Thrive Allen County, recently in receipt of its largest grant to date, has a staff that is much smaller than its impact in the region might suggest.
The engine room of the group’s downtown office is made up of a snug collection of four desks, at which you can usually find Damaris Kunkler (program director), John Robertson (grant writer), and Georgia Masterson (head of Circles of Allen County).
On Oct. 1 Thrive turned over the fourth desk to its newest employee, Lisse Regehr.
Regehr, a native Iolan who has lived and worked in Minneapolis-St. Paul for the last 11 years, was hired as Thrive’s Community Healthcare Educator. Her job will be to assist with enrollment, promotion, volunteer recruitment, and reporting for the Health Insurance Marketplace, the signature program of the Affordable Care Act.
Regehr learned of the position through her brother-in-law, Job Springer, a recent Iola returnee himself.
Her reaction? “I said ‘I don’t know what it is, but I love the title!’ And I knew I could get right on board”—which, given Regehr’s resumé, is an understatement.
Regehr is a smart, energetic talker with an easy smile, and one of those rare individuals who has spent her entire working life serving others.
Upon graduating from K-State, Regehr joined the St. Joseph Worker Program, a yearlong volunteer group in Minneapolis. The experience — which included providing aid to abused women, the homeless, individuals caught up in gangs, and others less fortunate — was profound enough for her to want to remain in the city for more than a decade.
“Working with the sisters, their volunteer program changed my life. It gave me a confidence and a competence that I do not believe I would have had had I not gone up there.”
A crucial part of Regehr’s job involved raising money for St. Mary’s Health Clinics, which provides free healthcare for low-income and uninsured residents of the Twin Cities. “What I learned there can be used here (at Thrive),” Regehr said. “I believe that health care is a basic human right and that everyone deserves good, affordable, accessible health care. That’s a big part of my job here, figuring out how to make our health care system more accessible.”
While thrilled to see a position of this sort open up in her hometown, she acknowledges the differences between Kansas and Minnesota in regards to health care. Specifically, she points to Minnesota’s decision to expand Medicaid where Kansas has refused.
The human costs of such policies have become clear to Regehr already. She recalls sitting with Georgia Masterson the previous day when a woman arrived in Thrive’s office seeking help acquiring health insurance. The woman works 50 hours a week, has a small son, and makes about $13,000 a year — a set of conditions which, in Kansas, renders her both ineligible for the Marketplace and outside the rescue of Medicaid.
Regehr was dismayed. “To sit here with this woman who works 50 hours a week and is doing everything she can to contribute and to be a good citizen — and she can’t get health insurance? It’s so frustrating!”
Regehr credits her parents with helping shape her instinct toward service. Her mother, especially, was involved in a number of volunteer organizations during her childhood and was always fully active in Lisse’s schooling. “I think without even knowing it, Mom and Dad taught me a lot by example. I don’t think they had to say much about it; you just watch it happen.”
But her sensitivity toward others was sharpened, too, during her years in Minneapolis. Regehr’s work placed her squarely in the inner city. “All of a sudden, you’re learning the everyday stresses that these people live with.”
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