JoAnn Robinson, 14, has big dreams. She enjoys studying math, engineering and robotics at North High School – but her real passion is lights, cameras and action.
“I want to be a director,” she says – like her inspiration, director and producer Kenny Ortega, the guiding force behind some of her favorite movies, including Disney’s “High School Musical” trilogy. “He has a lot of fun with his work. It’s just amazing. I want to be a part of that.”
With a life-changing assist from Partnership 4 Kids (P4K) and its summer program series, P4K University, JoAnn is steadily collecting the skills – and the fearlessness – Hollywood will require.
“I’m learning that I’m good in a team more than I thought,” says the soon-to-be 10th grader.
She’s also learning that she is a natural leader. “That’s a new thing for me,” she says. “I used to be so shy. Now, I’m confident.”
Those qualities – cooperation, confidence and leadership – were cultivated with fun intensity during P4K University’s Amazing Race, a workshop sponsored in part by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. Throughout the week, JoAnn and her fellow “racers” navigated a series of challenges that required communication, problem-solving and teamwork – everything from setting up a tent together to various trust-building exercises that culminated in Outward Bound’s high ropes course on the Northstar campus. A wrist injury kept JoAnn on the ground but didn’t dampen her enthusiasm for the total Amazing Race experience.
“Some of it is a review of what I’ve learned in school about teamwork and how to always be ready and focused, but it’s better here because you have new, different tasks. We all work together,” she says. “This is an amazing opportunity to learn more about yourself and make friends.”
Additional P4K University sessions include STEM-focused P4K Blast, an arts workshop, and a mini-medical and dental school in partnership with Creighton University. JoAnn, who started with P4K in the fifth grade, is taking part in all of the sessions.
More than a P4K advocate, she embodies what the organization is working to accomplish.
“They are always motivating me to do great in school,” she says. “That was a big confidence boost to know that someone believed in me. It opened my eyes to know that I am important and that I have expectations. It just pushed me to work harder in life – not just school.”
For P4K, that’s what it’s all about – wrapping children in hope and expectation to break Omaha’s cycle of poverty. With the help of nearly 400 volunteer mentors, P4K serves 5,200 disadvantaged students in 23 Omaha Public Schools, inspiring them to set and achieve goals, graduate from high school and pursue some type of post-secondary education. The organization even provides college scholarships to those who complete the program. JoAnn, with her director’s chair dreams, knows she is on the right path.
“I feel like I’ve gotten support and love. I’ve also gotten stronger, mentally and physically. I have a lot of hope and confidence in myself just for being with P4K.”
P4K’s Lori Lundholm says JoAnn’s newfound fearless attitude is proof of the program’s effectiveness.
“It’s a confirmation that what we’re doing and working on every day is making a difference. There is curriculum behind it; there is legitimacy and it’s doing what it’s supposed to do,” Lundholm says.
“I feel positive about my future,” JoAnn says. “I feel hopeful.”
“Faces 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.