Building Up Omaha: Chase and Rob Vanderveen

Civic Nebraska honors Chase and Rob Vanderveen for their vigilant advocacy and activism on behalf of Omaha’s refugees and immigrants, and for being living liaisons for underserved people.

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Each year, Civic Nebraska’s Build Up Omaha awards recognize Omahans whose work embodies the spirit of a modern, robust democracy. Among our 2019 honorees are community advocates, neighbors, leaders, students, and everyday Omahans. We’ll officially honor the winners at a celebration Jan. 24, but before then, here’s a chance to learn a bit more about what makes them special.

Chase and Rob Vanderveen on a soccer outing with Karenni friends. (Courtesy photo)

Civic Nebraska honors Chase and Rob Vanderveen for their vigilant advocacy and activism on behalf of Omaha’s refugees and immigrants and for being living liaisons for underserved people.

A few years ago, the Vanderveens joined a small team who met once a week to teach English as a Second Language to refugees from Thailand and Myanmar who now lived in Omaha. Chase would teach English to the parents and Rob played with the children while their parents studied. After doing this for a few years, they developed a love for the Karen people, a minority group from Myanmar who fled the brutal civil war in that country.

In 2017, the Vanderveens moved into a Benson apartment complex with a large refugee population, where Chase teaches extended English lessons to mothers. Rob, who works as an engineer, spends evenings entertaining the complex’s children. As their relationships with neighbors deepened, the Vanderveens began assisting in day-to-day matters: They began setting up doctor appointments, visiting the DMV, filling out applications, forms, and legal documents, and whatever else they could do on behalf of their new friends.

“Their work is significant to help shape the living conditions of these families, who have often been overlooked or ignored,” said Zach Davy, who nominated the couple. “Many of the families have substandard housing but didn’t understand that they could request repairs and maintenance, or didn’t know what was expected. (Chase and Rob) have truly helped to bridge the gap in cultural understanding and make Omaha a welcome place to call home for the most vulnerable in our city.”

Chase said she and Rob have become a familiar presence at school, at the landlord’s office, with internet providers, and with Medicaid directors. The daily challenges that emerge can be unpredictable, she said, but the rewards are great.

“I don’t think we ever expected life to be like this – our community, our family growing tenfold and not slowing down anytime soon,” she said. “I am continually humbled to walk alongside these people who readily welcomed us into their lives and families.”

The Vanderveens have helped create a community and a family, even among people that already knew one another, Davy said.

“Just as significant, they have created a portal for other Omahans to build relationships with refugees who have come to our city,” he said. “They exemplify the kind of work that can truly change the landscape of a city and how we, as a community, welcome others into our lives.”

Meet Chase and Rob Vanderveen and their fellow honorees Jan. 24 at Build Up Omaha at the Livestock Exchange Ballroom in Omaha. Get your tickets here.

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