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Teach a Kid to Fish is now
Center for the Child & Community - part of Children’s Hospital & Medical Center

A safe environment. Sound nutrition. Healthy relationships. These are some of the basic building blocks of a healthy, happy childhood. A new initiative from Children’s Hospital & Medical Center is designed to make sure that every child in Nebraska has these three critical needs met.  

Children’s Center for the Child & Community aims to integrate health care and public health efforts to improve the overall health of children statewide. The Center will collaborate with communities across Nebraska to create local solutions to large-scale children’s health issues, such as childhood obesity, poverty, injury prevention and food insecurity. In addition to building partnerships that improve the health of children, it also will strengthen Children’s role in advocacy and health care policy.

Headquartered at Nebraska Innovation Campus in Lincoln, the Center is led by Karla Lester, M.D., who also serves as medical provider for Children’s HEROES pediatric weight management clinic in Lincoln. A longtime pediatrician-turned-community advocate and founder of the non-profit Teach a Kid to Fish, Lester has seen first-hand the need for a coordinated approach to children’s health. The people—and passion—behind the former Lincoln non-profit Teach a Kid to Fish (TKTF) are part of this new statewide children’s health initiative. Children’s Hospital & Medical Center acquired TKTF in an effort to continue its programming, but in a more dynamic and expanded capacity.


“It was a move to maximize our impact,” explains Dr. Lester. “We can drive more large-scale change with the resources and infrastructure that Children’s provides. There are a lot of positive efforts happening, but there hasn’t been a hub of coordination to ensure the biggest impact Children’s is a high-level partner that has the expertise and infrastructure to offer communities the support they need. Children’s brings the vision and the resources to move the needle.”

Half of Nebraska children live in or near poverty. Nearly half qualify for free and reduced meals at school. Meanwhile, the obesity epidemic continues to rise, disproportionately affecting vulnerable children. Chronic, complex diseases also present complicated health challenges for young people and their families.

These stark realities—and the children who experience them—are the driving force behind Children’s Center for the Child & Community.

“It is our vision for Nebraska to have the healthiest population of children in the Midwest and in the United States,” says Richard Azizkhan, M.D., Children’s President & CEO. “The children and families we serve deserve nothing less; we owe it to them to think bigger, take action and work more collaboratively.”

Formalizing Children’s investment in matters of community health isn’t only the right thing to do; it’s also timely and cost-efficient.

“Health care is changing from a volume-based approach to one that emphasizes value,” explains Dr. Lester. “The Center allows us to improve the quality of health care while we’re also preventing and reducing diseases and reducing health care costs.”

Still in its infancy, the Center’s first task is strategic planning—identifying critical needs and valuable partners. “Asset mapping” is the next step; the Center will analyze existing efforts and data before developing an impact plan. The focus will start in Omaha and Lincoln and radiate to more rural communities with time.

“Health care providers, educators and other community health champions across the state need more support than they’ve been getting,” says Dr. Lester. “We hope to be additive—to arm these champions with resources and, ultimately, make all children healthier.”