Sometimes, all you need is a push. For Angela Pillow and her family, that push was a children’s book about koala bears.
When Pillow’s son was two grade levels behind in reading, she signed him up for the summer reading program at City Impact, an organization with the mission of empowering under-resourced communities through wholistic development.
“The volunteer that read with him found out he had an obsession with koala bears,” Pillow said. “She got him this book that was about koala bears, and long story short, he literally fell in love with reading.”
When Pillow noticed her son’s grades improving, she decided to make a bigger change and cut out television during the weekdays. Her youngest daughter has never known anything else and has aspirations of becoming a doctor.
Today, Pillow is helping her community rise from the cycles of poverty as City Impact’s relationships ambassador.
“I’ve been in the shoes of some of the parents that we serve,” Pillow said. “It’s about breaking cycles.”
Located on the edge of the Hartley neighborhood, City Impact is changing lives across Lincoln with its reading, mentoring, faith and leadership programs.
Mentorships at City Impact differ depending on what the youth needs, but it is the mission of each mentorship to develop life-changing relationships with young people, said Dustin Oltman who oversees the mentoring program as the organization’s Strengths for Life mentoring director.
“It’s really developing leaders from within to go and impact the community around them to bring up the next generation,” he said. “I carry that with me when it comes to everything that I do.”
TJ Walker began his mentorship with Oltman five years ago when he was 18. He said the most valuable thing his mentor taught him was how to go confidently in the direction of the things he wants.
“I never was used to having someone that interested in my life – as a mentor and a friend,” Walker said. “He’s someone I trust with my life.”
Walker fondly recalled Oltman taking him to Honest Abe’s restaurant for the first time and cheering him on at his graduation from Southeast Community College. The two still talk almost every day.
While mentorships are one-on-one, City Impact also has annual events that are open to the public. The organization’s major event for the winter is Gifts of Love, which gives low-income families the opportunity to buy holiday gifts at lower prices.
Pillow believes the program is important for the Hartley community because it allows families the dignity of providing gifts for their children.
Because of Hartley Elementary’s proximity to City Impact, many Hartley families are involved with the organization in some way. Stephanie Vadnais, a Hartley parent, volunteers to take inventory and make cookies for Gifts of Love because of the positive effect City Impact has had on the community.
“Gifts of Love is a great opportunity for City Impact to provide for families in a meaningful way,” she said. “It’s a really cool program to be able to connect with other families at Christmas time.”
Brandi Hinds, who was brought to City Impact by Pillow when she was 10, will be buying presents for her two children with Gifts of Love this year.
City Impact has given Hinds the support she needed, and she and her family go to several programs each week.
“City Impact has taught me to build up my family, never judge and stay strong,” she said. “It’s truly a community support system.”