A newly completed expansion will help Project Harmony and its partner agencies provide a better response to child abuse in metropolitan Omaha, officials said.
A $12.5-million capital campaign, “Growing Harmony for Children,” allowed the innovative nonprofit Project Harmony to purchase a building at 11949 Q St. in 2010, and then to construct an expansion in 2011 and 2012. Having completed the expansion in late 2012, the agency plans to mark the occasion Thursday with an open house for donors.
Added to the adjacent, original building, the 24,000-square-foot expansion brings Project Harmony's facilities to about 60,000 square feet, said Gene Klein, executive director of Project Harmony.
The campus includes straight-up office space, but the main focus is on kid-friendly spaces that feel as safe as they function for children and families in difficult times.
At the campus, Project Harmony and other agencies provide services to physically, sexually and psychologically abused children. The services include professional, sensitively conducted interviews and medical examinations of child victims, counseling of children and families, training and advocacy.
With the expansion, 180 professionals from eight agencies — including the Omaha Police Department's special victims unit, state and federal agencies mandated to respond to child abuse and nonprofit social service agencies — will work on site to provide coordinated services to abused children from the moment they walk in the door. They'll also train other professionals.
“The new (building) pieces allow for more confidential waiting rooms for families, and it expanded our triage center where kids are waiting to be placed in out-of-home care,” Klein said.
The expansion accommodates a new partner agency, Lutheran Family Services, on the Project Harmony campus. Fifteen Lutheran Family Services employees who specialize in child abuse counseling will work there, “allowing for a streamlined counseling process that provides immediate support to families in crisis,” according to Project Harmony.
The new building includes a mock apartment that will be used to train professionals in a lifelike setting. Project Harmony created the apartment in partnership with the University of Nebraska at Omaha Theatre Department. Already, Project Harmony has provided training to more than 4,000 teachers, counselors, day care providers, child-abuse investigators and others on how to identify and respond to abused children, Klein said.
The new facilities allow further expansion of training programs, and in innovative ways. The UNO theatre people helped design a revolving stage in which trainers can role-play real-life situations that workers might encounter, such as how to tactfully check if a family has no food, or to look into allegations of drug manufacturing in the home.
Students in social work, new law enforcement officers, court workers, medical professionals and others will benefit from the apartment and other added facilities, Klein said.
“It's opened up the ability to have more conference and meeting space for those individuals who respond to child abuse,” Klein said.
In addition to other child-friendly features, the facility features three large pieces of public art.
In one, Philadelphia-based artist Meg Saligman collaborated with children and families who had received Project Harmony services to come up with images that made them feel safe. In another, Omaha artist Yinghua Zhu is piecing together two million Legos into a 14-foot wall evocative of a waterfall, a way to bring the comforting image of water into the building without a waterfall.
Kiewit Building Group constructed the 24,000-square-foot expansion, which was designed by Holland Basham Architects. It was built with private funding, Klein said.
At Thursday's events, Project Harmony planned to honor donors, including local businessman Henry A. Davis, who provided a $3 million lead gift to the Growing Harmony for Children Campaign.
“There were many incredibly generous gifts, ranging from $5 to a million, that made this possible,” Klein said.
Also Thursday, Project Harmony planned to recognize former Douglas County Attorney Jim Jansen for his vision and involvement in the organization over the last 17 years.
“Jim was the county attorney at the time Project Harmony was created,” Klein said. Jansen “was an instrumental leader in trying to get the concept developed,” has been actively involved ever since and remains so, as a current member of the project's board, Klein said.
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