When you walk in UNO’s Baxter Arena, you’ll see almost every kind of modern amenity common to other recently opened sports arenas – wider seats, trendy lounges, exclusive menus, club suites, and Wi-Fi throughout the building.
Not everything in Baxter Arena is of the new-fangled type. There are still the old fashion concession stands with neon lights advertising draught beer, plastic nacho trays, oversized pretzels, and thick hot dogs. College-age ushers dressed in pressed uniforms are stationed in every seating section.
UNO student Halee Keller is one of those ushers. Halee is studying social work at UNO. She is attending on a Goodrich scholarship, UNO’s merit-based tuition assistance program. Next fall she will live at the St. John Paul II Newman Center.
Halee chose UNO over other regional universities. The Humphrey native lives with her aunt and uncle while attending classes. She is not moving from their home next fall because the household rules are too stringent or because she’s forced to perform mundane chores. She is moving to one of the JPII Center’s apartment-style rooms because it is an opportunity to live with students who share her love of the Catholic faith.
“The JPII Center is going to help me live my faith,” Halee said, who has a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Maria Goretti. “I admire their purity.”
Halee is already doing a good job of living her faith. She has been involved in campus ministry events like Community Night and a Bible study group. Halee has also participated in Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS)-sponsored faith events: Student Leadership Summit, Women’s Night, Spiritual Impact Boot Camp retreat.
Her active faith life and academic standing made her a model recruit for the JPII Center. Like all prospective residents, Halee had to undergo an interview before she could be accepted as a resident.
“When Halee came for her interview, she was battling a cold,” said Adam Ybarra, the center’s resident manager. “That proved to me that she was serious about growing in her faith. Through almost an hour of sniffles and sneezes, it was easy to see that Halee was a great fit for the resident component to the JPII Center.”
When the interview was over, Ybarra instructed Halee to go home and eat chicken soup. His suggestion made her laugh. “Halee has a great smile and contagious personality that residents and students will appreciate.”
Going from rural Humphrey to an urban university was not an easy adjustment for the oldest of John and Elizabeth Keller’s eight children. Making new friends was a slow process. It wasn’t until she got involved in Catholic events at UNO that her circle of friends began to expand.
“UNO’s Catholic environment was a dream come true,” Halee said. “I have met my best college friends through FOCUS and campus ministry events. My strongest friendships are because of my participation in faith activities.”
Halee said she is excited about living at the JPII Center. Her mom is just as excited. On a recent tour of the JPII Center site, Halee’s mom exclaimed, “You have to live here!”
Halee encourages high school and current UNO students to be open to what the JPII Center is offering. “The center is going to have a sense of community that Omaha has never experienced before,” Halee said. “It is going to change so many lives, in ways students can’t imagine.”
Halee enjoys her job at Baxter Arena. She gets to meet interesting people as she leads them to their seat. Halee hopes to lead in a different way at the JPII Center. She wants to be a Bible study leader. She wants to reach out to people in need. And through her own witness, she hopes to usher students toward a relationship with Jesus Christ.