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The Omaha News ~ UNO Mav Newsroom

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This page contains news stories written by School of Communication students.

LifeChronicles Omaha produces videos to leave life legacies

By Autumn Spurck
(Written for Karen Weber's Public Relations Writing class during the spring 2011 semester.)

            Kim Haney helps people in a special way through the power of video. She is the director for LifeChronicles Omaha, an organization that provides videos of elderly or terminally ill loved ones for their families.

            The videos are a way to leave a life legacy, to say what needs to be said, and a way to let go, Haney says.

            Recently, Haney interviewed a woman in Urbandale, Iowa, who was dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Stacie Rhea decided to make a video of her life stories and lessons to leave for her two children, ages 7 and 9.

            “I'm making these videos as a gift to them,” Rhea had said in an interview about her life legacy video, posted on LifeChronicles Omaha's website. “Because, if my mom would have made me a five-second video [before she passed away], I'd have it worn out by now. So I know what a gift that will be to them.”

            LifeChronicles began 13 years ago when Kate Carter of Santa Barbara, Calif., wanted to do something meaningful for a friend dying of cancer.

            “She had young children and wanted to make a video for them,” Haney says. “Since then, we've been making videos all over the country.”

            Haney lived in Santa Barbara for a year and volunteered with Carter in the newly founded LifeChronicles. Haney returned to Omaha, telling Carter that if she needed help, she would come back and volunteer.

            Shortly after, people in Des Moines, Iowa, had heard about the services provided by LifeChronicles. Haney went to Des Moines three times in two months to record videos; one of those times was to film Rhea. She found it difficult to take off work, making the four-hour round-trip, so Haney decided to begin an affiliate of LifeChronicles closer to the Midwest region, in Omaha.

            Haney says it is an honor to assist families in making “that connection, the opportunity to connect with people, to be present during such a meaningful time in their lives.”

            “My least favorite part is probably the business aspect,” Haney says. “Creating the business plan, all the paperwork, the files, the IRS work for our [tax] exemption -- the administrative part is my least favorite.”

            Haney says she wouldn't change LifeChronicles' mission or what it does, but she would like to see the organization have a large base of volunteers who could participate and learn from the process. She is grateful for the volunteers the organization already has, but she wishes she didn't have to recruit assistants.

            Recently, the University of Nebraska at Omaha's gerontology department has been involved with LifeChronicles Omaha. The Dying, Death and Grieving class learned about people going through the process of dying, and the seven students' final project entailed interviewing people going through this process and filming their stories.

            “One student interviewed a man who had cancer,” Haney says. “He died after the video was made, and we offered his family raw video on DVD. We told them we could edit whatever they wanted from the two DVDs (one from each camera). His children said they wanted nothing changed.”

            “I was very happy with the experience they got. It felt really worthwhile,” Haney says. Producing a video and editing it can be very costly. To interview and film is one thing, but to add graphics and music is another. The students in this class did not have time to send the raw footage back to Santa Barbara to be edited.

            “I learned that people were very happy with raw video and didn't want graphics or titles or music,” Haney says.

            Although LifeChronicles relies heavily on volunteers and donations, friends and family members of the people in the life legacy videos may donate money to help the organization. And people are always grateful.

            A woman whose father was taped reported that shortly after the filming, he died from cancer. She sent a thank-you note to LifeChronicles, explaining that if he hadn’t gotten a chance to say all the things he needed to on the video, it would have been more of a struggle for him to ultimately let go.

            “While we will never know, my brother and I truly believe his passing was so quickly because of LifeChronicles,” reads the e-mail sent to Haney. “We believe he finally had a chance to say everything he wanted to say in a safe way.”

            Haney says that “one of the first times I went [to interview someone], Katie gave me great advice. She said to just be present during this conversation. It's easy to just be present and listen.”

March of Dimes aims to lower infant-mortality rate

By Kristin Neemann
(Written for Karen Weber's Public Relations Writing class during the spring 2011 semester.)

            At 17, Jessica Hovermale endured a long and painful battle with lupus, an often-fatal auto-immune disease. She survived but was told that her chances of having children were slim.

            Six years later, she gave birth to her first son, Gavin, who was nine weeks premature and weighed 3 pounds, 8 ounces. He spent almost five weeks in intensive care, fighting for his life. Like his mother, he survived what seemed like an impossible battle.

            At 25, Hovermale gave birth to her second son, Caleb, who was 16 weeks premature and weighed only 12 ounces. Caleb was far too small to survive, and his life ended after 52 minutes.

            For every 1,000 births in the United States, 6.9 infants die before their first birthday, according to an article from the New York Times. This infant mortality rate is higher than most other countries that are as developed and wealthy as the United States.

            March of Dimes is an organization dedicated to helping families such as the Hovermales.

            The organization was developed by Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression to raise funds for polio research. Roosevelt asked people to send their dimes to the post offices and to the White House, and the money was collected and invested into research for a polio vaccine.

            Once the vaccine was created and polio was largely wiped out of the United States, March of Dimes decided to seek a new mission, which today is helping mothers have full-term pregnancies and researching the problems that threaten the health of babies, according to the March of Dimes website.

            “Three years ago, we knew very little about the March of Dimes,” Hovermale said. “We knew the mission, but we never imagined we would be impacted so deeply.”


            After Gavin’s birth, the Hovermales decided to become involved with March for Babies in Omaha. Gavin’s nickname is Bubba, so they decided to name their team of walkers Bubba’s Team.

            After Caleb’s death, their desire to contribute to this event became much deeper.

        In 2010, Hovermale’s hope was to bring together 52 friends and family as Bubba’s Team, one person for each minute that Caleb was alive.

            Her wishes were far surpassed. Bubba’s Team consisted of 80 friends and family and raised $5,900 for the March of Dimes.

            March for Babies is the March of Dimes’ biggest fundraiser, said Danielle LeGrande, community director of the Nebraska chapter for March of Dimes.

            The event drew more than 4,000 people 2010.  The walk is a three-mile loop and is quite a sight to see, LeGrande said. Sidewalks are dotted with families and strollers. Pictures of children and families affected by prematurity line the walking path.

             “It’s an awesome feeling to know that all the time and work you put forth into something and that people are enjoying it,” LeGrande said. “There hasn’t been one person that I’ve met that has not enjoyed it. That’s a good feeling. You know you’re doing something right.”

            March of Dimes commits 75 percent of every dollar raised by the March for Babies teams to support research and programs that help mothers have full-term pregnancies and help babies begin healthy lives, according to its website.

            Hovermale organized another team for the 2011 event on May 1. “Hopefully, our efforts will allow the March of Dimes to reach out to more families like ours and will help fund research to prevent premature birth,” Hovermale said.



Teen’s death leads family to campaign against distracted driving

By Kelsey Stewart
(Written for Sally Hull’s News Writing and Reporting class during the spring 2011 semester.)

       A small redbud tree stands on the grounds of Marian High School. Observers can often see this tree adorned with orange ribbons or orange candies. To an outsider, it may look as though this tree with heart-shaped leaves gets the red-carpet treatment.
            But this tree is more than a piece of landscaping. This tree represents a Marian girl who was killed in a car accident. To faculty member Shari Reynolds, this tree is a daily reminder of her daughter.
            Cady Anne Reynolds died on May 31, 2007, after a car accident the night before. She was just 16 years old.
            On the drive home from the hospital, Cady’s parents, Shari and Rob Reynolds, didn’t know exactly what happened to Cady.
            “We knew that something had gone wrong, whether it was Cady’s concern or the other person’s concern. So, we wanted to do something to make a difference,” Shari said.
            An investigation was conducted to find the cause of the accident. The investigation determined that the other driver, also 16 years old, was severely distracted when she ran a red light and struck Cady’s car. After the investigation, the Reynoldses founded C.A.R. Alliance for Safer Teen Driving.
            C.A.R. is a nonprofit organization designed to educate teens about the dangers of distracted driving. It also aims to encourage parents to educate their teens before and after the teens get their licenses.
            “Just because you have this little laminated piece of plastic doesn’t mean magically that you’re a perfect driver,” Shari said.

    Distracted driving has become a national issue and is even more complicated with teens.
             “Not only are they not good at the skill of driving, but they also add these technology distractions into their driving. It becomes an equation that’s fatal,” Shari said.
            Shari and Rob speak to students and parents at local schools.
            “It’s a real powerful message. For us, personally, it’s a healing thing,” Shari said.
            She begins presentations by introducing Cady to the audience. She tells students that Cady was no different from them, except for what happened to her on May 30, 2007.
            For Shari, one of the best things to come out of C.A.R. is the opportunity to share
Cady’s story and to keep her memory alive.
            “The time and energy and money and love that I would have put into raising Cady, and watching her become an adult, is what I put into C.A.R.,” Shari said.

Ensuring the success of C.A.R. isn’t always easy. The Reynoldses have been criticized for using Cady’s name and story to publicize themselves.

            Shari and her family have taken their efforts to a national stage.
            They started by holding the Walk for Cady on the last Saturday in May. When Shari saw nearly 1,000 people, all wearing white and orange, the first year of the walk, it was moving.
            “It was just so bright and brilliant, and it has been equally as fabulous every year since,” Shari said.
            That day is a difficult one for Shari and her family, but seeing their supporters makes it positive.
            “That is the time that she died, and if we didn’t have that kind of support and encouragement, that would be a very difficult time to just walk through,” Shari said.
            The couple supported Nebraska’s attempt to ban texting while driving. Although it was passed as a secondary law, the Reynoldses still support it and will work to get it changed to a primary offense.
            Rob is a founding member of FocusDriven: Advocates for Cell Free Driving. FocusDriven is a national nonprofit group that was founded by family members of victims of distracted driving. The group advocates driving free from the use of all cellular and mobile devices.
            Rob and FocusDriven were featured on Oprah Winfrey’s show in 2010 to help launch Oprah’s No Phone Zone campaign.
            Shari’s daughter Emily also participates in the National Organization for Youth Safety. She’s a part of an advertising campaign put on by the Department of Transportation called Faces of Distracted Driving.
            Cady’s face was the original face of AllState’s national Save 11 campaign. When the campaign started, 11 teens died every day as a result of car crashes. That number has since been reduced to nine.
            Cady’s accident has changed some of the Reynoldses’ driving habits. Shari’s two daughters, Emily and Sarah, have to follow strict rules when it comes to driving.
            “I believe Cady was probably a really good driver, but we weren’t as diligent about it as we are with Emily and Sarah,” Shari said.
            As for Shari, she no longer has a cell phone.
            Shari and the Reynolds family continue to work toward ending distracted driving. She hopes that people will not only hear her message but will listen to it. She doesn’t want people to have to learn the hard way.
            A maintenance man at Marian High School has planted three redbud trees on the grounds, and none has survived. But Cady’s redbud tree stands strong and bright amongst all of the larger trees surrounding it.
            “We feel like a part of her lives on. To just have everything about her gone is just not OK for us. This is what she would have done in light of losing one of us. She would have taken up the message, and she would have made a difference,” Shari said.

Family-owned Jones Bros. Cupcakes gains popularity in Midtown

By Mary Wedner
(Written for Melodae Morris’ Media Writing Lab class during the spring 2011 semester.)

            The aroma of fresh coffee fills the air when customers walk in to Jones Bros. Cupcakes. Early afternoon guests come in and browse the wide selection of gourmet cupcakes. A happy smile greets each guest who enters.

            So what is Jones Bros. Cupcakes? A bakery? Just a cupcake place? A bistro? Jones Bros. in Midtown Omaha is all of those things. With a lunch menu featuring everything from homemade soup to fresh salads, sandwiches and paninis, there is something for everyone.

       Jones Bros. Cupcake co-owner Bill Jones said his approach to cupcakes is different because he uses the made-from-scratch method. No box mixes here.

        The business uses only high-end, unique ingredients. When asked what his favorite cupcake was, he said, “It’s a battle between sweet and salty, and strawberries and crème.” He said these smelled like spring to him.

The original idea was for the restaurant to be a dessert and wine bar, Jones said. He worked on the idea for 10 years. After the business moved into the current location, the coffee and lunch menu developed.

            Originally, the lunch was all “to go” -- already in a container ready to go. Now it’s all prepared when it’s ordered, and the lunches are also made with the “highest quality product we can find,” Jones said. Now, more than half of the people who come in to get lunch stay and eat at the restaurant.

Jones said the restaurant picked the location in Midtown because of businesses and schools in the area. So far, Jones Bros. has more than met its expectations from when it opened less than a year ago.

            Jones Bros. Cupcakes is now considered top of the market when it comes to cupcakes, cakes and wedding cakes, Jones said. It also is starting to do more custom cakes.

The business has family values at its core. Jones’ parents lend a hand every day. He enjoys being able to do something where he can see and work with his family every day, and he doesn’t take it for granted.

“I think it’s important to realize it’s a family business, and we’re always around,” Jones said.