As one of the world’s leaders in technology, company executives see this as just the start to a long-term partnership.
Two North Omaha nonprofits, Seventy Five North and The Empowerment Network, will each receive $50,000 of support from Google that aims to enable connectivity in the neighborhood.
The money will provide for connectivity through a variety of projects.
The Empowerment Network works together with residents and leaders to transform neighborhoods and improve the economic condition and quality of life. It will use the funds to ramp up its STEAM room, devoted to teaching young people about science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, as well as improvements in its auditorium and teaching facilities. Located on the campus of the Omaha Home for Boys, the Network’s Village Empowerment Center houses offices for strategic partners, and serves as both a community meeting and collaboration space, and a place for educational opportunities.
“We could not be more pleased with the significant investment Google has made in the Village Empowerment Center. Technology has proven to be one of the key factors that helps to develop any community,” said Timothy Christian, President of the Empowerment Network Board of Directors. “Their investment will give our youth valuable tools that will allow them to be even greater contributors to the community and the world.”
Willie Barney, CEO and Founder of the Empowerment Network, said the funds will allow for a dramatic increase in capacity at the Village Empowerment Center.
“When we envisioned the Village Empowerment Center, we stepped out to create a one stop integrated service center where youth and families would get directly connected to employment, job training, housing, health services, financial education, entrepreneurship, technology and more,” he said. “This investment will help the Center, our community and partners to thrive in the midst of the pandemic and beyond.”
Google first broke ground in Nebraska in 2019, when it opened a data center in Papillion. The surrounding area – including Google’s largest global data center located in neighboring Council Bluffs, Iowa – is part of the company’s larger economic commitment to the state.
Since then, it has invested in the Omaha community. Google supported the development of the Kiewit Luminarium, the $101 million science museum opening on Omaha’s riverfront in 2023, and in 2020, helped provide more than $3.36 billion of economic activity for 8,000 Nebraska businesses, nonprofits, publishers, creators and developers. It also created more than 100 jobs for Nebraskans, according to the Google Nebraska economic impact report.
“The ability to connect to technology has a transformative impact on a community,” said Dan Harbeke, Regional Head of External Affairs at Google. “We’re proud to support the work of both Seventy Five North and The Empowerment Network, who are providing critical housing initiatives as well as educational programs. We are thrilled to be a part of expanding their efforts with these connectivity investments.”
The Empowerment Network’s Village Empowerment Center on the campus of the Omaha Home for Boys includes offices for collaborative partners: Charles Drew Health Center, Church on Purpose, Emerging Ladies Academy, Family Housing Advisory Services, GrowNebraska, Technology Consulting Solutions, UNMC, Urban League of Nebraska and the Empowerment Network’s Step-Up team.
The Step-Up collaborative at the VEC includes partnerships with: Business Seals, Gamble Tech Firm, House of Bah, Metropolitan Community College, No More Empty Pots and others.
The second grant will go toward supporting families living in recently constructed Highlander neighborhood residences and a community center in North Omaha creating opportunities for teens and adults.
Seventy Five North works to convene community members, educational partners and the philanthropic community to lead the transformation of the Highlander neighborhood. It will use the funds to outfit more than 100 units of affordable housing with new technology including audio systems, wireless connectivity and doorbells equipped with cameras, among other connected technologies. The funds will also provide limited maintenance for the technology. The units are split among low-income, moderate-income and market rate apartments, and homeownership opportunities exist for families at all income levels as the project grows.
“I am beyond grateful to Google and its regional leaders for its partnership and contribution to the revitalization of north Omaha’s Highlander neighborhood,” said Cydney Franklin, President and CEO of Seventy Five North Revitalization Group. “Google’s investment is both significant and timely considering the growing importance of connectivity and digital access in this 21st century economy.”
“Omaha’s business community is very generous,” Mayor Jean Stothert said. “The connectivity that Google is supporting will benefit families and individuals by extending education opportunities and building community. The city is grateful for their investment in two meaningful projects, and for their presence in the metro area.”
Willie Barney, CEO of the Empowerment Network, full statement:
“This investment by Google is incredibly significant for our community. The youth, families and collaborative partners will benefit greatly with the enhancements in technology, infrastructure and additional connectivity.
When we envisioned the Village Empowerment Center, we stepped out to create a one stop integrated service center where youth and families would get directly connected to employment, job training, housing, health services, financial education, entrepreneurship, technology and more.
For our Step Up youth, they are now being introduced to hands on training with entrepreneurship, culinary, drones, coding, trades, career exploration and college prep. They are learning to become innovators, creators and producers.
For our community partners, this is where Omaha 360, Cradle to Career, Legacy Wealth, Redefine the Game, summits, conferences and so many other collaborations and activities take place.
Google’s investment and partnership will allow us to dramatically increase our capacity at the Village Empowerment Center and accelerate our ability to accomplish our vision and mission.”
Free Lead Testing in East Omaha
Lead is a naturally occurring metal that is often found in soil, paint produced before 1978, older pipes, toys and even food. When it enters the body, its effects can be toxic, causing neurological and developmental damage and effecting organs, such as the lungs and kidneys.
When it comes to lead, there is no safe level. Children are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning, as their bodies absorb higher concentrations of lead than adults. This can cause permanent damage to their cognitive and physical development.
- Due to historic lead air pollution deposits, the eastern part of Omaha is designated as an EPA Superfund site. Therefore, properties located in this site are eligible for free soil sampling and testing.
- If the concentration of lead in the soil exceeds the EPA’s threshold, the City will perform free remediation of the soil.
- Properties that meet these criteria are eligible for an assessment of the exterior for lead-based paint. If lead is found, a free paint stabilization will be done.
The City of Omaha has set up an easy-to-use website where Omaha residents can check to see if their property was tested for lead and remediated. Results from soil tests can also be found at the website: www.omahalead.org.
For more information about lead in Omaha and links to other programs available for residents to help keep their family safe from lead, go to www.gotlead.org or 402-731-3045.
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.”
2021 Photo Gallery
24th & Lake Holiday Schedule. Shop. Eat. Play. Sing. Enjoy.
Building on ten years of success with Christmas in the Village, the Empowerment Network, OEDC, Revive, FHAS, Omaha Star and 30 plus businesses, venues and organizations have come together to plan and host a great series of events for the Holidays.
The businesses are sending an open invitation for families, friends, neighbors and the whole community to come down and celebrate the holiday season and support small black businesses.
“We have something for all ages,” said Willie Barney, CEO of the Empowerment Network and co-owner of the Revive Center and Carver Legacy Center in the district.
“It’s an opportunity to continue the positive momentum at 24th and Lake, provide some fun activities for children and families and continue the development of our business, food, arts, culture and entertainment district.”
Friday, November 26th is Black Friday in the Village. Shoppers are encourage to visit and shop at all of the stores in the Village. Most of the stores are offering 20% off this weekend, including special deals, discounts and gift cards.
Saturday, November 27th is a great day to celebrate Small Business Saturday and support Black-owned businesses. Stores are once again offering 20% discounts and there will be a holiday lighting ceremony starting at 4:30 pm at Dreamland Park. Music will be provided by Millicent Crawford and Big Wade. Trolley rides will be available from 1 to 5 pm.
Next Saturday, December 4th, is the 11th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake. Over 50 organizations and dozens of businesses come together annually to host the event which has become the largest community celebration and holiday tradition in North Omaha. Visitors from all over the region attend the event. The hours are Noon to 5 pm with special activities for the whole family.
The Village at 24th and Lake Partners are also working with the community to host a series of events during Kwanzaa. Stay connected on the Village facebook page.