Published: June 5, 2020
Revive! Omaha honors Pastor Portia Cavitt
Community helping Community
A new series from Revive! Omaha
During the pandemic we can get overwhelmed with negative news. In keeping with the mission of Revive! Omaha, we decided to highlight people who are doing great work behind the scenes.
Pastor Portia Cavitt, or “Pastor P” as she is known in the community, is a powerhouse. She’s not afraid to voice her strong opinion while representing the community’s needs and concerns. She speaks truth to power and is always ready to develop partnerships to solve an issue.
“Pastor P is one of those people we wish we had more of…she talks the talk, and walks the walk in terms of standing up for the community,” said Councilman Ben Gray.
She is the Senior Pastor of Clair Memorial United Methodist Church. She has lived in Omaha for many years, and hit the ground running to make a measurable impact initially in South Omaha and then moved to Clair to lead that ministry. The community is blessed to have had Pastor Cavitt in her position now for 12 years, which is not typical for the UMC or AME denomination. The community takes a deep collective breath and exhales excitedly each time the decision is made for Pastor P to stay in place at Clair.
Jonathan Chapman, Head Coach at Church on Purpose and leader of the Empowerment Network’s Pastors and Faith Leaders Collaborative had this to say: “Pastor Portia is an amazing example of the power of the Church to impact lives when we translate our command to love one another into practical action. She leads by example in a way that make you want to be a part and her intimate knowledge of the obstacles facing those in need in our community positions her perfectly to advocate on their behalf. And every opportunity to do so, she takes full advantage of.”
Pastor Cavitt wears many hats. She is what some would describe as a throwback to a previous generation of pastors, with a servant leadership, community activist and hands-on style. She always makes herself available when called upon by the community. In addition to her frequent engagement with the school district board, city council members and county commissioners, Pastor P is extremely active in the community on a daily basis. She moves with seemingly unbounded energy from one event or meeting to another.
Pastor P was recently elected as the president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. The first woman elected to hold the position. She continues to play key leadership roles with many organizations including the Village Zone Pastor and Faith Leaders Collaborative as a Village Champion; board chair of the North Omaha Area Health (NOAH) clinic, the North Omaha Community Care Council and the Great Plains Black History Museum; previous board chairwoman for the North Omaha Continuum of Care; and a member of many other organizations.
“Pastor Cavitt is dedicated to making Omaha a great place for everyone to live. She always looks to help everyone reach their full potential,” said Eric Ewing, Executive Director of the Great Plains Black History Museum.
She is committed to the health of our community. Much of her work impacts community health from hosting food pantries to encouraging members of her church and community to participate in health walks and healthy behaviors. Pastor P has consistently had some of the highest numbers of participants in her health-oriented events and activities. She also has a thriving health ministry in her church and partners with the Big Garden to maintain a community garden every year on the church grounds.
She is dedicated to social justice. She co-hosts important community meetings and planning sessions at her church to address youth detention, racism, violence, fighting the expansion of liquor establishments and other critical topics.
“Pastor Cavitt is a tireless advocate for our community. She has a no nonsense, get it done approach that is very effective. She is caring and concerned about those less fortunate and at risk, and is willing to do all she can to improve their plight. This includes health disparities, social justice inequities and economics inequalities. I count it a privilege to work with her,” said Pastor T. Michael Williams of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church.
“You can count on her to be the voice of conscious that does not have an agenda only a sincere desire to help those in need,” said Chris Rodgers, Douglas County Commissioner.
She is also devoted to future generations. On a weekly basis, you will see Pastor P at a number of schools leading highly effective and well attended sessions with groups of students. She has been a major player and leader with successful community efforts at Wakonda and Mt. View Elementary, Nathan Hale and other schools. She personally teaches and sponsors groups while recruiting other pastors and leaders to attend as guest speakers and mentors.
Lisa Utterback, Executive Director for Omaha Public Schools Office of Community, School and Family Engagement had glowing praise for Cavitt. “Pastor Portia Cavitt has been incredibly dedicated to supporting students and families in the Omaha Public Schools. She serves as a positive mentor and role model, and volunteers countless hours serving others. Pastor P truly embodies servant leadership. It is a blessing to have her as an OPS advocate.”
She accomplishes all of these great things while helping foster children and her talented and impressive godson Kameron.
Pastor Portia Cavitt is well deserving of any honors that come her way and she has been recognized with significant awards.
Plain and simple, she is doing the work.
During the coronavirus pandemic she has expanded Clair Cares food pantry, partnering with other churches and the Empowerment Network to connect with residents of Benson and Crown Towers to help meet the needs of seniors and others.
And, did we mention she’s a proud and active member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority?
Vickie Young, President of the OmahaNAACP captured the essence of Pastor Cavitt:
“During the several years that I have known Pastor Cavitt, I’ve always known her to be an advocate for social change. She’s always stood for righteousness and positive change in our community, never wavering from her stance. She has a heart for the youth; serving as a positive role model for young girls and women.”
“Fondly known as Pastor P, Pastor Cavitt exudes leadership and goodwill via the diverse relationships established with her congregation, various schools, the court system and community at large. We’re blessed to have this mighty warrior fighting for North Omaha.”
Pastor Cavitt is an exceptional example of Community helping Community. A living legend. Revive Magazine celebrates you!
“One of the largest and best ever” 13th Annual Christmas in the Village 24th & Lake
Over 7,000 attend the annual community celebration and holiday tradition in North Omaha
The Empowerment Network’s 13th Annual Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake was one of the largest and best ever according to both the visitors and hosts.
“Christmas in the Village just keeps getting bigger and better every year,” said an attendee that has made the event a holiday tradition for their family.
The event is hosted annually by the Empowerment Network and Omaha Economic Development Corporation and dozens of organizations and businesses to officially kick off the Christmas season. Major sponsors include: American National Bank, Douglas County Visitor Improvement Fund, Nebraska Arts Council, KETV, Revive Omaha and Veridian Credit Union.
It has become the largest holiday event in North Omaha but attracts visitors from throughout the region. Guests have come from as far away as Minneapolis, Des Moines, Kansas City and St. Louis to participate in the event.
“It was such a blessing to see so many come down to 24th and Lake…the vision has become reality,” said Vicki-Quaites-Ferris, VP of Community Development for the Empowerment Network and event director. “All of the partners had great activities and the families enjoyed all of them.”
The atmosphere is full of joy, excitement, smiles, hugs and laughter. Children visited Santa, Mrs. Claus, live animals including a camel and donkey and even take pictures with the Grinch.
“The children and families loved the Grinch,” said Imani Murray, owner of Ital Vital Living. “And, we sold out of special holiday smoothies and other items right at the end of the day. It was amazing.”
There were also opportunities to make Raku pottery, create crafts and play games with prizes.
Families enjoyed free carriage rides down 24th Street, visited with Cartoon characters and received free family photos, hot cocoa, apple cider, cookies and popcorn.
For those looking to purchase holiday gifts and support local businesses, a stop at the Empowerment Network’s Holiday BoutiQue, Omaha Star’s store, Unionmade Artist Market, NOMA’s holiday market or any of the local businesses including the Styles of Evolution, Revive Center, Doll House Fashions, Carver Legacy Center and Fair Deal Village were all available.
Small Black businesses and vendors were excited about the event. “Many of them reported generating thousands of dollars in sales in just five hours and some sold completely out of merchandise,” said Aisha Conner, Village Community Manager for the Empowerment Network and host for the Holiday BoutiQue. “The entrepreneurs said the crowds were large and attendees were very supportive of them.”
Attendees could visit the Community Partners Fair tent in the parking lot of OEDC.
Northend Teleservices presented Santas Sweet Shop and gave out Stocking Stuffers. The entry of the tent was elegantly decorated in a festive way.
Face painting and health assessments were available at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church and the Washington Branch Library presented their Mobile Free Book Giveaway.
One of the main attractions is the holiday concert in Dreamland Park where some of Omaha’s top gospel and jazz artists present Christmas music and local children’s groups and choirs provide entertainment.
A consistent and popular participant is the Pear Tree Performing Arts group that always has a special performance just for Christmas in the Village and the park was packed.
New this year was the Guiding Light Foundation, I Heart Dance teams and Central Step Team. Zions Children Choir also returned singing Christmas songs.
The Great Plains Black History Museum was able to serve 850 visitors featuring a balloon artists and a national exhibit from the Smithsonian Institute.
It was a festive celebration in the historic heart of North Omaha. A great way to kick off the holiday season, celebrate community, support small businesses, and continue the reemergence of the arts, culture, entertainment and business district at 24th and Lake.
Message from Willie Barney, CEO and Founder of the Empowerment Network
There’s nothing quite like it! The spirit of Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake is absolutely energizing and refreshing and just plain old fun! So much positivity with thousands of people coming together to celebrate the season. Hugs, smiles and laughter everywhere.
It was inspired by my own memories of celebrating Christmas with my family in Mississippi. We would travel from 438 to Greenville to the old downtown area with my grandmother, mother, uncles, aunts and cousins. Some of the greatest memories of my life. Yolanda and I had also attended highly successful holiday events in Davenport, Chicago and Orlando. We wanted to bring something like that to North Omaha.
Thank you Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Stacy Henry, Michael Maroney, Deb Bunting and Yolanda Barney for stepping out in faith with me that first year with only weeks to plan the first Christmas in the Village!
We wanted to bring people back to 24th and Lake and use what we had to create an experience where the community could see what was possible. 13 years later over 100 small businesses, organizations, ministries, artists and musicians come together to make it happen. New businesses and developments are coming to the district bringing jobs, housing, services, cultural venues and economic activity.
I want to thank Vicki Quaites-Ferris, VP of Community Development and Event Director and the amazing Empowerment Network team, Aisha Conner, Billana Mekoum, Jonathan Chapman, Ricky Smith, Nadia Spurlock and Sharlon Rodgers and our Step-Up year round coaches. What a year!!!
Thank you Yolanda and all of the 24th and Lake partners. Thank you volunteers, sponsors, singers, entrepreneurs, dancers, musicians, site hosts, vendors, media and most importantly all of our guests!
There’s no limit to what is possible when we come together. Thank God for the blessing of a beautiful day in the Village! We choose to build together.
April Hibbler, Business Development Specialist with Small Business Administration
Published: March 31, 2023
April Hibbler is a business development specialist in the SBA’s 8 (a) Business Development Program in Nebraska. April’s prior experience as an entrepreneur and business development consultant has strategically positioned her to truly understand and meet the needs of small business owners.
April moved to Omaha in 2022 and has hit the ground running. Her passion is helping small businesses get connected to contracting opportunities with the federal government.
“The federal government is the largest purchaser of products and services,” said Hibbler at a recent forum. “The Biden Administration wants to see more of these contracts go to small and emerging businesses, women-owned businesses, veterans and Hub Zones.”
April has dedicated her career to serving people from marginalized groups through economic integration and by combating economic injustice. April has successfully implemented and managed small-and large-scale economic and business development projects and consulting engagements in the US and Nigeria, for USAID and other public and private organizations interested in using their products and services to solve economic development problems.
In a very short amount of time, April has dedicated her time to community engagement, business development and creating awareness of the services available through the Small Business Administration. She has helped businesses work through the process of becoming certified and introduced them to other opportunities within the SBA and Nebraska Business Development Center.
“April has been a consistent presence at community events, business summits, workshops and other important activities in the community,” said Willie Barney, CEO of the Empowerment Network and owner of Revive Omaha, Revive Center and co-owner of the Carver Legacy Center. “April is really working hard to develop strong relationships in the community and takes her role very seriously in helping small businesses to maximize the training available.”
April holds a Master of Laws (LLM) in global antitrust law and economics from George Mason University, a juris doctor (JD) from Southern University Law Center, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in international strategic management from Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, and a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) in international business and finance from the University of Memphis.
April values small businesses and is honored for the opportunity to use her educational and professional experience to serve small businesses interested in doing business with the federal government by helping them to navigate the process and succeed.
Leslie Smith joins Omaha Land Bank as Exec. Director
Published: March 31, 2023
The Omaha Municipal Land Bank recently announced the hiring of Leslie Smith as its new Executive Director. Smith joins the Land Bank after years working in Memphis, Tennessee, on the issues of community development and inclusive lending. Notably she launched many of the foundational programs of the Blight Authority Memphis, Inc. (BAM), a quasi-governmental nonprofit which became a full-scale operational landbank serving the city of Memphis under her leadership.
Through BAM, Smith developed and operationalized the first Land Deposit program within Tennessee, incentivizing affordable housing developments to support blight reduction efforts and promoting innovative green space reuse interventions that supported the stabilization of neighborhoods and spurred economic growth.
“It’s important for me that the community knows I’m willing to meet and talk about where the Land Bank is in the community and what our mission is so that there is a partnership for community good and investment,” said Leslie Smith, new Executive Director of the Omaha Land Bank.
The Land Bank is a catalyst for transforming distressed properties into community assets by acquiring vacant, abandoned or dilapidated properties to transform them into positive neighborhood assets. As the only organization of its kind in Nebraska, the Land Bank is a leading partner in neighborhood revitalization efforts in the Omaha community.
“As I have been transitioning out of the Executive Director Role, I have been looking back on the work we’ve done with nothing but gratitude for the opportunity to serve our community in a position that I believe sets the foundation for success for years to come,” added Shannon Snow, past Land Bank Executive Director.
“Together we created policies and systems that will forever transform the Land Bank into a tool for the strategic re-use of vacant properties and building generational wealth. These are not small tasks, and I am excited to see how this work is leveraged for greater impact in the future under Leslie’s leadership.”
The Land Bank board conducted a national search to fill the Executive Director role vacated by Snow in February of this year. “The Board is extremely excited to have Leslie given her experience with BAM, an organization that is similar to Omaha’s Land Bank,” John Heine, Omaha Municipal Land Bank’s Chair remarked.
“She has been actively involved in the National Land Bank Network & the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and her expertise will be valuable to Omaha as we continue to strategize around how the Land Bank can best serve our community. In addition to this expertise, Leslie’s professionalism give us a high level of confidence in her ability to navigate community, donor and political relationships. I don’t think we could have found a better candidate.”
As a community-centered development practitioner, Smith has previously served as a member of the Urban Land Institute – Memphis chapter, Memphis’ Orange Mound Task Force, the Tennessee Affordable Housing Coalition and Transit Coalition, Memphis’ Blight Elimination Steering Team, the Mayor’s Young Professional Council (as Vice-Chair), the Memphis Lights, Gas and Water Supplier Diversity External Advisory Board and the Memphis Urban League Young Professionals.
Now in her fourth week with the organization, Smith is looking forward to engaging with the community and learning more about their needs when it comes to purchasing lots from the Land Bank. “With a passion for improving all residents’ quality of life regardless of the zip code, serving as the Land Bank’s Executive Director will position me to engage, support, and collaborate with community practitioners to uplift every neighborhood in Omaha through growth and investment,” stated Smith.
“During my first week in Omaha a colleague was able to drive me around to some of our lots and I recognize a lot of them are located in North Omaha. “It’s important for me that the community knows I’m willing to meet and talk about where the Land Bank is in the community and what our mission is so that there is a partnership for community good and investment.”
In her new role Smith will report to the Land Bank Board of Directors and have overall strategic responsibility for the Land Bank’s staff, programs, and activities.
Background on Leslie Smith:
Leslie Smith serves as the Executive Director for the Omaha Municipal Land Bank, where she aims to lead the organization’s efforts to transform problem properties into vibrant opportunities in partnership with the community. Prior to joining the OMLB team, she worked for Truist’s Strategic Growth department, where she worked to develop strategies that drove their mortgage lending activities to support generational wealth-building and work towards closing the racial wealth gap throughout the bank’s digital footprint.
During her tenure at the Blight Authority of Memphis (BAM), she addressed multidimensional and systemic challenges, which inhibited urban renewal within the Memphis community throughout the global pandemic. Through leveraging cross-sector leadership and collaborative partnerships within neighborhoods, she was able to champion and finance BAM’s efforts to drive change at the local level.
With a passion for improving all residents’ quality of life regardless of their zip code, Smith looks to bring her national network, cross-sector expertise, and collective experience to drive momentum while addressing vacant and abandoned properties at the root.
Omaha Land Bank:
The Omaha Land Bank serves as a catalyst for transforming distressed properties into community assets. It partners with community entities focused on revitalization and affordable housing with the goal of reducing the number of vacant lots and finding suitable solutions. By driving community revitalization of underutilized areas, the Land Bank unlocks development potential, encourages economic development and enhances neighborhood growth. The Land Bank welcomes the community to engage in this work. To learn more, visit omahalandbank.org or call 402-800-1240.