Charles Drew Health Center
Hailing from the south side of Chicago, Larry Duncan, Director of Behavioral Health Services at Charles Drew Health Center, Inc. has always had a passion for helping others. “My passion, at first, started off with a drug and alcohol emphasis based on my own experiences and knowledge. As I grew and received more education, mental health became the next umbrella. It rests with my understanding that there are unique issues that affect black and brown people, and people who are marginalized.”
Within the first year serving at Charles Drew, Larry faced his biggest challenge yet, leading a team while in the mists of coronavirus. “The number one thing we did quickly was become active.” As COVID-19 began to highlight the care gaps within marginalized communities, the Behavioral Health team at Charles Drew looked to bridge those gaps within the community.
“For our population it was a dual threat. On one side of the coin, the crisis becomes an additional stress to a population of people who already live with stress. On the flip side of the coin, the lack of community and social interaction increased depression, anxiety, and a sense of hopelessness.”
The message was simple, but practical: Practice the Five Cs–Connection, Commitment, Communion, Contain, and Continue.
Looking back, one of the greatest strengths of Charles Drew, in Larry’s eyes, was the ability to remain active. While most were waiting, frozen in their activity, Charles Drew advanced forward.
“We got better and better at it. We were doing testing on the front line when testing was just starting. As masks began to be required, we were handing them out to the community members in need. Whatever needed to be done in the face of this virus, we did it.”
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.
Smiles & Sweets; Over 1,000 attend Trunk or Treat in the Village
Children and families celebrate, enjoy the activities at 24th and Lake
Great things are happening in the Village. Businesses, venues and organizations are working together to create a great place to come together consistently for food, music, arts, entertainment and to support the small businesses in the area.
“Saturday was completely magical. Seeing the kids dressed up and the adults getting engaged as they played the games and got candy was wonderful,” said Cynthia Hume, site manager for OEDC’s Fair Deal Village. “I’m thankful for the partners of The Village at 24th and Lake who collaborated to host another successful event.”
In early September, partners developed a calendar of events for the fall and winter season in the Village. The first two major events have been well attended and received rave reviews from the community.
“Fall Fest was a huge success with 500 in attendance and then, two weeks later the Trunk or Treat had over 1,000,” said Willie Barney, CEO of the Empowerment Network and Co-owner of the Revive Center and Carver Legacy Center, all located in the Village. “It was a beautiful day and the kids really enjoyed themselves. It is always a blessing to see so many families in the Village.”
Most of the event was focused on the 20 plus stops where kids could get free candy.
Kids definitely went home with their pumpkins, buckets and goodie bags full.
Ital Vital Living took it even further by creating a haunted house which drew a crowd and some surprises for the visitors.
“My mom built the haunted house from scratch. I could definitely hear some screams coming from inside,” said Latisha Taylor, one of the co-owners at Ital Vital. “Overall, the kids had a good time. We think we will have to go even bigger next year.”
In addition to the bountiful candy and haunted house, families could make arts and crafts at the Union, play small carnival games at OEDC, listen to the DJ at Dreamland Park, take a tour of the Great Plains Black History Museum and purchase cinnamon rolls, caramel apples and peach cobbler at the Revive Center.
“We had another big turnout, with 300 visitors at the Great Plains,” said Eric Ewing, executive director at the Great Plains Black History Museum.
Members of the Omaha Police Department, Black Police Officers Association and Douglas County Sheriff candidate Wayne Hudson were also handing out candy and interacting with the community.
“This is great for the officers to engage in a positive way with the community and for the kids just to come outside and enjoy themselves in a safe and positive environment,” said Sgt. Marcus Taylor of the BPOA.
The event was also an opportunity to stay informed and get connected with important health resources.
Visitors were able to pick up health information and swag from UNMC, get their vaccination from Douglas County at IMA’s MLK Park and listen to African-American Mocha Docs speak about keeping safe from COVID and the importance of getting vaccinated.
“Saturday was amazing on the northwest corner of 24th & Lake Street, the IMA’s MLK Park as IMA pastors gave out candy to hundreds of children and the DCHD Vaccination Team administered vaccination shots,” said Pastor Portia Cavitt, Senior Pastor or Clair Memorial UMC and President of the IMA. “Through much prayer and scientific knowledge, we have the power of prevention!”
“To see the families and the smiles on the faces of the children, that’s what it is all about for me,” said Barney. “It reminds me of my own childhood going to Harvest Festivals with my family.”
“It’s also a great way to connect the community to the exciting things happening in the district. Many of them tell us they didn’t know there were so many businesses, opportunities and resources here at 24th and Lake and they definitely plan to come back.”
It was another beautiful day in the Village at 24th and Lake. Momentum is building. The next big event will be the 11th Annual Christmas in the Village on Saturday, December 4th.
Stay connected with future events here.