God began preparing such a place in Norfolk, Nebraska in the early 1980s through Mark Stortvedt, who was then serving as Youth Pastor at Christ is King Community Church. Mark’s office at the time was in a house occupied by four young men. Conversations that developed as people dropped by to discuss personal issues led to informal counseling sessions. The demand for counsel far outweighed the time available, and soon people were added to a waiting list averaging a three-month delay. To provide additional counsel to meet the growing demand, three lay-counselors were trained and began sharing God’s answers to life’s problems in wise and practical application of principles found in the Bible. Again, it wasn’t long before a new waiting list developed as people learned of the opportunity to obtain counseling with a Christian focus. Recognizing the fruitfulness of Mark’s counseling ministry, the senior pastor suggested he focus his energies solely on counseling.
Isaiah 49:8-13 was foundational to this new ministry:
9a “Saying to those who are bound, ‘Go forth.’
To those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’ ”
10b “For he who has compassion on them will lead them
And will guide them to springs of water.
13b “For the Lord has comforted His people
And will have compassion on his afflicted.”
Isaiah 49:9a,10b,13b [NIV]
In March 1990, Oasis Counseling International officially opened for business at 207 South 8th Street. At the time the agency opened, the facility offered only bare cement floors. Within one day, a private gift for carpeting evidenced God’s financial provision for the ministry He owned. Oasis provided professional counseling from a distinctive Christian perspective treating the whole person physical, psychological, and spiritual. The goal: to be an oasis of care for weary souls along life’s journey by offering the refreshment of the Living Water, Jesus Christ, through nurturing, advising and facilitating change that leads to healing of the whole person in an accessible, affordable service. An income-based, sliding fee scale and free services were adopted, allowing more people to avail themselves of professional counseling.
Through a Christian networker from Sweden, Oasis developed a relationship with a church in Romania who provided leadership for pastors throughout Romania. They requested that Oasis provide teaching for key leaders on marriage and family issues. These seminars were offered during the summer of 1993. Oasis staff members were asked to return again in 1997 to repeat the seminar on marriage and family as well as to offer more specific training in counseling skills. Since that time a large crisis pregnancy center staffed by people from various churches and a counseling ministry have been established in Romania. Oasis staff have been asked to return for a third time to do further training in the summer of 2003.
In 1994 Oasis staff participated in a two-week international training seminar for pastors and Christian leaders from Sweden, Romania, South Africa, Puerto Rico, and Iran, offered in Norfolk, Since that time Christian workers from the following countries have spent one-three weeks with Oasis staff receiving intensive lay counselor training: Laos, Cuba, Turkey, and Romania. A couple who were missionaries in Mexico did a six-month internship with us.
By 1995, one psychologist and three licensed therapists (trained in theology as well as psychology) were on staff. Due to the desire to care for the needy and give away services, the agency struggled financially in its early years. In 1996 the Executive Director came to a point where he realized both financial and emotional resources had been exhausted. He put the ministry of Oasis Counseling on the altar and asked God to provide in fresh ways if it were to continue. There was an overwhelming response from the community in support of the continuance of Oasis. A group of ten community businessmen and pastors met under the leadership of the city administrator to brainstorm solutions to the crisis. This resulted in the formation of a board and ongoing expertise regarding how to run Oasis Counseling successfully as a business as well as a ministry.
A test of faith came in 1998 when the psychologist on staff reduced his time with Oasis from two days per week to two days per month, negatively affecting the total caseload. In addition, Medicaid gave notice they would not pay for treatment given by therapists in the process of completing Master’s Degree programs, forcing one of the therapists to stop seeing patients until the conclusion of her program. God provided for these needs by bringing on staff a former intern at Oasis then employed in O’Neill with the credentials necessary to supervise the Family Support Services program. This created a need in the O’Neill area for therapy and family support. Three Family Support Specialists who had been working with this new staff member joined our staff and a satellite office was opened in O’Neill as well as a Family Support department in Norfolk.
December 1999 brought a move of the O’Neill office to 410 E. Everett offering improved confidentiality, two offices plus a reception area. A psychologist plus another therapist were added to the staff. Another opportunity for growth and expansion in O’Neill occurred in March 2003. The offices relocated to 221 W. Douglas. Two psychologists, two therapists, and four family support specialists made up the staff.
A tremendous growth spurt of staff and clientele led to a move of the Norfolk office in November 1999. Oasis Counseling International relocated to the second floor of the U.S. Bank at 333, Norfolk Avenue, overlooking the heart of downtown. In September 2002 Oasis’ presence at the bank was welcomed when they were able to provide comfort and structure for families processing their trauma, grief, anger, and confusion following a deadly bank robbery at one of U.S. Bank’s branch locations in which four employees and one customer were murdered. Crisis counseling was offered to families, bank employees, and others in the community at the time of the tragedy. A support group for children and families of the victims was offered on an ongoing basis.
One of the original staff members of Oasis is fluent in Spanish. When job opportunities brought in a significant Hispanic population to the community the agency was prepared to offer bilingual services. A migrant workers’ fund enabled Oasis to offer a Hispanic parenting class free of charge in 2000 and 2001, sponsored by Norfolk Public Schools. Another grant in 2005 provided for an additional parenting class and more individual therapy for needy Hispanic families.
During the last few years, as finances have tightened in the mental health field, Oasis has had the privilege of continuing to expand its ministry through a variety of grants. Oasis staff members have been instrumental in forming a mentoring ministry in which at-risk families are matched with healthy families on a volunteer basis through churches. Oasis has also played a key role in the institution of drug court in our community. In 2005, two therapists joined the staff who are trained to provide drug and alcohol counseling. In 2006 two psychologists agreed to provide psychological testing through the agency, resulting in a well-rounded offering of services.
Through the hiring or Stephanie Zakrzewski, LMHP, LADC in 2007 and the completion of Dr. Mark Stortvedt’s Doctoral Dissertation on Spiritual Journeys, the two collaborated in creating an Intensive Outpatient Drug and Alcohol Program which they called, Journeys. They first started the Adult IOP in response to a need for probation and The Northeast Nebraska Drug Court to have an IOP program available based on evidence best practices.
In working with adolescents Oasis realized that also this age lacked an IOP program based on evidence best practices and therefore adapted Journeys to fit adolescents. This program proposal was submitted to Medicaid/Magellan for approval in 2008. This program has proven to be a very significant collaboration with the Northeast Nebraska Adolescent Treatment Court.
Oasis continued to provide educational in-home services for at risk families in North Central and Northeast Nebraska. In 2008 Oasis collaborated with Boys and Girls Home of Nebraska and several other agencies to submit a proposal to receive the service contract for in home services. Out of the bidders for this opportunity the Boys and Girls Proposal was chosen and Oasis continued providing services as a subcontractor. Oasis has signed a contract this year to be a part of the new Geo-pod model that Boys and Girls had proposed to provide services for area at risk families and children.
International opportunities continue to come to Oasis and some of those working for Oasis. Oasis in recent years has been able to offer intern training to those starting counseling ministries in Laos, Malawi, Romania, and Turkey. Colleen Stortvedt who has been a therapist at Oasis for almost 20 years completed her Doctoral Dissertation on a survey of contemporary approaches to Christian Therapy. She then explored what diagnosis each approach tended to work the best with and cast a vision for a Christian Mental Health Counselor being one that has a “tool belt” of approaches that they could use in their practice. She challenged the idea that one approach is effective for all diagnosis being treated in counseling. This innovative work paves the way for a new generation of well educated and trained therapists that are skilled in using the most effective approach based on their client’s diagnosis.
Drs. Mark and Colleen Stortvedt continue to tithe part of their vacation time each year to do international trainings as they reach out to those desiring to see Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor reach out through them to minister to their fellow nationals. In recent years they have done Pastoral and Professional Counselor Trainings in Turkey, Sweden, Romania, and Cuba.
In 2007, Oasis wrote a Federal capacity building collaboration grant along with the Norfolk Family YMCA, Northeast Nebraska Child Advocacy Center and Norfolk Family Medicine to develop youth services in the Norfolk area. They received the grant for $250,000 a year for up to three years and the collaboration has been able to start not only new youth services in the Norfolk area but has been able to engage in capacity building projects for their own organizations capacity as well. Dr. Mark Stortvedt has served as the facilitator for the collaboration and they group has received very encouraging responses from the federal level regarding the outcomes they have been able to accomplish in the past two and a half years. Some of the opportunities the grant has been able to bring is: new exercise equipment to the YMCA that adapts for youth, begin an afterschool program for students, and a new playground for children, Oasis was able to get a play therapist and supervisor of play therapists certified, a comprehensive sex offender outpatient program written, two offices equipped for play therapy, training in organizational transition, Northeast Nebraska Child Advocacy Center has been able to write an researched based Bullying Prevention curriculum to decrease violence among children and implement it, buy a shaken baby doll for demonstrations in area schools, Norfolk Family Medicine was able to do research in the Norfolk Area regarding needs of area youth and found that Norfolk Youth are significantly higher than the national average in obesity, they in conjunction with the Norfolk Family YMCA have started a class for students focusing on nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.