Initially started nearly forty years ago in response to increased requests from members in the North Omaha community seeking food, clothing, shelter and financial assistance, the Heart Ministry Center has always aimed to assist people needing life’s most basic necessities.
There is a richness of culture and a deep history that is distinct to North Omaha residents but has often gone unnoticed by the greater Omaha community. What was long ago the heart of the Omaha settlement, from 24th Street running north of Cuming into the Near North Side, and later known as the “Street of Dreams,” became a disconnected part of the metro area. From this history of both triumph and hardship is where the mission of the Heart Ministry Center evolved 40 years ago.
In the early 1800’s, the Lewis & Clark Expedition paved a new path for the nation which included a route directly through Southeastern Nebraska. The land was already flourishing with Native American inhabitants, who understood its beauty and ample natural resources. As the first settlers found their way into what is now known as North Omaha, the territory became a place where historic events would transpire and people could pursue the proverbial American Dream. With westward expansion, the population increased dramatically as several settlements and towns were built. Residents embraced the opportunities at-hand and established a community that would undergo both triumph and hardship, that would lead to countless changes over the next century. There is a richness of culture and a deep history that is distinct to North Omaha residents, but has often gone unnoticed by the greater Omaha community. It is through these countless changes that the need for outreach in the community was created. By the mid-1900’s, in a neighborhood that was once thriving and home to well-known leaders, celebrities, pro athletes and heroes, there was also division, injustice and brokenness. What was long ago the heart of the Omaha settlement, from 24th Street running north of Cuming into the Near North Side, and later known as the “Street of Dreams”, became a disconnected part of the metro area and this is where the mission of the Heart Ministry Center evolved 40 years ago.
In response to increased requests from members of the North Omaha community seeking food, clothing, shelter and financial assistance, the Sacred Heart Human Needs Door Ministry was started in 1982. For nearly 15 years, with the help of many parishioners, the ministry showed COMPASSION for neighbors and worked to meet the needs of families with children enrolled at Sacred Heart School. In 1997, a newly titled Heart Ministry Center occupied a house located at 31st and Spaulding Street and showed continued generosity and compassion for countless people facing hardship. Only 8 years later, the Heart Ministry Center Campus found its home at 24th & Binney Street with construction of a new 9,600 square foot building and opened debt-free in May 2005.
The people in North Omaha who have been lovingly served over the years by the Heart Ministry Center staff and volunteers have always been our greatest gift, our COMMUNITY. With immediate growth in outreach through the new facility and a continually increasing need, the Center formed a board of directors in 2006 and within a year, Heart Ministry Center became a fully independent 501 (c)3 organization.
With immediate growth in outreach through the new facility and a continually increasing need for food, healthcare and a way forward to people severely affected by poverty in the Omaha area, the Center formed a board of directors in 2006 and hired Sara Hohnstein as the first Executive Director. Under new leadership, the organization went from providing 3,000 to over 16,000 services a year and became Omaha’s first Choice Food Pantry in which community members could select their own foods. By 2007, Heart Ministry Center became a fully independent 501 (c)3 organization and within two years had increased to over 26,000 acts of service a year.
Program services continued to evolve and the beginning of the Fresh Start Job Training Program differentiated Heart Ministry Center from any other non-profit organization in Omaha. The staff at the Center strived for EXCELLENCE in their daily work with community members, participants in the program and a solid base of donors and supporters who were all encouraged to embrace the Dignity For All way of living. Over the years, leadership changes occurred and with each new director, greater vision for the ministry became a reality. Further renovation and the construction of another larger building, created the campus that stands on 24th Street today, including the Fresh Start Laundromat, which has become a safe and affordable place to do laundry.
As the needs increased, the response from generous donors and supporters grew as well and Heart Ministry Center began to introduce new programs and concepts that would lead community members into greater ACCOUNTABILITY, as they sought a way forward in life. In 2008 a community garden was opened and Pathway, a program for young mothers on a path toward self-sufficiency, was offered to willing participants. As John Levy became the new Executive Director in 2010, a greater emphasis was placed on data collection and relationships with local foundations. For many people in North Omaha, the Center was a beacon of hope amidst ongoing personal struggle and systemic poverty. Under Levy’s leadership and compassionate approach, many more enhancements to the ministry and facility occurred. With a renovation of the building’s interior and expansion of the medical facility, there was room for more client services such as a dental clinic and a social work/case management program. The upward trend for acts of service continued…reaching over 70,000 annually.
As poverty rates continued to rise in zip codes surrounding the Heart Ministry Center campus, the desire to create a sustainable, long-term change also increased. 2015 brought about a new Executive Director, Jim Clements, and the modification of the Pathway program to include men and women. This was the beginning of the Fresh Start Program, which provides wiling and open-minded participants an intensive and holistic approach toward self-sufficiency and job placement. The staff at the Center strived for EXCELLENCE in their daily work with community members, participants in the program and a solid base of community donors and supporters. Acts of service reflected this drive for excellence with an annual total of more than 120,000 by 2016.
Dignity For All is more than a saying at Heart Ministry Center, it’s a way of life. This is reflected in the people who occupy space at the facility, whether a member of the leadership team, staff, Fresh Start program or volunteer core. As Eric Crawford took over the role of Executive Director in 2017, this motto continued to be interwoven into all aspects of HMC. The focus on A Way Forward increased under his direction and social work/case management expanded, while the groundwork for a vision clinic and mental health services were laid. The outcome of a successful capital campaign resulted in another renovation and the construction of another larger building, creating the campus that stands on 24th Street today. This expansion includes the social enterprise project, known as the Fresh Start Laundromat, which has become a safe and affordable place to do laundry and a supportive environment that allows connectivity to the neighborhood.
Since 1982, the outreach has been extraordinary in the most wonderful way. Heart Ministry Center has a history filled with many beating hearts, that have brought us through time to this place of love. Our core values: Compassion, Community, Accountability and Excellence have been upheld while working toward a common goal to serve, right here in North Omaha.
Since 1982, we have opened our doors to all people seeking food, healthcare and together a way forward in life with a genuine and empathetic touch of love that stands out in the Omaha Community. With the 4 pillars of the Heart Ministry Center interwoven into all of the program services that are offered to deserving members of the North Omaha neighborhood and beyond, it is extraordinary in the most wonderful way. In 2020, Mark Dahir became the CEO of the Center and brought years of experience into this new role, having been instrumental in substantial growth at HMC prior to accepting a leadership position. Through many years of volunteering, Mark is largely responsible for the growth in the food distribution program, and in 2020 was able to modify the procedure, and create a drive-thru method for safety and efficiency, while still meeting the increased need for food during the pandemic. Prior to becoming CEO, Mark worked closely to create and develop the Fresh Start Program, which has nearly 100 graduates to date. The staff at the Center has increased to a team of 40 people, who work together to uphold the mission of the Heart Ministry Center daily…and to continue to provide outreach in this community to all who might need to experience what we offer. We have a history filled with many beating hearts, that have brought us through time to this place of love and we have upheld the core values: Compassion, Community, Accountability and Excellence while working toward a common goal to serve, right here in North Omaha.