Viking Ship in troubled financial waters

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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -- The future of a North Omaha community center is in question. The nonprofit Viking Ship has served thousands of children over the years. Now the Minne Lusa-based center is in need of repair and in need of money.

For decades, the Viking Ship has been a big part of the neighborhood. You can see the history of the Viking Ship all over its walls: trophies and pictures of gymnast and wrestlers who participated in the Viking Ship programs over the years.

Thirteen-year-old Nevaeh Kern-Calloway is just one of the neighborhood kids who participated in the Viking Ship programs. “It means a lot a lot of kids go down there for their after school. They have wrestling stuff there. I think it’s good for it to be down there. We have nothing to do in this neighborhood so I think it’s a good place to have.”

Right now, that "good place to have" is having financial problems. The building is in desperate need of repair.

“We’re limping along; I don’t know of a better way to describe it," owner June Blair said. "I think it’s so important to keep the doors open on behalf of the children that are benefiting.”

Blair said there were times that she and her husband, Gary, had to use their own money to pay bills. Gary died about a year ago, and June is still trying to keep the building up and running.

“It’s been difficult but he was sick for a long time,” she said.

The Viking Ship is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The building itself has been around longer than most homes in the neighborhood.

Blair said the Viking Ship was named after the North High School Vikings because, years ago, many of the students there were involved in Viking Ship programs.

June said she hopes to celebrate by developing new funding sources through grants and donations.

“We’ve been self-sufficient all these years and haven’t asked for much of anything. We’d had a couple of little community grants that kept the pool open for a while.”

June can’t count the number of children who have benefited from the Viking Ship and its programs but the children who were involved know how much the community center helps. “Yeah, it keeps kids out of trouble — most definitely,” Nevaeh said.

Blair is hoping the doors stay open long after she moves on to be with her husband.

“Not my legacy, just a legacy,” she said, “so the neighborhood can go on and have programs for their children.”