First Responders Foundation Provides For Our Protectors 9/12/14 09/11/14 12:09:01 AM
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Memorial Park at 60th and Underwood will be the site of today’s commemoration of the tragic events of 9/11. The lawn is decorated with 2,977 American flags in honor of all who lost their lives.
First Responders Foundation Provides
For Our Protectors in Many Ways
By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record
A couple of years ago, insurance man Bob Nelson approached attorney Chuck Sederstrom of Erickson l Sederstrom Law Office, and asked him to help the First Responders Foundation. He wanted more than just a donation. He wanted his time.
Sederstrom readily agreed and became a member of the organization’s 21-member board, becoming its president the following year.
“I’m very impressed with the work that Ray Somberg (president and executive director) and Bob, who is vice president, have done. Ray is always full of energy and enthusiasm. It’s hard to say no when he calls. Sometimes I wish he would sleep in a little later … but he’s very dedicated,” Sederstrom laughed.
Somberg and Jerry Hoberman created the non-profit First Responders Foundation in 2008 in response to their conclusions after they reflected on the events of 9/11.
“We talked about how visual that day was, with hundreds of fire fighters and police officers rushing into the Towers and nearly 350 fire fighters and 60 police officers losing their lives,” Somberg said. They acknowledged that it was a global event that had appreciation for first responders at an all-time high.
“As time went by though, we thought people were beginning to take the first responders for granted. And they never close, you know,” Somberg said. “They are there for us around the clock.”
They created the foundation to help people remember the continuing sacrifices those public servants make every day.
Somberg, Ron Brodkey and others took things a step further when they created the “Thumbs Up” campaign. They organized an “Appreciation Day” Luncheon on June 10, 2010, that attracted 1,600 people. They raised $650,000, with $460,000 of that paying for “critically-needed” equipment for the police and fire departments, Somberg said.
Since August 2011 they have raised $500,000 dollars and counting, including $295,000 for smoke and carbon monoxide detectors (more than 6,000 installed so far). That fundraising campaign continues with the goal of installing them in every low-income home in the city, free of charge. “It is an opportunity for us to make every home safer,” Sederstrom said.
The First Responders Foundation – the only one in Omaha that focuses on both police and firefighters – not only provides ways to show them appreciation, but to provide them with material support to purchase vital equipment at no cost to taxpayers.
“We partner directly with Omaha’s first responders to provide meaningful resources that make a direct positive impact on the community.”
Driven by a passion to support Omaha’s local heroes, the foundation’s fundraising focus is on raising capital that gives first responders the tools they need to make Omaha a safer place to live.
Some of the items the foundation has provided include:
• 250 SEMS II Pass Systems, a communication system to locate a downed firefighter
• Skid car to prepare officers for driving in inclement weather
• Thermal imaging camera for police helicopter
• State-of-the-art OPD fitness center
• Rescue boats
• Be Safe Vests: Fire safety for 3-5 year olds
• Defibrillators for swimming pools
• DNA testing to facilitate the prosecution and incarceration of those who commit violent crimes
• Youth athletic program: De-signed to keep at-risk youth away from gangs and drugs.
The organization also spearheaded the “Thumbs Up” campaign, encouraging everyone to give a firefighter or police officer a thumbs up when you see them out doing their jobs. The concept has been introduced at elementary schools in five local districts and is being incorporated into their curricula in a variety of ways.
Sederstrom also praised Somberg’s efforts with the after-school athletic programs in north, central and south Omaha. The organization has partnered with the Latino Peace Officers Association in an effort to create a program to serve 2,500 to 3,000 at-risk youth in low-income areas through soccer and baseball.
People are also invited to be an advocate for first responders by increasing awareness of what they do for us every minute of every day. A membership in “Friends of First Responders” is $25 for individuals, $40 for households and $100 for a premium membership.
“Our mission is to enhance public safety in our community by providing critically needed equipment,” Somberg said.
9/11 Memorial BenefitTonight the foundation will host a 9/11 Memorial Benefit at the Omaha Police Mounted Patrol Barn at 615 Leavenworth. The “country casual” event, beginning at 5:30 p.m., will feature BBQ, adult beverages, auction items and live music with Chris Shelton. Proceeds will go toward the foundation’s goal of enhancing public safety in the community by providing resources to police and firefighters. Tickets may be in short supply, but you can contact Caitlin at 402-333-3062 x211 or Caitlin@planitomaha.com for information.