07:51 AM

Patterson Keeps Kids Can in Tune

As CEO of Kids Can Community Center, Robert Patterson considers himself an orchestra conductor. He’s charged with keeping everything in tune and on beat at the South Omaha facility. A 2009 graduate of the Bellevue University Master of Arts in Management (MAM) program, Patterson is at the hub of Kids Can, which strives to educate, engage, and inspire children through early childhood care and out-of-school experiences.

A highly professional staff and a set of energized volunteers are really what make Kids Can a special place for children and those kids reflect that energy back, Patterson said.

“The staff are the ones that are the drivers here 12 hours a day. They’re here at 5:30 a.m. to make sure the doors are open, preparing the meals, getting the kids to school, teaching everything. These are the people that are really making the difference,” he said.  “I see myself as the orchestra conductor trying to create a nice harmony.”

Currently, the center provides early childhood care and out-of-school experiences for children as young as 18 months all the way up to 13 years. That age range will soon expand to serve children as young as six weeks old.

“We realized infant care is a huge expense no matter what your income.” Patterson said “It's a big undertaking. Not too many organizations do it, but we think it's important for our families to be able to have that pipeline and continuity of care.”

The organization was founded in 1908 as the Social Settlement Association of Omaha and changed its name to the Kids Can Community Center in 2009 to better reflect its vision for children and families in the Omaha community. Patterson has been at Kids Can for over 20 years. Some of the kids he was charged with caring for in the early days now have children of their own at the Center.

“It's just nice to have that generational continuity when I'm thinking about our future,” he said. “I'm building for the generations to come and for generations that I will never even see. That's what I'm most proud of.”

Patterson’s Bellevue University degree is one of the building blocks that is helping him put it all together. Dr. Michelle Eppler, Dean of the College of Continuing and Professional Education at Bellevue University, who sits on the Kids Can Board of Directors, encouraged Patterson to consider pursuing his master’s degree back in 2007.

“I had hit that point in my career and personal life where I thought this is something I need to take myself to the next level,” he said.

But it wasn’t as simple as that. In addition to the requirements of his work life, Patterson enjoyed his independence and loved to travel. Would earning his degree restrict that?

“I began doing my research and Bellevue (University) began to rise to the top because of its online courses. It provided me the flexibility that was an important part of my life,” Patterson said. “I remember going to the Sundance Film Festival and doing some homework in a coffee shop and still being able to enjoy the trip.”

Bellevue University sponsors the Can Do Junior Award at Kids Can. As a part of the award, the recipient receives a 25 percent scholarship for his or her first three semesters at Bellevue University. DeAngelo Grant, a sixth grader at Gateway Elementary, was the 2019 award winner.

While Patterson’s education had a beginning and an end, one of his biggest takeaways was the need to be a lifelong learner and that his former classmates and colleagues from Bellevue University would be traveling that same path with him.

“I came away from the program knowing that it would be in my best interest to continually be educating myself. I kind of already knew that, but going through the program cemented it,” he said. “And I knew I wasn’t alone. I have a lot of peers out there that are always learning.”