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Community Update: COVID-19 Trends, Testing, Masks, School, Housing & Food Resources and Job Opportunities

Published:  July 25, 2020

The Empowerment Network and COVID-19 Task Force host a weekly meeting to provide a platform for communicating, coordinating and collaborating to address the Coronavirus pandemic and long-term strategic initiatives.

Over 200 leaders and organizations are participating with COVID-19 relief efforts in North Omaha using the Network’s Village Strategy as the base.

Periodically, the collaborative partners will livestream the discussions to make sure the community is fully informed about trends, resources, opportunities and important events.

This week’s update includes information on:  Testing, Masks, Job Training, Employment, Rental Assistance, Mortgage Assistance, Home Ownership, Food, School Opening, Violence Prevention and more.

Click here to view the video update on Facebook

Community News

Darnell Relford brings delicious casual food to 24th & Lake at Champions Cafe

Published:  Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Darnell Relford was always destined to become a chef, shadowing his family’s rich history in the food industry dating back generations. His grandfather, Beatren “Humpie” Relford, cooked for Omaha’s legendary Skeet’s BBQ.  His uncle, Arnold, was well-known for his finger-licking barbecue sauce.

At a younger age, Relford found himself at home in the kitchen. He worked for years behind the scenes at a number of casual and fast serve restaurants in Omaha.

Relford’s first break into the food industry started as a line cook, later advancing his career into a general manager position. His background ranges from breakfast foods to burgers and classic to southern.

The various trials in the kitchen skillfully molded his capabilities to cook and craft a wide array of flavorsome dishes.

Relford’s relatives would be proud to see how he continues their family cooking tradition down the line with nothing short of excellence.

Relford is a man of God and dedicated to his family.  Of all of the roles that he plays, being a father to his son, Prince, brings him the greatest joy.

Darnell is committed to his community and lives the life of a servant leader.  He’s an associate minister at Launch Church International under the leadership of Pastor Jalaal Wade and Apostle Edna Perkins.

He has a passion for ministry and also loves teaching the next generation about leadership, excellence and opportunities in the food industry.  In 2021, he was a part of the Step Up Omaha culinary training team and received great reviews from the youth interns.

In addition to his cooking skills, Relford is an entrepreneur and has some of his own new business concepts that are coming soon.

“I grew up in this neighborhood,” said Relford. “It’s great to be back home doing what my family has always done…giving the people great food in a welcoming atmosphere and building up the community.”

Relford Brings Talents to Champions Cafe at the Revive Center

Champions Cafe at the Revive Center
In the Village at 24th and Lake
Open Tuesday – Saturday 11:30 am to 2:00 pm

In 2019, Darnell joined the team at the Revive Center at 24th and Lake. Initially, he worked with Willie and Yolanda Barney to help set up the front of the house.

As The Center began to hit its stride, the pandemic swept through the community, forcing businesses to shut down.

When businesses started to reopen, Relford stepped up to plate at The Center to roll out an all-new menu for its concept now referred to as “Champions Cafe.”

Owners Willie and Yolanda Barney say the cafe name was inspired by the great champions from North Omaha.

Revive Center’s co-owner Willie Barney had held a vision for 30 years to have a family-oriented restaurant where customers can catch a game while they dine on casual foods like wings, burgers and salads. He had also written a business plan for an event center starting as far back as 2001.

After hearing the inspiration and vision of the Barney’s, Relford quickly hit the ground running. He first created a burger menu including what he calls the Hawaiian and California burgers. The patties and toppings were instant hits.

“I love it. The California is my favorite,” reflects Don McPherson, owner of Styles of Evolution who carried on, “Man, with that pineapple and barbecue sauce.”

Next Relford added the Revive Burger and Big Lake. The Big Lake brings a smile to his face when he describes it.

“It’s not just the Lake, it’s the ‘Big’ Lake,” said Relford with a hearty laugh. “Burger, bacon, topped with an egg however you want it and a toasted bun.”

Relford jokes, “We don’t advise you eat it every day, but every once in a while, go ahead and enjoy yourself.”

The burgers all come with a side.  Customers can select from fries, mac and cheese, corn, green beans or a side salad.

If your preference is more on the lighter side for a main course, Relford has come up with multiple salad options.  The most popular are the Very Berry and the Cobb salads.

A number of customers have remarked and said the Cobb salad is the best they have ever had.

The original Very Berry salad was created by another Revive Center chef, Ms. Linda McKleny.  The salad features fresh fruit including strawberries and cranberries.

Customers call it “a refreshing, but filling dish.”  The salad is topped with a perfectly seasoned grilled chicken breast to top things off.  Darnell has added his own twist to the salad as well.

Relford has also added a crispy chicken or grilled chicken salad which is amazingly tasty and rivals anything you would find at top restaurants around the city.

Foodies who prefer chicken over a burger will not be dissatisfied with their choice of the menu.  Relford cooks up a specialty Northside Chicken Sandwich made from scratch with additional fixings.

Another highlight of the main menu for Champions Cafe is the Gametime Chicken Strips.  As one of the best sellers, it comes with a choice of three or five chicken strips with four mouthwatering flavor options:  lemon pepper, garlic, spicy or BBQ.

“We have consistently received great reviews from customers about the food,” said Yolanda Barney.  “Darnell and the other chefs and cooks do a great job and we are excited to bring different food options back to this historic corner.”

“Darnell is amazing to work with, has a commitment to quality and he’s always looking for new food to bring to the customers.  He’s also very open to feedback.”

The positive comments from customers continuously roll in.  Relford has more items to add to the menu, but he said he’ll keep those as a secret for now.

“The pandemic and weather slowed things down in January, but get ready for an amazing spring and summer,” said Yolanda Barney.

“Last year we really hit our stride with a mixture of major community events and private events.  Now we are preparing to expand the daily food options and the events are ramping up again in March.”

The Barney’s suggest to look out for more great food and products coming from Relford and others like him in the historic 24th and Lake District.

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Careers

David Pollock launches Code Black to bring people of color into tech

Published:  January 20, 2022

David Pollock is on a mission.  Driven by purpose and a clear vision to see his beloved community empowered, David is helping to bring African-Americans and people of color further into the tech industries.

To accomplish his goal, David has launched Code Black, a non-profit organization focused on fostering collaboration and sponsorship between Black and Latinx who are emerging and experienced professionals in technology.

He launched the organization in the midst of the pandemic which is a great example of his commitment to the cause.  He reached out to professionals in the industry and other leaders in the community to make sure he was creating something that would be of value to others.

Pollock did the work necessary to build a solid foundation.  After years of preparation, he stepped out in faith to make it a reality.

While others pulled back during the pandemic, he continued to push forward.  He is also a strong believer in collaboration and team work.  Others have joined in to support him with his mission.  It’s a beautiful thing to see, preparation meet opportunity.

David not only believes in the importance of education, he is leading by example in that area as well.  David obtained his master’s in Organizational Leadership from Bellevue University.

He is also able to speak the language of those he seeks to see empowered.  David’s tech experience and certifications consist of in IBM Cognitive Analytics (Chatbot), Grow with Google (app development), Drone software developer, Software: Airsim – Unreal Engine 4 – Watson Image Classification system, Languages: Java, C++ and Python.

Before starting Code Black, David worked 3 ½ years as a Fatherhood Coordinator and 4 ½ years as a college success advisor for students of color.  These experiences allowed him to gain additional insights on how he could better serve his own community.

After a successful career in coaching, mentoring and developing programs, David is now leading the way with others to create an organization where Black and Latinx in technology impact the very community that they live in.  His initial focus is the State of Nebraska.

Most importantly, David is a dedicated husband and father.  He and his wife are consistently engaged in work to improve their community and highly regarded in the areas of leadership development, career advancement, tech, diversity and inclusion and innovation.

David is available for community networking and for business collaboration.  You can reach David at 402-515-8865 or david1pollock@codeblackinc.com

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Community Features

Thousands attend 11th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th & Lake

The streets were once again full of smiling, laughing and dancing children, families and community members celebrating the holiday spirit at 24th and Lake.

After making the decision to convert the event into a drive thru in 2020, Christmas in the Village returned to the streets of 24th and Lake in a big way.

“Though last year turned out to be an excellent event and much needed escape from the pandemic with over 1,000 cars driving through, it was amazing to see children and families return to 24th and Lake to enjoy themselves and celebrate the season at Christmas in the Village,” said Willie Barney, CEO and founder of the Empowerment Network.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 11 years since we launched the event and inspiring to see how much it has grown and the impact that it has made.”

Christmas in the Village is presented by the Empowerment Network and OEDC in partnership with dozens of organizations and businesses.  Major sponsors include American National Bank, Douglas County Visitors Fund, North Omaha Turnback Tax Committee, Nebraska Arts Council, KETV, Revive and main stage sponsor, Veridian Credit Union.

It started as a vision from Barney. He presented the idea for the event to Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Stacy Henry, Deb Bunting, Michael Maroney and the OEDC team.  They jumped on board and the first event was planned in just four weeks back in 2011.

Over 70 businesses, organizations, artists and ministries worked together to make the event possible this year.

“Christmas in the Village is a great example of what is possible when we collaborate and each business and organization does their part,” said Barney. “We have been able to create a high quality and well attended event with the help of so many partners. It has also served as a catalyst to show what’s possible here in this historic district.”

The day started with volunteers and businesses working together to place inflatable balloons and characters up and down 24th Street. Business owners swept sidewalks. Volunteers raked leaves. Tents and games were set up early in the morning.

By 10 am, children and families started arriving to receive free gifts from the toy giveaway arranged by 4 Urban and sponsored by UNO.

By 10:30, teams had put Street barricades in place and the event officially started at noon with the Bryant Center’s Condor Drum Corp leading Mr and Mrs Claus down N 24th Street in a horse drawn carriage.

“It was a beautiful sight,” said Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Director of Operations for the Empowerment Network and event manager.

“The streets were lined with families who were excited to see the drum team, elves, and of course, Santa and Mrs. Claus.”

That was just the beginning of a day full of interactive and fun activities. Some have called it a “Winter Wonderland.” People come from all over the region and some as far away as St Louis, Kansas City and Minneapolis rave about the event.

Visitors were treated to free carriage rides sponsored by the Network.

There were face painters in the Fair Deal and families could receive discounts and specials from the local businesses. One of the businesses, Still Poppin, was also celebrating five years in business.

At OEDC, children could wave to Mrs. Claus, receive a free goodie bag and play interactive games.

Tasty food was available on both ends of the event. Smoking Guns and A Taste of New Orleans food trucks were on the street and the Revive Center served customers throughout the day. Between the trucks and Revive those in attendance had a wide range of options.

Some new businesses experienced Christmas in the Village for the very first time. Ital Vital Living which opened this past summer selling smoothies and juices in the former location of the Cooler, hosted a Selfie photo booth and sold their delicious products.

“We had a great turnout and response throughout the day,” said Imani Murry. “24th and Lake is a beautiful place to celebrate the holidays and it was so awesome to see so many kids and families here. We’ve had some great events this fall and this was the largest.”

Just to the North, the Union returned as a participant with a balloon artist, interactive children’s activities and the highly popular Raku pottery.

The largest crowds always gather in Dreamland Park for an awesome holiday concert featuring some of Omaha’s top gospel and jazz artists, including Millicent Crawford, Kathy Tyree, The Arvies, Eric and Doriette Jordan, Chad Stoner and Big Wade.

Pear Tree Performing Arts wasn’t able to perform in 2020 but returned once again to deliver inspiring dance routines in front of a packed audience. The Sacred Heart children’s choir also joined in for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed the event.

Another crowd favorite is the live nativity scene complete with a camel, donkey and other animals. The Empowerment Network partners with Mt. Moriah and Scatter Joy Acres on the attraction that draws great reactions from kids.

There was plenty of hot apple cider and cookies provided by Styles of Evolution.

“We doubled up this year on cider and cookies and we ran out midway through the event there were so many people,” said Don McPherson, owner of Styles.

Kids and families enjoyed all their holiday favorites including hot chocolate, cookies, popcorn, cotton candy and other snacks available from different locations.

The Omaha Police Department handed out candy canes and stickers. The Black Police Officers Association has been involved every year as a sponsor and handing out toys and candy bags in partnership with Revive and Santa.  The Omaha Fire Department provided an interactive experience that kids seemed to thoroughly enjoy.

Bridge Church joined in for the first time with some excellent and engaging activities outside on Lake Street.

The Great Plains Black History Museum presented a Tuskegee Airmen exhibit and handed out free candy.

The Omaha Star provided a children’s activity book and sold subscriptions.

Families stopped by the Carver Legacy Center and received some swag and information from the Carver team and American National Bank. American National Bank is a platinum sponsor and has supported Christmas in the Village every year since it started.

One of the other major impacts with Christmas in the Village is the support for local small businesses. Many of them reported record sales during the five hour event.

“We truly appreciate the support from our community” said Valerie Bradford, owner of Divine Nspirations.

“An event like this can do wonders for a small business. We did very well and it’s such a positive experience for families.”

Further to the South, LeFlores New Look Fashions, Get N Go Foods and other businesses also participate and see the economic impact of Christmas in the Village.

Because of the pandemic, precautions were implemented to keep attendees safe. Most activities were held outside and masks were required when guests ventured inside buildings. Hand sanitizer was distributed and available at every location.

Although the group would much rather have had Santa interact directly with the kids all day, he was primarily waving through a window from a specially made office on 24th Street. It still created some awesome moments and memories.

“We want to thank all of our partners, sponsors and volunteers,” said Quaites-Ferris. “This wouldn’t be possible without them.”

Another major bonus was the nearly 300 residents that received their vaccinations through a partnership between the IMA, Mocha Docs, Douglas County Health Department, Mt. Moriah and the Empowerment Network.

“We worked with the county and they brought all three vaccinations and the booster as we requested,” said Pastor Portia Cavitt, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and Senior Pastor of Clair Memorial Church.

“I was out talking with the people and encouraging them to come get vaccinated right there on the spot. There was a tremendous response. We want the County to do more of this. Meet the people where they are.”

That was music to the ears of the organizers.

“The Village is a now a place where you can play, eat, shop, sing, worship, enjoy family, get healthy and have a great time throughout the year, not only during the holidays,” said Barney.

“When we created Christmas in the Village 11 years ago, part of the vision was to bring people back to 24th and Lake and to serve as a catalyst for holistic revitalization.”

“The momentum is building. We’ve come a long way, but even greater things are just ahead. 2022 will be the best ever.”

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2021 Photo Gallery

 

 

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