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Zapata Takes Pride in Finding a Way to Help Children, Families in South Omaha

Versatility has become a strength for Jose Zapata in his role as a Parent Trainer in Boys Town's Lift Together program in South Omaha.

But who would have known that being able to play a little basketball and making someone laugh would help get through to kids and parents and point them on the path to success?

Zapata has used both in his ever-changing roles at Boys Town. And he is more than willing to try more if it helps him reach his goal of helping kids and families.

Zapata says he has had the opportunity to learn and grow at Boys Town with many professional development opportunities provided while training for each new position he has held.

He started as an Assistant-Family Teacher, working with youth living on campus. The goal was to have kids successfully complete the program and transition back home. He then worked with kids on probation as an In-Home Consultant to keep them from being removed from the home. He then transitioned to work with non-system families seeking help with their kids' behaviors before they escalated to the point of going to court. All that training and experience helped him reach his current role as a Parent Trainer in Common Sense Parenting (CSP) classes.

Zapata will soon complete training in the Well-Managed Classrooms program. He will then support a colleague in a newly-created position within Omaha South High school. They will work directly with students in the LIFT Together with Boys Town program, which is built to serve both youth and families in a bridge with the school.

Zapata's adaptation to his job has been a challenge during the pandemic. He has been able to continue teaching CSP classes virtually, a first for Boys Town. When he isn't teaching an online class to parents, he is contacting other non-profits in the community to collaborate with and to seek possible referrals for his classes.

When working with kids and families, Zapata says he often needs to be creative in order to get his clients to buy in. It can be a challenge, to say the least.

“Lots of times, youth have no interest in talking to me, much less meeting on a consistent basis," Zapata said. “I had to get creative with my approach to get the youth to engage. When my humor didn't work, I would beat them on the basketball court. That usually got their attention because they didn't expect me to be any good. I'm by no means great, but I can hold my own."

He also used his humor to get through to parents

“Disengaged parents was another big challenge," he said. “Parents sometimes don't recognize that they contribute to the problem. They don't believe they need to participate in services. Many parents eventually came around through my approach, again usually with humor, and saw the benefit in working with me. No, I didn't challenge any parents to a basketball game."

Zapata says it is satisfying when he can get youth and parents to work together, all with a common goal.

“While working as an In-Home Consultant, I had a case with a youth on probation for not attending school. He was reluctant to work with me at first and he didn't follow rules at home, either. He was also self-medicating with drugs and alcohol," Zapata said. “His mom was willing to do what was needed to help her son be successful, and that included looking in the mirror and admitting that she needed to make some changes as well."

Zapata used all of Boys Town's teaching resources. Thanks to those services, the youth stopped using drugs and alcohol, began attending an alternative school consistently, and started respecting his mom's rules. His mother began to utilize the positive discipline strategies she learned, began to trust her son more and held him accountable so he could learn responsibility. Their relationship improved dramatically, he successfully completed probation and is on track to graduate with his class. By the end of the youth's services, he was willing to speak openly and work with Zapata. The judge in the youth's case sent a letter to Zapata stating how impressed he was with the youth's success and praised Zapata's work.

Seeing that success, motivates Zapata to help others.

“I enjoy the opportunity to help families with their respective problems and help them find success," he said. “I find it fulfilling to help a family problem-solve through stressful situations in their lives. Whether I worked directly with a struggling youth or a struggling youth's family, it's great to see the positive progress and achievements throughout our services."

Zapata says he is proud to work at Boys Town.​