H undreds shared an evening of fun, games and food in support of community members recovering from alcohol or drug addiction during the 12th annual Recovery in the Park event July 26 at Chautauqua Park.
Young and old alike gathered in the park for fellowship and a variety of activities. Local volunteers offered face painting, and an inflatable bounce house was set up along with a smaller play area and games.
The Rural Ranchers 4-H Club set up a petting zoo with goats, sheep and rabbits.
Dave Berens, leader of the Rural Ranchers, said the group has participated in the event for years as a community service project.
“We need to do this one to show the community we are part of this community,” he said.
One member, Zach Martin, has been involved with the club for six years and enjoys partaking in mobile petting zoos. This was the first time at Recovery in the Park, but Martin has helped tend animals at other outings.
“I just like being out in public with animals,” Martin said.
Patrons also could stop by the dunk tank where members of local media waited for well-aimed balls to topple them into the water.
Several local businesses, churches, civic groups and nonprofit organizations volunteered to help with the celebration.
Meals consisted of hot dogs or hamburgers, chips and a dessert. There were ice cream offerings from the Special Scoops Ice Cream parlor, as well.
The event is organized by Revive Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit group that operates Horizon Recovery and Counseling Center and The Unity Houses in Hastings. It serves as a primary fundraiser for the crisis counseling and shelter program.
Dan Rutt, executive director of Revive Ministries, said the main focus of the event is to educate the public about the realities of addiction. He felt blessed by the temperature and calm breeze for the evening.
“The weather is a gift from God,” he said. “Jesus has taken care of us. Everything fell together this year.”
Rutt said addiction hits every economic and social area. People who need treatment aren’t necessarily bad people, they just need assistance curbing a habit beyond their control.
“We want to let people know we’re about recovery,” he said. “We want to be there for people when they need us.”
Russ Pochop of Hastings has been attending the Recovery in the Park events since they started. At one point, he thought he might not reach age 26; now he’s 41 years sober.
He said the event has great food and provides a chance to catch up with old friends in a healthy and family-friendly environment.
“We’ve got to get the message out,” he said. “Sobriety is where it’s at.”
History seems to be repeating itself, more or less, when it comes to the ebb and flow of novel coronavirus disease cases in the South Heartland Health District.
That was Tuesday’s assessment from Michele Bever, district health department executive director, as conditions related to the disease continue to worsen locally, just as they began to do in the mid- to late summer of 2020 and 2021.
“Based on our COVID-19 trends locally and across Nebraska, and watching what is happening in other countries, it looks like we will be repeating what has been happening over the last two years: We are expecting another large surge in cases coming within the next few months,” Bever said in her weekly news release updating local conditions related to the pandemic.
The South Heartland district encompasses Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties.
Bever elaborated by saying new infection rates and other statistics “are mimicking trends of the previous two years, although the timing has shifted.”
“After the initial wave of cases in spring of 2020, South Heartland’s lowest case counts were in June 2020 and June 2021, followed by steady increases and leading to surges with peaks in November 2020 and in September/November of 2021, respectively,” Bever wrote. “Cases were still relatively high when the omicron variant arrived, causing another surge that peaked in late January 2022. April saw the lowest daily case counts of 2022 to date, similar to the June counts of the previous two years. Since April, cases have steadily increased again as the variants BA.4 and BA.5 have spread.”
Bever stated that BA.5 is the predominant variant in Nebraska at the present time.
As the current surge continues, known testing for COVID-19 was up 20% last week over the previous week.
Weekly community positivity was 45% for the week ending July 23 — 4.5 times higher than the 10% threshold considered to be high transmission.
Community positivity, otherwise known as the community test positivity rate, is the number of known new confirmed cases of the viral infection among district residents for a given week, divided by the total known number of tests administered. These numbers don’t include cases or testing in long-term care facilities, and they don’t include cases found through do-it-yourself, at-home testing that aren’t reported to the health department.
South Heartland’s rolling seven-day tally of known new cases equaled 243 per 100,000 population on July 26 — 2.4 times higher than the 100 cases per 100,000 threshold for high transmission.
For the week ending July 23, 82 new cases were logged districtwide, compared to 80 the previous week. An additional 61 new cases have been confirmed since Sunday.
Bever said the health department has noted an increased interest in at-home COVID-19 test kits, which are free and available at multiple locations across the district.
To date, 74% of the district’s long-term care facilities have provided booster shots of vaccine against COVID-19 for their residents and interested staff, Bever said. Even so, more long-term care centers are seeing new cases show up and reinstating outbreak policies to help reduce spread in the facility.
In the past two weeks, nine facilities — 47% of the long-term care centers in the health district — have reported new cases, with a total of 13 residents and 29 staff who testing positive.
Hospitalizations for COVID-19 also are on the upswing in South Heartland. As of Tuesday, five in-patients were being treated for the viral infection at hospitals in the district.
“This reflects the fact that there is widespread infection in the community,” Bever wrote. “With widespread infection, higher numbers of people are infected, so the number that are affected by severe illness also increases.”
The upshot, she said, is that worse days are yet to come with a variant as transmissible as BA.5.
“Based on the surges we’ve seen locally with previous variants over the course of the pandemic, and based on what we are seeing currently in other countries with the BA.5 variant, we are at the beginning of a new surge that is likely to affect even more people than did the omicron surge we had early this year,” she said. “This is why it is so important to stay up to date on vaccine and to continue to protect yourself and others in all the ways you can, especially if you are over age 65, are immune-compromised, or have underlying health conditions.”
She is urging anyone who does get infected to immediately explore treatment options that could lessen the severity of the resulting disease.
“If you do get infected, make sure to contact a health care provider as soon as possible to find out if you are eligible for the COVID antiviral medicines,” Bever wrote. “If so, you will need to start taking the meds within the first five days for them to be most effective at reducing the severity of your illness.”
For information on COVID-19 vaccination and testing sites, visit the South Heartland website, southheartlandhealth.org, or call the health department at 877-238-7595.
For additional information about COVID-19 vaccines for children, see the interview with local pediatrician Dr. Daniel Leonard at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3aFODWNV-Q.
For weekly state, national and global COVID-19 updates, visit the University of Nebraska Medical Center Global Center for Health Security: https://www.unmc.edu/healthsecurity/covid-19/biweekly-updates.html.
While the St. Cecilia school campus will include a construction zone this coming academic year, students and staff will keep pushing forward in pursuit of their ideals and aspirations.
The Rev. Cyrus Rowan, principal of St. Cecilia High School and Middle School, said that while the construction and renovation project will pose some challenges to everyone involved, the Hastings Catholic Schools community is being asked to keep up its commitment to, as the school’s mission statement articulates, “encounter Christ, grow in knowledge, and become Christian witnesses.”
“I think the message is we’re still here to live out the mission statement, we’re still here to have our high academics, we’re still here to build relationships with students in the midst of the changes and adjustments we’ve had to make,” said Rowan, who also is assistant chief administrative officer of HCS.
Hastings Catholic Schools is a central parochial school system serving students from across the city and the surrounding area. It includes the high school and middle school for grades 6-12 just north of downtown Hastings and St. Michael’s Elementary, 721 N. Creighton Ave., which educates students in preschool through grade 5.
In 2021-22, HCS served nearly 600 students in all.
In May, ground was broken for what now is estimated to be an 18-month, $10 million construction project that includes expansion and renovation of the high school, which stands west of Kansas Avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets. The project aims to address security, safety, accessibility, infrastructure and energy efficiency needs while adding space and making the school a more comfortable and conducive learning environment.
In May, the city of Hastings permanently closed the 500 block of North Kansas Avenue to accommodate a 7,800-square-foot addition to the east side of the high school and eliminate the need for students to cross the street on their way to and from lunch, the school’s two gyms, music classrooms and the parking lot.
As students prepare to return to the St. Cecilia campus soon for activities and then for the first day of classes on Aug. 16, Rowan is urging everyone to be mindful of safety and security, especially when it comes to congestion in hallways, and to be considerate of others.
“Just be cognizant and aware of the things going on around you,” he said.
Because the east main entry to the high school is closed for now, both high school and middle school students will be funneling in and through the main middle school entrance off Sixth Street, with key card access available there. The two buildings are adjacent and connected, with the middle school situated north of the high school’s north wing.
Also, only one stairway will be available for those needing to move between the first and second floors of the high school.
While it’s still important to get where you need to be on time, Rowan said, students and adults should use caution and be respectful when navigating the school at a time when more people and activities are compressed into a smaller space.
“We’ll have to be a little bit flexible with that,” he said.
Rowan, a priest now in residence at St. Cecilia Parish, is entering his third year as principal and assistant chief administrator.
Chelsey Mangers is entering her second year as principal at St. Michael’s.
The Rev. Thomas Brouillette, chief administrative officer, said the St. Cecilia campus will be getting a lot of attention during the 18-month construction project and Rowan has been keeping staff members there in the loop.
“Father Rowan’s doing a good job managing the situation, keeping people informed of what’s happening and asking them to ‘come in and see what’s going on now,’ ” Brouillette said.
Some of the facility improvements already occurring on campus include a new permanent wall with large door for the music room in the Kealy fine arts addition; a new “Home of the Bluehawks” sign on the wall in Consbruck Gymnasium; and new interactive monitors in the corridor outside Consbruck Gymnasium highlighting past and present students’ accomplishments. A new stage curtain also is to be installed in the gymtorium.
Rowan also is pleased to report continued growth in the St. Cecilia art program, which saw a 23% increase in high school students selecting art as an elective from 2020 to 2022; and in the agriculture, career and technical education program, which is entering its second year.
One-third of all high school students took an ag, career and technical education class in the program’s first year, and 48% have signed up for such a class for 2022-23.
At the prompting of the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln’s education office, HCS is adopting the Canvas LMS learning management system this year.
Rowan said the school will continue to monitor students’ scores in mathematics following the learning disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.
Departments within the school system also will work to develop goals based on this year’s focus on the core value of “commitment” and on growing in discipleship.
Anna Sandall is the new chairwoman of the HCS Unity Board, which functions similarly to a public school board of education in overseeing school operations.
New faculty in the school system this year will include the Rev. David Oldham teaching sixth-grade religion and the Rev. Liam O’Shea-Creal teaching junior theology.
Oldham, a St. Cecilia graduate, also is the new pastor of St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Doniphan and Sacred Heart Church in Kenesaw. O’Shea-Creal, who was ordained a priest in May, is parochial vicar, or assistant pastor, at St. Michael’s Church in Hastings.
Other new faculty include Carrie Sullivan and Scott Rosno teaching fifth grade; Marie Butler teaching sixth-grade art; Kaitlyn Hayhurst teaching high school social studies; Colin Sandall teaching grades 6-12 vocal and instrumental music; Kelsey Vnoucek, school counselor; and Danelle Wolf teaching grades 6-8 math, careers and coding.
Besides $10 million for construction needs, HCS is seeking to raise an additional $2 million — $1.5 million to beef up an endowment fund to supplement teacher pay, $300,000 to bank for future facilities needs at St. Michael’s School, and $100,000 apiece to contribute to St. Cecilia and St. Michael’s parishes, both of which support the Catholic school system through assessments.
To date, $9.1 million of the $12 million goal has been raised through the “Our Faith, Our Future, Our Time” capital campaign unveiled in October 2021. The campaign now is entering its second phase with outreach to potential donors who have not yet contributed.