Knowledge is a Key to Freedom

June 27, 2022

Sheyla Rodriguez will enter Yale University this fall. She has a bright future, but it took a long journey for her to arrive at this point.

She and her family left Cuba when she was eleven and within days stood at the border between Mexico and the United States. They left a repressive dictatorship to live in a nation where freedom and opportunity are available to all people. She is now a permanent U.S. resident and is graduating from Chula Vista High School in California with a 4.6 grade point average.

Always studious, Sheyla made excellent grades, but felt cut off from the world during the COVID lockdown. Despite living with loving and supportive parents, she could not spend time with classmates in person or have extended conversations with teachers. Gradually she slipped into depression, her classes felt like a burden, her self-image suffered and she lost her passion for the future.

Then she learned about Upward Bound. This program, offered through the U.S. Department of Education and administrated by Lutheran Social Services of Southern California, helps students develop the skills and motivation to complete high school and succeed in postsecondary studies. At least two-thirds of the participants are first generation college students from low-income families.

Sheyla said Upward Bound helped her in three ways:

  1. The instructors in the required college-level courses she took during summers inspired her with their passion for learning;
  2. Her new friends in the program felt like an extended family; and
  3. Upward Bound strengthened her with a hope for her future.

Her parents work in a local hotel, her dad as a house man and her mom as a housekeeper. They have loved and supported their daughter in every conceivable way. Her father’s mantra has always been, “Knowledge is a key to freedom.” Graduation day at Chula Vista High School will be a celebration for the entire Rodriguez family. Sheyla is the valedictorian of her class!

Lutheran Social Services of Southern California is a member of Lutheran Services in America, a national network of 300 Lutheran health and human services organizations that reaches one in 50 people in America each year.

Learn more about Lutheran Social Services of Southern California.

Adam Libby: A Bold Chef Who’s Become a Social Media Phenomenon

March 24, 2022

Since Adam Libby was a little boy, he’s been an entertainer. Back then, he put on plays in his yard—confidently assimilating all the characters—and people in his small town of Lincoln, Maine, would come to see him.

“He’s a comedian and a storyteller. He doesn’t shy away from the limelight at all,” laughs Teresa Hess, a community living coordinator at the Mosaic service Living Innovations. “Sometimes when he’s talking with you, he imitates a character in a movie he’s recently watched, and he does a really good job.”

In fact, according to his twin sister, Emily McCormick-Libby, “Adam has always loved entertaining, and he’s always dreamt of becoming an actor.”

Emily added he loves to cook, too, and has done so almost his entire life.

Adam, 30, was born with Down syndrome. Mosaic is passionate about helping people like Adam lead meaningful, healthy lives on their own terms. With more than 100 years of experience of providing care, the Nebraska-based organization supports people and communities in more than a dozen states, from Arizona to Adam’s home state of Maine.

To combine all of Adam’s attributes, his Living Innovations support team came up with the idea of his recording and posting “how-to” cooking videos on the social media platform TikTok. “I thought this would be a great way for him to reach people, show off his personality and focus on his conversation skills,” added Emily. “My wife, who’s a professional videographer, and I started with his first post on how to cook burritos.” That was April 16, 2021.

With his older sister, Brianne, assisting as well, they continued by trying to post at least one video each week. Adam gradually gained 1,000 followers and celebrated the milestone with a video of him making cupcakes. That was July 30.

But it was a short time after, on August 6, when Adam demonstrated making pizza in a woodfired pizza oven, he went viral. We’re talking worldwide viral. That video garnered almost 12.4 million views and shot up the number of his followers to 612,000 with 3.4 million likes on his videos.

In another segment, where he’s exuberantly shouting out what has become his popular catchphrase, “holy crow, man!”, he made homemade french fries that could best any short order cook’s. That video has captured 924,000 views to date.

A few weeks ago, Adam’s TikTok account hit 1.5 million followers.

“He just loves what he’s doing; he’s just eating it up,” stated Emily. “It’s unbelievable. I can’t get my head around how many people are following him and engaging with him!”

With his jubilant and upliftingpersonality, Adam’s such an inspiration that he’s making videos with some of his biggest fans. In one, he’s encouraging a young boy, also with intellectual disabilities, to cook a meal for his family (albeit a meal made of a quick-service restaurant’s chicken nuggets and fries): “Good job, dude! You’re making your mom proud of you!”

Additionally, he’s captured the heart of professional chefs. Tommy Isidori, an executive chef at a Fairfield, Connecticut, country club, sent a chef’s coat with “Chef Adam Libby” embroidered on the front. Isidori also included a professional chef’s knife.

“Chef Tommy is my favorite chef,” said Adam, and he has a few others. At the mention of Chef Gordon Ramsay, his face instantly lit up. “Yeah, I like him too!”

“He hopes Chef Ramsay will see his videos so he can meet him one day,” added Emily. “Chef Ramsay is tagged in many of his posts and comments from his followers.”

Besides the news coverage in his hometown newspaper and on the local CBS affiliate, Adam is being covered by many other social media channels and media outlets overseas. “No one contacted us,” remarked Emily. “We just saw the other stories, including some in England, when we Googled ‘Chef Adam Libby.’

“The thing I love most about my brother is he has this excitement and this joy and happiness, and it’s contagious. It doesn’t surprise us that once the world saw him, they would love him, too.

“I’ve never seen him happier, and he’s become so much more independent. He has his own life now with his own passion and career. It’s all so wonderful.”

Oh, did we mention Adam also has 17,000 followers on Instagram?

Mosaic is a member of Lutheran Services in America, a national network of 300 Lutheran health and human services organizations that lifts up one in 50 people in America each year.

Ukrainian Sanford Health Nurse Reunites with her Family

April 20, 2022

Weeks of fighting in Ukraine have been felt inside and outside the European nation, including 5,000 miles away in rural Bemidji, Minnesota. Olha Finnelly is a nurse at a local Sanford Health clinic whose family lives in Dnipro, about 250 miles southeast of capital Kyiv. The longer the war continued, the more her colleagues worried about her and her family.

“We’d ask, ‘how’s your family?’ One day all of the sudden she wasn’t functioning so well. Very teary-eyed. She was trying to get them out (of Ukraine). When we all heard that, we had to help,” said Kim Schulz, a medical laboratory scientist at Sanford Bemidji.

While Finnelly’s father and brother stayed in Ukraine to support their country, her mother, sister and three-year old niece traveled 22 hours by train, sharing a room that was designed for four with 16 people.

“They didn’t have any luggage with them,” Finnelly said. “The only belongings that they had were backpacks. They brought underpants for the little one. Some snacks, because you are not sure if you are able to get some food.”

Finnelly’s family would take a small bus to the Polish border, eventually making it to Krakow. From there, Finnelly booked them plane tickets to Minneapolis. The total expense for their travel was $3,000, all paid for by Finnelly’s co-workers who raised the money.

“In our Ukrainian language, we have this saying. ‘Tell me who is your friend, and I can tell you who you are.’ So I’m just so happy with my colleagues. (The) Sanford family in Bemidji … we are really like real family over here,” said Finnelly.

Sanford Health is the parent organization of the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society, which is a member of Lutheran Services in America, a national network of 300 Lutheran health and human services organizations that lifts up one in 50 people in America each year. This year, The Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society celebrates 100 years of lifting residents, loved ones, and members of its community.

Learn more about Sanford Health and the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society.

Watch the video

This is an abridged version of a story that was originally featured in Sanford Health News.

Today’s Frontline Hero: Allegheny Lutheran Social Ministries (ALSM) in Altoona, PA

March 24, 2020

Allegheny Lutheran Social Ministries (ALSM) in Altoona, PA is coming up with creative ways to keep their community connected to their important work. Their dedicated team has asked community members to make homemade masks out of fabric and, according to President and CEO Pat Savage, ALSM has received an outpouring of generosity! People from far and wide have donated masks to all three of ALSM’s campuses, helping protect the healthcare workers and those they serve. Individuals from the Altoona Community Theatre even switched their efforts from making costumes to making masks.

In addition to the masks, ALSM residents are receiving letters and artwork from children who are home from school. This demonstration of love and support from ALSM’s community is lifting spirits and connecting people, despite physical social distancing. To keep residents in contact with their loved ones, staff members at the Lutheran Homes are coordinating FaceTime and Skype calls. One of the residents was overjoyed to hear her son’s voice and to be able to tell him, “I love you!”

We are proud to recognize Allegheny Lutheran Social Ministries’ excellent work, as well as their generous community!

Today’s Frontline Hero: St. John’s United in Billings, MT

March 25, 2020

One of our members of Lutheran Services in America’s Great Plains Senior Services Collaborative, St. John’s United in Montana, has gone the extra mile in their communities to promote and create employment opportunities to help community members affected by COVID-19-related economic impact. David Trost, the organization’s President & CEO, posted this ad of solidarity in the Billings Gazette, and partnered with Montana Health Network to provide FREE at-home CNA training to help reduce the barrier to entry for workforce. Great teamwork from David, Taylor, Sarah, and the entire St John’s United team!

Today’s Front Line Hero: Lutheran SeniorLife in Mars, PA

March 26, 2020

Today’s Front Line Hero is Lutheran SeniorLife in Mars, PA, who put out a request for homemade masks from their community members. Lutheran SeniorLife is committed to protecting their staff and their residents, and is drawing on their community’s resources to fill gaps during the global shortage of personal protective equipment. Their slogan, “Make it fashionable, make it fun – as long as it’s cotton, you’ll help a ton!” inspires creativity and encourages the community to have fun with this valuable donation. Their website even includes video tutorials for making masks. We are proud to recognize Lutheran SeniorLife for their great work with senior adults and throughout their community!

Today’s Front Line Hero: Graceworks Lutheran Services

March 27, 2020

Today’s Front Line Hero is Graceworks Lutheran Services, (with 63 locations in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky), who is going above and beyond to meet the holistic needs of residents and employees.

Graceworks is focused not only on keeping residents and employees safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but on making sure residents don’t feel isolated during this time. For example, staff at Bethany Village (Centerville, Ohio) are creating original programming on the senior living community’s internal television station for residents in independent and assisted living settings as well as long-term care, including exercise classes, mini concerts by talented staff, and frequent spiritual segments. Resident council meetings and regular updates also are being broadcast, all helping to lift the spirits of residents and keep them engaged, helping earn Bethany Village recognition from local media for their efforts to connect residents and family members during times when visitors aren’t allowed in licensed areas. Staff help residents utilize iPads and smartphones to connect with their loved ones, as well.

Staff at Graceworks Housing Services, providing affordable housing for income-qualified seniors or those with disabilities, is connecting residents with donors from the community who want to help in this time of need. At Messiah Community in Urbana, Ohio, a local restaurant owner delivered a shopping cart full of items to a resident who had no means of shopping for herself. The owner indicated he would be back as needed to make sure she has supplies so she can stay home during the pandemic.

And at Graceworks Enhanced Living, which provides homes for persons living with intellectual disabilities, staff is supporting one another by displaying ways to practice safe hygiene during the crisis. They also are encouraging residents to practice social distancing while still enjoying the warming weather.

The organization’s Human Resources staff are focused on making sure employees practice self-care as well. Graceworks has adopted a motto of SHINE, for Supporting the Holistic and Individual Needs of Employees. Regular messages are being sent to employees thanking them for their valuable and selfless service, for doing the right things to keep everyone safe, and providing information on ways to focus on all areas of holistic health.

Lutheran Services in America is proud of the holistic care our member organizations like Graceworks are providing. We’re glad to recognize them for their valuable efforts today!

Today’s Front Line Hero: Mount Olivet Rolling Acres

March 30, 2020

Today’s Front Line Hero is Tracy Murphy, President of Mount Olivet Rolling Acres in Minnesota. Tracy recognizes the funding challenges non-profits are facing as they aim to continue their important services amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. She called on her network to contribute to their favorite non-profits NOW, and ensure their gifts are unrestricted so they can be used where they are needed most. Tracy practices what she preaches and generously doubled her yearly donor advised fund allocation.

Mount Olivet Rolling Acres continues to care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities during the pandemic. The staff are pitching in however they can, with the executive team delivering craft supplies and making face masks, and doctors helping disinfect the work space. Great work Tracy, and all the staff at Mount Olivet Rolling Acres for your generosity, flexibility with job descriptions, and recognition that we are all in this together.

Today’s Front Line Hero: Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska

March 31, 2020

Today’s Frontline Hero is Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, which is going the extra mile to communicate effectively with their community during the coronavirus pandemic. LFS of Nebraska created an 800 phone number for their clients and those seeking telehealth mental health services during this challenging time They increased telehealth therapy capacity by more than a hundredfold in less than 24 hours to ensure everyone could continue their therapy, and to manage additional mental health needs as community anxiety over the pandemic grows.

As part of the organization’s efforts to promote expanded telehealth services, LFS of Nebraska sent 7,000 letters to clients in language used in the home. The Global Language Solutions team assembled interpreters who went to work translating LFS of Nebraska’s communications, along with CDC-issued materials and information on how to stay safe during the pandemic. They also published videos in 14 languages on their YouTube channel to disseminate information about the coronavirus to typically marginalized communities. Some of the languages include Somali, Kiswahili, Kinyarwanda, Kurdish, Spanish, Burmese, Nepali, and more. Notably, the Ohio Department of Health discovered these helpful videos and is using them for their own community outreach efforts.

LFS of Nebraska also is developing virtual town hall information sessions in a variety of languages, launching a podcast, and will soon release a short video series to help people stay informed and stay connected.

Thank you, Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, for your unflagging commitment to serving your community, and for making the extra effort to communicate this crucial health information to so many people!

Today’s Front Line Hero: Lutheran Services Florida (LSF)

April 1, 2020

Today’s Frontline Hero is Lutheran Services Florida (LSF), which is finding creative solutions to serve their community remotely during the coronavirus pandemic.

LSF is truly committed to serving the mental health needs of their entire community. The organization has significantly increased its telehealth capacity so people can continue accessing mental health resources, counseling, and case management from their homes – a move so crucial during this challenging time. In addition to telehealth services, Dr. Christine Cauffield, CEO of LSF Health Systems, is providing expert guidance in the media on managing the mounting anxiety and challenges to mental health arising in communities due to the pandemic.

LSF also is providing solutions to challenges presented by social distancing in the field of education. Educational leaders are designing remote support kits for Head Start families as they teach their children at home.

Thank you, Lutheran Services Florida, for your creative problem solving and dedication to your community’s needs in such trying times!