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Nebraska School Mental Health Conference

I am delighted to report that the 2019 Nebraska School Mental Health Conference was a smashing success! More than 400 people joined together at the Younes Conference Center in Kearney to hear three dynamic keynote speakers and 35 breakout sessions from local experts and advocates. The overwhelming positive feedback was humbling. The Kim Foundation is so honored to have worked with partner ESU3 and other fellow Steering Committee Members to put on this event that allowed so many individuals to take quality information and practices back to their communities in Nebraska.

Julia and Scarlett Lewis at the Mental Health Conference.

The band from Kearney High School, Bridging Harmony, kicked off the day playing several folk songs and setting the tone for what turned out to be a great day! They ended with “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” that got the audience up and out of their seats, and energized for the day! Scarlett Lewis was the opening keynote, and she spoke of the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary where she lost her six-year-old son, Jesse, in 2012. Scarlett’s courage to spread a message of compassion throughout the country after losing her son is truly amazing. How she can take heartache and use it to inspire and lead others is something I will forever admire. Her foundation focuses on “Choosing Love,” and building social and emotional learning programs in schools free of cost! And more than that, it’s a powerful change that anyone can implement. For more information on Scarlett and “Choose Love,” please visit

If I talked about all 35 of the top-notch breakout sessions put on by local advocates and experts this article would get quite lengthy! However, the breadth of subjects was incredible and the evaluations are all proving to be quite positive. Thank you to all of those who presented from organizations throughout the state. We will be putting out a Call for Proposals for the 2020 conference after the first of the year, so watch for more to come!

Our other highlighted keynote speakers were Dr. Sharon Hoover and Ferial Pearson. Dr. Hoover has been coming to Nebraska for the past five years to help guide us through the best practices and policies around school mental health. She is a tremendous advocate and a national leader in this field. We are truly grateful for the expertise, passion, and leadership she has provided us throughout this time. Ferial Pearson ended the conference with an inspiring message about her “Secret Kindness Agents.” Ferial implemented this movement in her classroom in Ralston Public Schools a few years back and it has become a national (and even international) movement. Kindness… it’s such a simple concept, but one that is too often overlooked or taken for granted. Thank you Ferial for what you do! The 2020 Nebraska School Mental Health Conference is set for June 4 & 5 at Embassy Suites La Vista Conference Center. Please join us!

In closing, I would like to send my deepest and most heartfelt condolences to the Gretna community and all of those who knew the young girls lost last week in the tragic car accident. Too often, it takes a tragedy like this to make people embrace those we love and each moment we have with them. Please don’t wait for the next tragedy to do this. And for those who are directly impacted by this horrible event, prayers and comforting thoughts seem trivial at this point, but please know while your lives have been changed in such a painful, tragic way that many can never understand, you are surrounded by love, support, and a community who will lift you up when you are in need.


Julia Hebenstreit, The Kim FoundationJulia Hebenstreit, Executive Director of The Kim Foundation,

Julia Hebenstreit is the Executive Director of The Kim Foundation. She received her J.D. from Creighton University in 2005, and her BS in Journalism from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2002. She has been with The Kim Foundation since 2011, and prior to that worked for local non-profits doing development, strategic planning, communications and advancement. She has a passion for helping people and improving lives, and serves on the Executive Committee for Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations, as the 2015 Hill Day State Captain for the state of Nebraska, and as an active member of the Nebraska Suicide Prevention Coalition, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, BHECN Advisory Committee, RESPECT Advisory Board, Connections Advisory Board and the Project Propel Planning Group.