it definitely stole my heart. I’d love to end up there.”

Name: Christina Guthmann

Position: Intern

Hometown: Omaha, NE

About me: Student at UNL studying International Business.I also love to play piano. I also like reading the Bible, the news, and Twitter. And I love hanging out with my sorority sisters.

Why Appleseed?: I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn about an area that I could work in after graduation. I’m excited for the experience working on different initiatives with this great group of people.

Future plans: I hope to use my degree to work in another country possibly doing mission work.

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Appleseed welcomes two new staff members in June

In June, Nebraska Appleseed was proud to welcome a pair of new staff members. Meet Mary Ann Harvey, a staff attorney in our Economic Justice program, and Becca Brune, our newest Child Welfare Program Associate.Mary Ann Harvey

Mary Ann Harvey

New Appleseed staff attorney Mary Ann Harvey has had a of lot interesting jobs: working with teen moms, as part of the housekeeping staff in Colorado where they cleaned everything with Windex, and as an English assistant at a school near Paris.

But the Lincoln native has come back to her hometown to use all those acquired skills to benefit people in Nebraska.

“I believe that every person in our state should have a fair opportunity to succeed in life and should have access to the resources they need to make that happen.” Mary Ann said. “While I was working in New York, I always thought about moving back to Nebraska so I could use my education and experience to work to make systems better in my home state.”

A graduate of UNL and Hofstra Law School, Mary Ann was a summer law clerk at Appleseed in 2009. In her current position she is hoping to combine litigation and policy to create effective pathways out of poverty for everyone in Nebraska.

Some of her bigger projects will be focusing on childhood nutrition programs and making sure adults have access to educational programs that will help them achieve a living wage.

“When I worked with youth in the foster care system, I realized that I had a passion to work for justice on behalf of people in vulnerable situations,” Mary Ann said. “That realization led me to law school where I focused on social justice issues.  Working for three years doing direct representation in New York City inspired me to want to help change things for the better on a broader level, which led me to Appleseed. I’m passionate about justice for people who are often overlooked. I feel very lucky to be working here now.”

Becca BruneBecca Brune

Nebraska Appleseed’s newest Child Welfare Program Associate, Becca Brune, has been to a lot of different places. But for her there’s really no place like home.

“I’ve lived in England and Washington D.C. for a semester each during school, but have always been happy to come back to Lincoln,” Becca said.

A recent graduate of Nebraska Wesleyan University, Becca was influenced to work with children when LB 216 was passed while she was an intern with State senator Amanda McGill.

“When I was in Senator McGill’s office I saw all of the important parts that must come together for the passing of a bill that can have such profound change on a group in Nebraska,” Becca said. “I learned a lot about the hardships that young adults, not much younger than I, face when they age out of foster care. These stories, many of them I heard first-hand as testimonies, really stuck with me. But also the way that these many parts came together continued to inspire me to want to take a role in widespread change.”

As a part of her position at Appleseed, Becca will get the chance to help implement the Bridge to Independence program, continue work with the Indian Child Welfare Act and improve children’s access to behavioral health services among other things.

“I have always loved being around kids, so ensuring that they have a fair chance at a happy and healthy life has always been a priority of mine.” Becca said. “Another issue area that I have tried to help bring to people’s attentions in Nebraska, is human trafficking. The connections between foster care and human trafficking are alarming so I am anxious to continue to help raise awareness on this issue. By always striving for justice and equality Appleseed has been an organization I admire and am proud to work for.”

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Organizations call on Obama administration to reveal changes to USDA proposed poultry rule, and open for comment

***For Immediate Release***NE_Appleseed_Icons_Meatpacking-128

July 16, 2014

Contact, Jeff Sheldon

Communications Director, Nebraska Appleseed

Office: (402) 438-8853

Mobile: (402) 840-7289

jsheldon@neappleseed.org

 New poultry industry standards threaten to endanger workers’ health, food safety, and animal welfare

On July 10, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget a final version of a new rule concerning poultry processing. The original rule, first proposed in early 2012, posed significant danger to the health and safety of poultry processing workers and the safety of our food. While the USDA has stated that the final version has been “significantly” changed in response to comments in the last two years, they have refused to reveal any details of the final rule to Congress or to the public.

In response, a coalition of organizations, including Nebraska Appleseed and Southern Poverty Law Center, that is spearheading opposition to the proposed rule is making the following statement:

“After so many people have expressed significant opposition to the original version of the proposed rule, it’s shocking that the administration would rush the final version without disclosing the particulars and inviting feedback. We call on the Administration to give the public an opportunity to review and comment on the revised document. As originally written, this proposed rule would exacerbate the already high risk of crippling injuries to poultry workers by substantially increasing processing line speeds and jeopardize the safety of our food by removing Federal poultry inspectors from the processing line.”

Since the poultry rule was first proposed in early 2012, it has been opposed by hundreds of thousands of consumers, 68 Members of Congress, and more than 100 organizations. “The rule proposed by the USDA posed substantial dangers to workers, consumers, and animals,” the coalition stated. “If USDA did indeed make ‘significant’ changes to the rules, we are eager to see them, and to make sure that they are profound enough to address the very real concerns of the public. There is no reason not to make this process transparent and thorough.”

Several organizations are expressly concerned about changes to the processing line speeds that would accelerate the pace to 175 birds per minute (a 25% increase), and how this change would affect the women and men who already suffer from an epidemic of serious and disabling repetitive motion injuries and lacerations due to the dangerously fast speed of work. The US poultry industry relies on roughly 200,000 workers—predominantly women, immigrants, and people of color—to process chickens and turkeys.

As a chicken flies by every second, the worker repeats the same forceful motions (cutting, pulling, grabbing, and hanging) over and over. As noted in a complaint filed with OSHA by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Nebraska Appleseed, and other groups, a worker may perform more than 20,000 motions per shift.

The thousands of disabling injuries that result are well-documented. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), poultry workers “have consistently suffered injuries and illnesses at a rate more than twice the national average” over the past 30 years. Experts say these numbers may be significantly underreporting the problem. A 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) acknowledges that, even with underreporting, “the meat and poultry industry still has one of the highest rates of injury and illness of any industry.”

In addition to speeding up the line, the original version of the proposed new rule would make it more difficult for inspectors to check poultry for the presence of fecal contamination, bile, diseases, tumors, feathers, intestines, and other harmful defects. The new rule would leave only one USDA inspector on the slaughter line to inspect three chicken carcasses every second. Key inspection responsibilities would be left in the hands of poultry companies.

Coalition members include:

NAACP

Interfaith Worker Justice

Food and Water Watch

Coalition of Black Trade Unionists

Public Justice Center

Nebraska Appleseed

Southern Poverty Law Center

Northwest Arkansas Workers Justice Center

Western North Carolina Worker Center

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Children fleeing violence need a compassionate response

Photo credit: Reuters.  Children escaping violence in Central America sleep at a detention facility.

Photo credit: Reuters. Children escaping violence in Central America sleep at a detention facility.

Over the last decade, escalating violence in much of Central America has reached unimaginable levels.  As the drug trade has grown, local gangs have taken more-brutal steps to assert control of cities and neighborhoods, ruling the streets in many areas with murder, rape, and intimidation.

As a result, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador now have among the highest murder rates in the world.

This is no way for a child to grow up, and many families have made the heartbreaking choice to risk everything to send their child away from the violence.  These children are making harrowing trips to seek asylum in the United States and other Central American countries with no guidance and little, if any money, just to have a chance to live a life away from the terror they are facing in their communities.

This situation requires a humanitarian response that is consistent with our country’s values and one that ensures the legal protections that are available to victims of violence remain intact.  The rest of the world is looking to us to act in a humane and responsible way for these children.

Eleven-year-old Cristian Omar Reyes from Honduras, which has the world’s highest homicide rate, had his father murdered by gang members in March and has watched several friends killed on the street for refusing to comply with gangs. He recently told a reporter from The New York Times he has to get out of Honduras “no matter what.”

Another 11-year-old boy from Honduras named Nodwin, spoke to PBS Newshour about the horrors a young person can face: ‘“Big people force the children to sell bad things, and if they don’t do it, they rape them or they kill them.” Nodwin once witnessed a boy his own age gang-raped in a neighborhood park after the child refused to join a local drug gang.’”

Read more: Arizona Republic “Pipeline of children: A border crisis”

Not every immigrant child who comes to the United States qualifies to receive asylum, but there is a system in place to identify the ones that do.  The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act requires that each child seeking asylum from a country other than Mexico to be placed with either a family member or sponsor in the U.S. until they have a hearing that determines whether they qualify for asylum. If a child qualifies for asylum, they are given legal status to remain in the U.S.

It is essential this process be followed to ensure the safety of these children.

America is not a country that sends children into areas where they stand a high likelihood of being harmed or killed. The United States has a legal and moral responsibility to protect these children and must serve as a model in treating these children with compassion.

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Humanitarian crisis requires acting in children’s best interests

Note: This post by Appleseed Child Welfare Director Sarah Helvey and Immigrants & Communities staff attorney Omaid Zabih addresses the recent humanitarian crisis in Central America that has resulted in children seeking asylum in the U.S.

(Photo credit: Daily Times)  Thousands of children are fleeing incomprehensible levels of violence from countries with the highest murder rates in the world.

(Photo credit: Daily Times) Thousands of children are fleeing incomprehensible levels of violence from countries with the highest murder rates in the world.

Tens of thousands of children from Central America have been forced to flee from their home countries to the border due to unimaginable violence. This has created a humanitarian issue that requires a prompt, moral, and compassionate response from our political leaders to ensure that we act in the best interests of the children.

President Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion to address this humanitarian issue. The proposal, unfortunately, emphasizes expedited removal of children back to a highly dangerous situation instead of focusing on proper screening and protecting vulnerable children seeking safety, many of whom could be eligible for asylum.

Appleseed also is deeply concerned that the proposal would eliminate important protections of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008. This bill provides a number of protections to make sure that unaccompanied children receive proper care and due process in the U.S. The President’s proposal would undermine these existing safeguards.

We need a response that lives up to our fundamental values – one that recognizes the trauma  these children have been through and that provides them with a meaningful opportunity to share their story and be properly screened for legal relief under the existing law.

Please call or email your U.S. Representative and Senators to let them know Nebraskans are counting on them to ensure the best interests of children are served and to maintain the TVPRA’s safeguards. We should strengthen protections for children – not weaken them.

Representatives

Senators

Thank you for taking a moment to ensure that Congress responds to this humanitarian issue with compassion and fairness that puts children first.

If you want to learn more about the root causes of the issue, here are some informative resources:

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