Backed by a powerful story of redemption, Omaha’s Bekah Jerde is living a life of action, inspiring, impacting and fearlessly saying “yes.”
“I learned through my program of recovery that fear is the biggest thing to keep me back. … I have fear of my own potential; I have fear of engaging others. I’m learning — and will always be learning — how to walk through those fears because, so far, I have shown up on the other side unscathed and usually better for it. It’s still a journey, and some days it’s still a struggle. But saying ‘yes’ is huge.”
Jerde said her first pivotal “yes” came in March 2015 when she agreed to take a part-time position as office manager with Radio Talking Book Service (RTBS), Nebraska’s only radio reading service for those with cognitive and physical disabilities, including visual impairment.
For the first two months, she moonlighted as a waitress. “It quickly became apparent that this was a full-time position, and I was going to need to give full-time hours. I said, ‘I’m not going to keep one toe in the water, waiting tables on the weekends; I’m going to give this 110 percent.’”
She did and in spring 2016, she was asked to serve as RTBS’s interim executive director.
“This part of my nature that was healing and getting stronger stepped forward and said, ‘Yes, but I’ll need help.’ Both of those things were not in my base programming: to say yes to something that absolutely terrified me and also to admit that I needed help.”
Jerde served as interim director for six months before shifting into her present position – a role created for her – as assistant director. She does a bit of everything: writes grants, coordinates programming, manages the office and IT, and more. Because of her “yes” mindset, she says her life is “so much fuller than I would have ever imagined.” To think, at one point not too long ago, she “kind of thought life was over.”
The reason was alcohol. The turning point, a conviction for driving under the influence. It gave rise to more than six years of sobriety so far and introduced Jerde to RTBS. To help fulfill her 200 hours of community service, she volunteered as a reader, which segued into that RTBS job offer in 2015. Focused on “progress – not perfection,” she has been impressing the nonprofit ever since.
“Bekah is whip smart and well-read. I learn from her every day. She is professional, tech savvy and one of the kindest people I know. Bekah is not afraid of new things; she seeks out challenges to conquer. We are blessed to have her on the RTBS team,” says Jane Nielsen, RTBS executive director.
The team – five staff members and about 80 volunteers – informs, entertains and otherwise enhances the lives of listeners with a full schedule of programming. Community support, including grant funding from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, makes it all possible and allows eligible RTBS listeners to receive free wireless radio receivers. (RTBS content can also be accessed online at rtbs.org and via two mobile phone apps: TuneIn Radio or Sero.)
“When radios are returned, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, ‘This was my dad’s lifeline, or this was my mom’s lifeline,’” Jerde says.
In addition to her work with RTBS, Jerde is active in the arts. She takes photos and paints and shows her work at local galleries. One of her pieces – “I Empty Myself to be Filled With Awareness, Light, & Love” – depicts the façade of a building with colorful rays of light streaming through it.
“For me, that’s highly symbolic of this journey,” she says. “I was completely relying on that outside light to tell me who I was and what my worth was. I understand now that light comes from within me, and I have the opportunity to share it with others, be of service to others and hopefully bring that light.”
“What I’ve been taught is that you say ‘yes’ when an opportunity is placed in front of you,” Jerde says. “I try to do as much service as I can. Here, it’s fantastic that my job is being of service every single day.”
“Face of Fearless” is a storytelling series in Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s “Live Fearless” campaign celebrating people living their very best lives and inspiring others to do the same. Read more on omaha.com