Mapping Arguments in Our Community

While we often think about words making an argument, spaces and places make arguments too. For example, neighborhoods make arguments about the values of the people that live there and public parks make arguments about how people should spend their time outdoors.

For the last two years, students in my English 155: Cortina Composition were challenged to work as a group to analyze how public spaces around Omaha make “arguments” that influence the way people think about a space. We practiced by visiting the Benson neighborhood to see for ourselves how the neighborhood demonstrates its values of local business, art, and community (and to drink delicious Aromas coffee).

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 2.41.01 PMTo conduct their own spatial analysis, students selected a site in the local Omaha area, photographed the site, interviewed local residents, conducted online research, collaboratively wrote their analyses, and posted their work to a publicly available Google Map. The end result is an exciting and interactive opportunity to explore the Omaha area.

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I invite you to click on the projects to see, read, and learn more about public arguments in Omaha.

Dr. Faith Kurtyka

Business, Faith and the Common Good Symposium: A Reflection by Loriana Harkey, Part 2

The second presentation I attended at the Business, Faith and the Common Good Symposium was given by a representative from Grameen Bank. Grameen Bank in Omaha opened in 2009. Erika Arguello has a history of dealing with harsh experiences and overcoming obstacles, but she uses this to inspire and help others struggling with similar situations. Grameen Bank is a way for low-income individuals to make a living by taking out loans. This bank also offers financial knowledge to help its customers manage their money. Ms. Arguello spoke little English herself because most of her customers cannot speak English. Though there are multiple locations of Grameen Bank, such as in California, Washington, and Minnesota, the majority of the people from Omaha who use this bank are Latina women. Ms. Arguello talked about how passionate she was about her job and about how much she truly loved to travel to help others outside of Omaha. This presentation was actually one of the few times she had to use her public speaking skills and though she was admitted that she was nervous, I personally thought she did a superb job. I even got to practice my Spanish speaking skills by asking her a question in Spanish during the question and answer session after her presentation.

The focus of the presentation was a video in which a man by the name of Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh spoke eloquently about helping the poor and less fortunate. He talked about social responsibility and how producing something as simple as yogurt can help fix the issue of malnourishment of children in Bangladesh. If two cups of yogurt are given to a child once a week for one year, that is equivalent to giving that child their full health back, because the yogurt contains all the nutrients that a child needs. He also spoke about how charity is when you give money, but it only has “one life” because once you give it away it is gone. But with a business, like Grameen Bank, it recycles that money, and puts it to work to develop a business for the less fortunate and continuously provides for them. He mentioned that first of all, it is important to realize there is nothing wrong with the poor, but there is something wrong with the framework of society because it does not allow the poor to thrive. And to do so, we need to engage in social business, but not to make a profit. We need to do so with the right intentions, to help the less fortunate. His last words of inspiration were as follows, “The world is run by ideas not theories. We made the rules, so we can change them. Don’t be a slave of your own rules.” In other words, he wants us to not restrict ourselves in the methods or ideas we have to help the poor, even if they are not as popular as other ideas like charity or do not seem as good as other ideas. If we start small and are successful with that small business, we can always grow larger. But it is harder to start big and have to downsize because our ideas were too far-fetched and not well thought out or supported.

After the video, Ms. Arguello spoke specifically about the Grameen Bank in Omaha. She gave the following scenario: If I person wants a loan, then Ms. Arguello, searches for at least four other ladies who also want to a loan. Through this process, there are no papers or identification required, a concept most banks would not allow, but rather Ms. Arguello comes to each lady’s house and helps them fill out an application. Grameen Bank has a partnership with Wells Fargo. This means that if the ladies do not have a bank account or are unable to use one, Ms. Arguello personally helps them set one up, even though she admitted this is not a job requirement. She simply does it because she cares so deeply for these ladies and remembers similar struggles from her past life. In her words, “discipline, unity, and hard work is the recipe for success.” Ms. Arguello also gave an example of how she was able to help a woman get a loan without her having a social security number, but the only reason this was possible was because she had good credit. Ms. Arguello not only helps people get loans but offers solutions on how to develop strategies to pay back the loans. Many of the customers do not know how to manage their money, so this is a skill she focuses on teaching to as many people as possible. She also is willing to help them have transportation to get to the bank or, as seen in a previous example, she is willing to go to the home of the customer.  It was evident that Ms. Arguello worked above and beyond her job requirements, and I am so happy I was able to be present for her presentation.

Cortina Field Trips!

This weekend, the Cortina Community began a new tradition: Cortina Field Trips! Cortinians had the opportunity to explore different sites in the Omaha area. Formation Group Leaders led small groups of students to their favorite places around the community, from restaurants to parks to churches. Students had the chance to see parts of Omaha they may not have ventured to before and experience the diversity and liveliness of this city. Here are a few pictures from the day. We hope to continue this activity throughout the year!

What did you discover about Omaha? What are some of your places in the city?

The Start of a New Year

Welcome to our new and continuing members of the Cortina Community! After a busy start to the year full of new student orientation and the beginning of classes, we couldn’t be more excited for the year to come.

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 11.22.09 AMOur first community meeting of the year was the annual Community Partner Bash where students learned who their community partner for the semester would be and met their fellow Formation Group members and leaders. Cortinians are eager to go to their service sites and learn about the Omaha community.

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 11.22.53 AM The following weekend was the Cortina Fall Retreat, held at Carol Joy Holling Camp, for a time of learning, reflection, relationship-building and plenty of fun.

Students learned about Fr. Jon Cortina and were given a glimpse into his life of faith and service. In addition, we were privileged enough to see the premiere of a film made by Nico Sandi, second-year RA in Deglman, called “Faith That Does Justice,” which tells about the Jesuit martyrs tragedy in El Salvador that occurred 25 years ago. The incident shocked the world and spurred Fr. Cortina to fight injustice during a time of civil war in the country and for the rest of his life.

Cortinians also heard informative and inspirational talks from Ken Reed-Bouley, director of the Creighton Center for Service and Justice; Kyle Lierk, director of Campus Ministry at Creighton; and Dr. Faith Kurtyka, assistant professor of English at Creighton University, who all gave greater insight into the Cortina Community and how it will challenge students to think and to grow during their time in the community. We thank them for taking the time to speak to us, and we are looking forward to discussing and reflecting on what they shared with us as we continue to learn about ourselves and our world during the year.

In these first two weeks, we faced our fears, thought about our own beliefs, met new people, and shared laughter with wonderful people.

Here’s to the start of a life-giving year.

Mapping Public Arguments in Omaha


It was my honor to teach two sections of English 150: Rhetoric and Composition specifically for students in the Cortina Community this semester. Thanks to a course development grant from the Creighton College of Arts and Sciences, I collaborated with Annie Dimond, the director of Cortina, undergraduate student Gretchen Stulock, and graduate student Catherine Walsh to design a composition curriculum specifically for Cortina students.

I so enjoyed getting to know the amazing first-year class of Cortina, who consistently impressed me with their diversity of thought, engagement in learning, and enthusiasm for our unique approach to writing, which included identifying examples of propaganda on Creighton’s campus, discussing the meaning behind gang graffiti, and a field trip to the Benson neighborhood to learn about local businesses and community development.

For their final project, the students were challenged to analyze how public spaces and places make “arguments” that influence the way people think about a space. Students selected a site in the local Omaha area, visited their site to speak to local residents and take photos, conducted online research, collaboratively wrote their analyses, and posted their work to a publicly available Google Map. I invite you to click on the projects and learn more about public arguments in Omaha and see some of the excellent work of English 150: Cortina Composition.

Link to Mapping Project:

-Dr. Faith Kurtyka

Omaha Gives: City Sprouts

The students in Cortina who work with our community partner City Sprouts made this video to promote the work that they do and to help raise money to grow the incredible work they do in our community.

After 24 hours, 147 people made donations, totaling $10,880. Incredible.

We love City Sprouts and we are so proud to work with them. If you would like to give more, follow this link and click “donate”:

Tuesday Newsday [2.26.12]


But, there is also other stuff going on! Grab a hot chocolate and let’s get informed, shall we?

National News

75 influential Republicans have signed a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court arguing FOR gay marriage. This monumental action may actually have an influence on the Supreme Court’s landmark decisions in the Supreme pipeline. Read about the brief here!

The U.S. Senate has finally approved an up-or-down vote for Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nomination for Secretary of Defense. The official vote of approval should take place at 330 central time today, and Hagel is expected to be approved. Click here for some background info on this absurdly long confirmation process.

In response to expected budget cuts, the ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) have begun releasing detainees from immigration detention centers. The deportation cases have not been dropped, the individuals are on “supervised release.” Read about the unprecedented move here.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is has eliminated working from home from the company’s policy. The move has ignited some serious controversy.

Local News

The number of individuals seeking assistance from shelters like the Sienna-Francis house is increasing at a staggering rate. Read about it here.

Omaha Fashion is one of the many Omaha cultural icons continuing to put the city on the national map.


Thanks for reading! Stay informed, stay warm, and me mindful of those who are neither.




Community Development Resources

Here is a link to inCommon Community Development’s website:

This is a great explanation of community development (and look at how others do community development):
Scottish Community Development Centre:
Community Development Exchange:

Check out other organizations in Omaha doing community development:
– NeighborWorks Omaha:
– Midlands Latino Community Development Corporation:
– The Empowerment Network:

Community Development through art. So cool:

Interested in community development as a career? Check out these degrees:
– Loyola Chicago’s MA in Social Justice and Community Development:
– Clark University’s MBA/MA in Community Development and Planning:
– UC Davis’ MS in Community Development:


Monday Meditation: On The Listening Project

What I love about the listening project is that we are taking ownership in the beginning steps of effecting change in the community. We haven’t actually met anyone from the community that we are serving yet; everything that we are doing is behind the scenes. It is unlike any service that I have done before but I think it is getting at what service is really meant to be about. Although we may be growing from this experience and learning from each other through the process, we are really trying to do what is best for the community without being preoccupied by our own agenda. -Olivia M.

Being apart of the tLP has been inspiring. We’re able to be with people who want to make an impact on the community in Omaha. This project will work and continue to progress with the new generations of Cortina to come. We hope to one day look back on inCommon’s Park Avenue community and be proud of what we see. But this isn’t just a one time application of listening. It should be everyone’s goal at the beginning of Cortina to become a better listener and utilize these newfound skills to become more active off of Creighton’s campus. I encourage anyone who is interested in this sort of service to join this project and make a difference. -Ray S.

As a white, straight, Christian male, I pretty much constantly second-guess every action I take that has to do with “doing something for others.” I always question if I am selflessly serving or if I am just using my unearned power to help people and make myself feel good. When I learned the listening project was run largely by white, straight, Christian males, I immediately feared it would be another example of those in power telling others what they needed. I have never been so happy to be wrong. The listening project defies every stereotype of the imperialistic, ignorant “helper.” Calvin and his team refuse to tell the Park Avenue community what they need, and they refuse to stop asking. The new community development center is going to be focused entirely by members of the community. Working with the Listening Project has shown me that I really can serve others without fear of being pious or imperialistic. -Westin M.

Being a senior and having done service with many organizations throughout my four years, there has never been a time when I felt like my service could really make a difference for a community. (That’s not to undersell my other experiences, because I do think that the relationships I have built have been transformative – hopefully on both ends). By participating in tLP, I think we are really, and hopefully, going to help inCOMMON better serve the people of the Park Avenue neighborhood by getting to know them. Over the past few months, in anticipation of graduation, I have been thinking about what a community center would look like if I were able to participate in the creation from the get-go. But, when Calvin explained the vision of the Park Avenue Commons, I got to hear and see the plans for so many of the dreams I had for a community center. I really feel like I am participating in something that will change a community for the better. -Elizabeth S.

You guys get what tLP is all about now, but something I realized tonight in community time is how applicable this project is to our daily lives. I know I have experienced the frustration of not feeling listened to or valued. Learning some tools on how to better my own listening abilities gives me hope that we can have better dialogue. I thought it was inevitable, people won’t listen; in retaliation, I would refuse to listen to them. Let me tell you I have made and kept lots of friends that way! In case you couldn’t detect my intense sarcasm, this type of scenario never helped any of my relationships. I can honestly say that by employing the type of empathetic, engaged, and, as Nico so eloquently put it, active listening we can begin to really hear people and change our attitudes, views, and, potentially, our lives. -Madi F.

In what ways can you deepen the listening in your own life? What resources lie just behind a door down the hall? How will you know? How often do you find yourself asking open-ended questions and really caring about the answer? How can you develop a posture of interest? How will that benefit you and the community?

Advocacy Alerts

Support Immigration Reform with a Pathway to Citizenship!
Immigration reform will only happen if US citizens ask for it. Please take a moment to send a message to your senators to tell them that you support immigration reform, and that you look forward to seeing legislation pass in the 113th Congress. Also, take a look at what the Jesuits have to say on this issue.
Sierra Club
Protect the Grand Canyon!
Ranging from desert grasslands to lush, coniferous forests, the proposed Grand Canyon Watershed embraces one of America’s most spectacular landscapes-the Grand Canyon. This region encompasses a wild, rugged array of towering cliffs, deeply incised tributary canyons, and numerous springs that flow into Grand Canyon National Park’s Colorado River. In addition, the area hosts lands of great significance to the region’s indigenous people. Unfortunately, ill-conceived uranium mining, logging of ancient trees, and damaging livestock grazing threaten the Grand Canyon Watershed. Ask President Obama to protect this natural, cultural and archeological treasure by naming it as a national monument. A national monument designation will help preserve sacred indigenous sites and traditional values, give wildlife much needed room to roam, and prevent harmful uranium mining, logging and other destructive practices from destroying this beautiful part of America.
Economic Justice
Protect the Needs of Vulnerable People
House members are demanding spending cuts-equivalent to those mandated in the Sequester-by March 2nd. Supporters of the Pentagon-Industrial complex are lobbying hard so that no cuts are made to the Pentagon. Additionally, many House members are proposing a balanced budget in 10 years – 10 years sooner than demanded in the 2013 House-passed budget, which will require even deeper cuts in social needs programs. Email your Representative, and tell her/him to prioritize and protect the needs of the people in our nation who suffer the most: people who are unemployed, have health needs, have children, and others who are vulnerable in general.
Upcoming Events
Empowerment Network Community Meeting
On Saturday, Feb 9, 2013 at North High School – Viking Center – 4410 N. 36th Street, the community meeting called “Unite & Transform!” will start at 8:45 a.m. First, there will be networking, breakfast, and table displays. At 9:30 a.m. there will be an Empowerment Network Update, and at 10 a.m. there will be presentations and announcements. Please attend if you are interested and able!
Omaha Together One Community (OTOC) Events
1. OTOC training “How to Organize a Successful Action”: Monday Feb. 11 at 7 pm at First United Methodist Church
2. OTOC training “How to develop an Action Agenda”: Monday March 11 at 7 pm at First United Methodist Church