Sam Comfort always knew that the overriding theme of his professional life would be to serve others. It was the finer details that took a little while to come into focus.
Journey of Service
“I originally thought about a career in ministry, and I quickly discovered that wasn’t my path,” he said. “My mom was a special education teacher for 30 years, retiring from Westside Community Schools. She said, ‘You know, Sam? I see you doing this work. You should try this.’ So, I started working as a paraeducator at Westside.”
That role led to other social service entities including stops at Goodwill Industries, Council Bluffs Community School District and Vodec. Each stop helped him expand his experience skillset, culminating in the executive director’s role at Angel Guardians 18 months ago. Comfort knew immediately he’d landed his dream job.
“Angel Guardians is a unique place,” he said. “We focus on community integration to the greatest extent possible. We believe that everyone, regardless of disability, has the opportunity and should contribute to the Greater Omaha community. Whether it’s through volunteerism, through vocation, through employment, we help support individuals through their preferences to contribute to society.
“The one thing I would want to reinforce is all these events that we’re doing are possible not because of me, but because of the staff we have. We have a phenomenal group of people and I’m so thankful to work with dedicated professionals who invest their time and their passion in supporting the people we aim to serve.”
Of course, one of the most immediate challenges for the new executive director was leading through the pandemic in a manner that helped deliver needed services while still keeping everyone safe.
“I’m proud we only had a short-term shutdown,” he said. “We recognized that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are already somewhat socially isolated. We made it a priority to say we are a point that can provide community integration and we need to do that to the greatest extent possible.
“It took being creative in the provision of services, doing some online and doing smaller group meetings in locations and really working through that person-centered planning process to say, ‘OK, if transportation is an issue, can we utilize the public bus system? Can we talk about ride-share opportunities?’ It’s really taking a holistic approach to ensure success for the individual.”
Angel Guardians offers clients various programs to develop social skills, enable individual expression and contribute to the good of society. ArtWorks supports individuals desiring a lifestyle or career in art while Community Connections focuses on volunteerism, social/recreational activities and skills development in a community setting.
The Team Works vocational program helps connect clients with employment opportunities.
In this area, the pandemic has actually proven to be an accelerator as more companies are scrambling to find sufficient help.
“I often refer to people with disabilities as a hidden labor pool. They’re not potentially active in a job market but everyone has a skill set they can utilize,” he said. “We’re working with one employer right now who has 37 openings and their big thing is, ‘We just need people. Can you get us people?’ I say, ‘Yeah, we can, but not like tomorrow. We’re not a staffing agency. We’re working to support people in their desire for employment.’”
An Omaha native, Comfort studied youth ministries at Midland University in Fremont before graduating with a degree in education from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. A former president of the Nebraska Transition College Board, he’s also a member of Leadership Council Bluffs Class 30 and a nationally certified Work Ethic Trainer.