VALLEY NEWS PERSON OF THE YEAR: One woman’s strength and determination changes lives

Chelsie Greene

Strong, honest, sincere, giving, caring, responsible, concerned, funny, and loving are words used to describe Chelsie Greene.

Chelsie was raised in an unstable and dysfunctional home with a mother struggling with substance abuse. Chelsie has overcome the challenges and obstacles she faced. In her own words, she has “proven the statistics wrong of how her life should have turned out.”

Determined to provide her two children Ryleigh, 7, and Madisyn, 5, and a younger sister Zayddi Ladish, 18, with the loving and stable home that she never had Chelsie still finds the time to help others, be involved in the community, be an advocate for kids and further her education.

“I’m so proud of her, and I tell her that often,” said Chelsie’s grandmother, Sharon Smith. “I see her being a strong leader in her community one day. She is certainly contributing now but I see her continuing to push ahead and do whatever she can to make the world a better place.”

“I think she just saw that either she was going to do it herself or it wasn’t going to happen,” said Smith. Because she didn’t have stability, now she wants to try and give back to others, so that doesn’t happen to other people as it happened to her.”

Chelsie, 28, grew up in Shenandoah and married her high school boyfriend Noah, nine years ago. She works full time at Nishna Productions, a nonprofit organization providing services to people with disabilities.

She earned an Associate of Arts in business administration from Iowa Western and will graduate in May from Buena Vista University with her bachelor’s degree in human service and psychology.

Chelsie was awarded the Guardian Scholars Foundation scholarship. This scholarship is for people who were in the foster care system who want to go back to school and plan to work in foster care.

Chelsie is a M.A.Y. Mentor and a member of the M.A.Y. Advisory Board. She is an e-mentor for the Links to LNX e-mentoring program. She has spoken at mentoring events sharing her story and the impact that caring adults can make. M.A.Y. Mentoring is a community-based mentoring program.

She is involved with the PEO Committee, school bond planning committee, and Adopt-A-Family at Christmas. You will see her volunteering at school and community events and at Shenandoah High School games supporting her sister Ladish who is a cheerleader.

Her friends say in her vehicle, you will find blessing bags that Chelsie and her kids make to give to less fortunate people. They explained she involves her kids in making the bags so they understand what it means to help others.

In November 2018, Chelsie and Noah became licensed foster care parents and provide respite for other foster parents. It is important to Chelsie to do something fun and meaningful with every child when she provides respite care.

Before each child leaves, Chelsie gives them a book with a handwritten message from her.

Chelsie was chosen for The Valley News Person of the Year because at a young age she had no choice but to grow up and learn to take care of herself the best she could. She not only succeeded in caring for herself but many others along the way. She has touched many lives and overcome many obstacles.

“Chelsie has purposed in her herart to make the best life for her family and in everything she does,” said Debbie Pope. “Her passion to make things better for others overflows into the community.”

“She will inspire you, encourage, and challenge you to be a better person for those around you,” said Pope. “She has taken the adverse experiences of her life and turned them into powerfully positive outcomes for herself and others.”

She came into contact with some influential people along the way that encouraged her and provided support.

In 2000 Kim Leininger, M.A.Y. Mentoring Program Coordinator was encouraged by Phyllis Fundermann, a teacher at Shenandoah, to contact Chelsie’s mother about M.A.Y. Mentoring.

Leininger remembers Chelsie’s teachers noted she had low social skills, low self-esteem, trouble with cooperating, difficulty handling conflict, was often negative and had trouble knowing what was appropriate. Teachers were concerned about how much food was provided for her at home.

“I remember thinking how likable Chelsie was and how she was pretty much raising herself,” said Leininger. “She was strong-willed but I feared she would fall into her mother’s patterns. She was feisty, but I know she had to have a lot of hurt and anger and disappointment in her life.”

Leininger said Chelsie’s mother agreed to have her in the program, and she was matched with Val Grossman as her mentor in November 2000 when she was 9.

“I thoroughly enjoyed all of our time together,” said Grossman. “She always had a positive attitude. You could do anything with her, and she appreciated it. She thoroughly enjoyed everything.”

When Chelsie was 10, her sister Ladish was born and Chelsie took on the responsibility of primary caretaker for her sister.

Leininger said in 2003 Grossman decided she wanted to take a break from mentoring, and Green was matched with mentor Alisa (Eason) Andrew in 2004. Andrew was a teacher at Shenandoah and was aware of Chelsie’s situation and difficult home life.

Leininger said during the time Andrew was mentoring Chelsie, her teachers were still saying she was seeking attention, having difficulties with social skills and low self-esteem. But teachers were also saying she was likable, had potential and was a very strong young woman that desperately needed help to stop a cycle of destruction her mother had started.

Andrew says she spent time together with Chelsie in and outside of school. She described herself as a sounding board for Chelsie and tried to show her what the real world was like.

Andrew commends Chelsie for being able to speak publicly in front of groups and organizations about her life and is very proud of where she is today after all she experienced in her life.

“I am totally amazed,” said Andrew. “It gives me goosebumps to think about how well she’s turned out and how shes changed her life. She is such an amazing woman, and I’m very proud of her.”

Andrew said, looking back at Chelsie during her 8th-grade year, she didn’t let things get her down.

“She was bound and determined to make her life better and go in the direction she wanted her life to go,” said Andrew.” That’s really amazing.”

When Chelsie was 14, the Department of Human Services (DHS) removed Chelsie and Ladish from their home and were placed in foster homes.

Reunification with their mother was attempted unsuccessfully and they both were placed back into foster care. Chelsie was eventually placed with a “suitable adult” instead of being in foster care but was still under the supervision of DHS.

During high school, Chelsie worked at Burger King to provide for herself. At age 16, she started working full time while still attending high school.

At 17, Chelsie and Noah rented a place of their own and struggled to make enough money working at Burger King to pay bills and buy food. Chelsie graduated from Shenandoah high school in 2009.

One teacher took the time to give Chelsie the extra help she needed.

“I taught government which is a required class,” said Jennifer Cole, former teacher at Shenandoah High School. “I would make sure that Chelsie would get caught up on stuff and stay after when she could. I kept encouraging her to keep going.”

Cole said school isn’t just about teaching anymore. Teachers need to be flexible, supportive, and open to listening to their students. She said it is about supporting students through whatever they are going through and she feels like she provided that for Chelsie.

Cole said as a senior, Chelsie was already talking about getting her sister out of foster care to raise her. She explained they would talk about how Chelsie could make that a reality.

At 19, Chelsie was awarded guardianship of her 9-year-old sister Ladish.

Cole said kids from a tough background don’t always understand the process of going to college, then getting a job to better their life.

“They don’t think that’s a reality for them or they don’t see the steps forward on how to get there,” said Cole. “She was able to see what her possibilities were, that she didn’t have to follow in the same footsteps, that there were other bigger possibilities out there for her.”

Cole said Chelsie’s memories of her childhood are foggy and disconnected. She said that plays a role in how Chelsie sees herself when she doesn’t have a good foundation of where she came from.

“People have always said to her, oh my goodness, you’ve been able to do so much,” said Cole, “you’re so strong. How did you accomplish all this? And she said to me I don’t understand why people say that to me. What other choice did I have? I had no other choice. I did what I had to do.”

“I don’t know that she fully understands how amazing her choices have been,” said Cole. “I think that’s why she’s so focused on being a good mom and being a foster mom.”

Cole said Chelsie never had a good role model, but she had the determination to teach herself how to care for herself, how to care for a loving marriage, how to be a loving mother.

“I think it’s great how open she is,” said Cole. “She started writing a blog about some of her experiences. I think a lot of people read her blog, and I think a lot of people feel comfortable sharing or examing what they’ve gone through because they know she’s a safe place to talk. She’ll understand and except you without any judgment.”

Chelsie and her husband have worked hard to build a good life but not without struggles.

After Chelsie’s brother, Destyn Franks, was born, he was removed from his mother’s home twice and placed with Chelsie and Noah. Now 4 years old they had been his primary caretakers for over half of his life. In November 2019, Chelsie made the difficult decision that it would be in Destyn’s best interest to be adopted by relatives on his dad’s side of the family. Chelsie and Destyn now have the opportunity to have a sister and brother relationship.

“She feels so responsible for everybody,” said Savannah Gohlinghorst. “But she doesn’t need to be.”

Leininger said Chelsie speaks of how, even during very difficult circumstances, your choices are your own and you are responsible for making good ones.

“Chelsie has made amazingly great choices given a home life that showed her poor role modeling,” said Leininger. “Chelsie shares her story to help others. She also shares to continue to heal old scars that will never totally leave her.”

“Chelsie is an absolute wonderful wife and mother,” said Leininger. “She works hard at Nishna Productions and has gone back to school to further her education. I have the utmost respect and admiration for her.”

Chelsie credits her mentors, and other people in her life for helping her, said Leininger.

“She has an amazing innate resilience that cannot really be explained,” said Leininger. “In my eyes, she is a miracle, a heroine, but she is very, very humble and very, very real. She admits that struggles continue but she has risen above so very much. She has wonderful, fun friends and enjoys life to the fullest. She is simply amazing.”

Since graduation, Taylor Goetz of Shenandoah and Gohlinghorst formerly of Shenandoah have stayed close with Chelsie.

“I came to Shenandoah my sophmore year, and Chelsie and I had homeroom together,” said Goetz. “We laugh about it now but when I first got there, I was like who is this girl. I thought she was a little different and I wasn’t sure what to think of her. She had a lot of energy.”

Goetz, Gohlinghorst and Chelsie became and still are close friends.

Goetz describes Chelsie as having a soft spot for helping others because of the circumstances she faced.

“She encourages others that are struggling to keep persevering and betting their lives,” said Goetz.

Goetz said Chelsie dabbles in everything and will help anyone no matter what.

“She’s always been a caretaker,” said Goetz. “She finds great joy in helping people, and she is so intentional with everything that she does.”

Goetz says Chelsie will put others needs before her own.

“By giving to other people, she is taking care of herself,” said Goetz. “That’s her self-care and it brings her great satisfaction.”

Goetz shared a story where Chelsie remembered finding a dollar at the library as a kid. After finding the dollar Chelsie and her sister Ladish walked to McDonalds and got a McChicken for supper. She gave Zaydi the chicken because she thought that would fill her up more, and she ate the bread.

“At just such a young age, she thought about things like that,” said Goetz.

Gohlinghorst said, looking back, she doesn’t know how Chelsie made it through. During high school, she didn’t realize what struggles Chelsie faced.

“I can remember her saying one time to Noah, we’ve got $2.13 to make it to payday,” said Gohlinghorst. “I had no idea what they were going through.”

Gohlinghorst says Chelsie continues to be an advocate for kids that aren’t given the best hand in life and believes it only takes one caring adult to make a difference.

“She wants to educate and make people aware that these kids aren’t any less than,” said Gohlinghorst.

Chelsie cares for her sister Ladish as one of her own and makes sure to still spend one on one time with her during sister day outings.

“It means a lot that one person can do so much,” said Ladish. “She is mindful and caring. She took it into her own hands to take care of me as one of her own. She is doing a great job at it.”

Family time is a priority for Chelsie, and they do fun things like movie and game nights and baking. They have made it a tradition every year to make Christmas candy for people they know.

Chelsie’s friends said when she and Noah bought their house, it was important to her that they find a home where she could have a dining room table.

“Things like that are important to her because she didn’t have that growing up,” said Goetz.

Chelsie made a close connection with Dawn Neumann during the process of purchasing their home. Nueman, at the time, was a loan officer.

“I have so much respect for Chelsie and Noah,” said Neumann. “I can remember when they got married, it was about the time they decided they wanted to buy a house. They never went above their means. She is really responsible and they have really impressed me.”

“She’s determined, and she’s worked hard,” said Neumann. “I feel like she’s a success story. Proof that it doesn’t matter what you come from you can persevere.”

Chelsie is a member of the First Baptist Church in Shenandoah.

Don Buttry, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Shenandoah and wife Pam, said they had known Chelsie since she was very young. They met her through their children, who were lifeguards at the swimming pool in Shenandoah, where Chelsie spent a lot of her time during the summer.

The Buttrys said looking at everything Chelsie has overcome in her life that nobody has an excuse not to overcome their hardships.

“I use her for a role model all the time,” said Pam. “She has overcome so much, and she’s just an inspiration.”

Pam describes Chelsie as fun to be around, patient and a good listener.

“She has a great sense of humor,” said Pam. “She is a great mother and friend to everybody. She always has time for you and always listens. We just love her so much, and we’re extremely proud of her.”

The Buttrys said Noah grew up in a tough situation himself and they are both very humble people. They said he is always right by her side supporting her.

Chelsie is very active in church and jumps right in and volunteers her time.

She was a host for the African Children’s Choir both times they came to Shenandoah and performed at the First Baptist Church. She goes with the church to volunteer at the Open Door Mission in Omaha and is in charge of mailing birthday and anniversary cards. She donates to the military boxes and Christmas boxes for children each year. Along with her children, she participates with the church in parades and children programs. Most recent she became the treasurer of the church’s Ladies Group.

“Her faith is very important to her,” said Pam. “She knows a lot about life and what is important. She never ceases to amaze me.”

Don says that Chelsie doesn’t hide her past as a lot of people would and said she has always been very open. He feels her relationship with the Lord has helped her overcome so much.

“She’s had to deal with forgiveness,” said Don. “She’s been able to forgive and look forward rather than backward. She looks forward to what she can do not what shes been through.”

The Buttrys describes Chelsie as a selfless person that always has room in her heart.

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