Art & Soup EventSep 21, 2023 03:48PM ● By Natalie McGovern
Photo by Bill Sitzmann.
John Lee Hoich of Hoich Enterprises had the privilege last April of serving as Honorary Chair of Art & Soup, the Visiting Nurses Association annual fundraiser. Each year the VNA partners with local artists and vendors to host the 26th annual community event for a worthy cause. Their mission is straightforward: Eat soup. Buy art. Change lives.
For 126 years, this nonprofit has set out to rectify a growing problem of homelessness and bring healthcare to underserved communities in Omaha and Council Bluffs. Founded in 1896 by the mayor of Omaha’s daughter Anna Millard Rogers, the VNA serviced unwed mothers and low-income families, providing free healthcare. It was Millard Rogers’ dream to take direct healthcare to the impoverished and less fortunate. The program has continued to thrive since its inception, carrying on an impactful and longstanding legacy. Unlike most average fundraisers, with Art & Soup there are no tables for ten, raising the paddle, ice sculptures, or speeches. Its whittled down to a three-hour event where attendees can come and go as they please, buy art, and enjoy a tasty selection of soup. In 2023 they raised $180,000 through corporate sponsorships, donations, and ticket sales.
Being able to serve as the Honorary Chair this year was a humbling and unforgettable experience for Hoich. “I was very blessed.”, he recalls., “and then I cried.” His involvement with the VNA is a deeply personal one. VNA nurses were a constant in his life during a challenging upbringing involving foster care. The Stephen Center’s rehabilitation center in Omaha is named after him. It’s not only an apt reminder of the struggles he overcame, but a testament to the power of rising above adversity while having a dream in sight.
What was once his abusive father’s bar now stands in its place the center; a symbolic beacon of hope for those passing through rehabilitation and forging paths to better lives. Living by a “service above self,” philosophy, Hoich is as transparent as they come, and philanthropy is at the core of what he does. With his values rooted in humility, integrity, and trust, it’s not accolades that hold significance for him but being able to leave a legacy to the community that helped get him through hardship. It’s all about giving back, such as impacting the lives of addicts and homeless individuals and helping them to heroically transition their lives through the VNA. Art & Soup is the catalyst for creating change in the lives of families and individuals looking to recovery and a second chance.
Hoich may be semi-retired, but he continues to do philanthropic work serving as the Vice President of the Charles E. Lakin Foundation and sitting on over 40 boards, including the City of Omaha Planning Board and Westside High School Alumni Board. At age 19, he was the youngest member in history to join the Rotary, and at age 30, he made his first million. With just a Sears Craftmanship lawnmower he inherited from his mother, Hoich started a successful lawncare maintenance business from the ground up. In 2007 he published his book, “From the Ground Up, It’s Not Just Business,” detailing his journey to success.
It is Hoich’s goal to make Art & Soup the number one fundraiser since the VNA’s formation. “My whole life is giving back,” he remarks. “I’ve never seen a hearse pull a U-Haul.” In other words, a stark reminder that when you leave this earth you can’t take money with you.
Held at the Omaha Design Center, Art & Soup gives back in more ways than one. Its philanthropic spirit propels a very important purpose forward: to raise funds for VNA’s medical care for communities in need. Twenty restaurants from across Omaha including Biaggis, Stirnella, and Herb Sainte came on board to concoct specially made soups for the event. An indoor arts festival boasts everything from pottery to jewelry to glass blowing and photography. Artists and vendors who participate also agree to give 50% of their art sales to support the VNA and their efforts. The VNA partners with a number of homeless shelters such as the Sienna Francis House, the Open Door Mission, the Stephen Center, Micah House, and Mom’s House in Council Bluffs.
Along with provisions for homeless individuals, the VNA assists in other ways, providing services and tools to equip needs such as parenting and pregnancy programs or reading nurse specialists.
“We serve people literally wherever they call home.” says Carole Patrick, Interim CEO and Chief Philanthropy Officer of the VNA. Patrick, a psychologist by education, states that 60% of mental health disorders inhabit homeless shelters in Omaha. “The entire purpose of the fundraiser is to raise money to put nurses in homeless and domestic violence shelters. We try to target that specific area. I think it’s a well-known fundraiser in our community because it’s unique and people like knowing where the money goes; that nurses are being put in homeless shelters where they are the first line of public healthcare for folks.”
VNA nurses are the unsung heroes. “They are just angels,” beams Patrick. “They have an incredible sense of care for these folks and in our local shelters. People tend to kind of ‘shelter surf’ as there is generally a limit for how long you can be there unless there are other factors. What’s the consistent across there? There’s a VNA nurse in every shelter, so you know that one of those nurses is there.”