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Step-Up Omaha! seeks to connect 1,000 youth
to career exploration, job training, internships and entrepreneurship

Application open until March 7; more businesses needed to meet the demand

Over 50 business executives, elected officials, community partners, employers and others gathered on Thursday, February 25th for the official launch of Step-Up Omaha 2021.

Step-Up Omaha is headed into its 14th year of connecting youth and young adults ages 14-21 with career exploration, jobs, internships, entrepreneurship and leadership opportunities.  The collaborative initiative of the Empowerment Network has connected over 6,500 youth with jobs and job training since its inception.

Youth and young adults are able to identify their career interests, develop skills to prepare them for the future, experience hands-on job training and generate a positive income.

Step-Up is still taking applications until March 7th at stepupomaha.com.  The partners are also looking to increase the number of internship opportunities available by working with large and small businesses, organizations and ministries.  The team will continue to monitor guidance from health professionals to determine the size of the program and best format regarding virtual and in-person.


“With the support of the City of Omaha, Lakin Foundation and other foundations, the business community and our partners, we seek to connect 700 to 1,000 interns this summer and 250 in the year round program,” said Willie Barney, CEO and Founder of the Empowerment Network.  “Together, we can make this our biggest and best year ever.”

Barney thanked major employers, American National Bank, CHI Health and UNMC for their long term support.

American National Bank, under the leadership Co-CEOs and Co-Chairmen John and Wende Kotouc, was the original corporate partner, hiring 6 to 10 interns every summer since 2008.  CHI Health and UNMC return again in 2021, each hiring 10 to 20 interns.

In addition to funding, the City of Omaha will once again provide internships in a number of departments including Planning, Police, Fire, HR&R and others.  Union Pacific joins for the first time in 2021.  Small businesses, non-profits and faith-based organizations also provide important worksite opportunities.  To become a worksite, employer or sponsor, go to stepupomaha.com.

The City of Omaha is the largest financial supporter of the Step-Up Omaha program.  Mayor Jean Stothert, Councilman Ben Gray and the Omaha City Council have invested between $900,000 and $1 million for the past four years.

“We invest more in Step-Up Omaha than any other job program in the city because we know it works,” said Mayor Stothert.  “The job placements, training and development opportunities provided by Step-Up and our business community provide valuable experiences and opportunities and that’s exactly what all young people need, a chance to be successful.”

“Step-Up also depends on the generous support of the business and philanthropic community to provide additional funds or jobs,” added Stothert.

Gray agreed.  “We can continue to do 700-800 jobs,” said Councilman Gray. “But, why not get more businesses engaged and reach as many as 1,000 or more.”

Gray emphasized the importance of providing these opportunities to youth in the community and the dividends it will pay to the city.  “We will keep more of our talent here when we invest and show them what’s possible for them in Omaha.  We know that what they see is what they will be,” said Gray.

Also announced at the press conference was the second year of a $1.8 million commitment from the Charles E. Lakin Foundation.  Steve Wild, President of the Lakin Foundation, provided their reasoning for such a large scale investment over three years.

“One of the greatest strengths of the United States is its diversity.  At the same time, this diversity has been underused as a resource,” said Wild.  “We also know over the years there’s been a shortage of African-Americans and people of color in senior management and executive suites in Omaha and the Council Bluffs area.  The area is suffering from brain drain and doesn’t have a large enough skilled workforce.  The Empowerment Network’s Step-Up Omaha program is one vital tool to addressing this long term.  It shows our youth what is available right here at home.”

Step-Up Omaha has not only gained local support, but has received national support from the Obama Foundation.  The Obama Foundation/MBK Alliance selected the Empowerment Network and City of Omaha as 1 of 19 out of 250 communities to receive a $50,000 seed grant in 2019.  Because of the Network’s continued success, the Obama Foundation/MBK Alliance has agreed to expand the support with an additional $67,000 in 2021.

Locally, the Kiewit Foundation has committed $50,000 for 2021 and other foundations are joining in to support the expansion of the program.  The Lozier Foundation has supported Step-Up for the past decade and the Holland Foundation one of the initial supporters also participated in the Obama Foundation/MBK Community Challenge.  The United Way of the Midlands and Office of Violence Prevention have also contributed between $150,000 to $250,000 annually.

Step-Up Omaha is successful because of the active engagement and support of many community partners.

Omaha Public Schools has partnered in a variety of ways since 2008.  OPS looks to extend summer school options to a much larger group of students this summer and will offer some educational related internships to students 16 and older.

Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Logan sees this as another opportunity to increase the number of youth gaining valuable work experience and continues to support the work of Step-Up Omaha in offering internships with local corporations, small businesses and organizations throughout the community.

Annique Clark, a former OPS student who currently attends college in Mississippi, also spoke at the press conference.  Clark has participated in Step-Up for five years, having the opportunity to work with a number of health organizations.  She stated that the program has helped her to determine her double major combining art and therapy, and also assisted with launching a business while still in high school.

“Clark is a great example of the brilliance we have in Omaha,” said Barney.  “She’s a double major and an entrepreneur.  We have talent right here at our front door.”

Step-Up looks to expand in a number of ways again in 2021:

  1. Entrepreneurship.  All of the participants ages 14-15 are exposed to the SocialPreneurship curriculum, learning how to turn problems into opportunities, develop business plans and experience the process of taking a product to market.  The youth work with Jaylen Bledsoe, CEO of Bledsoe Global, now in his early 20’s, who started as a teen millionaire; national consultant, Jamela Peterson, founder of SocialPreneurship; and Debra Dogba, CEO of Business Seals.
  2. STEAM.  As part of the commitment from the Obama Foundation, Step-Up Omaha expanded opportunities in STEAM including; robotics, drones, coding, social media and manufacturing.  All of these partnerships will be expanded including an enhanced program with the Tuskegee Airmen where participants will learn to build and fly drones.
  3. Trades.  In partnership with the Bryant Center and Metropolitan Community College, Step-Up will continue providing hands-on opportunities in 3D Printing, Construction, OSHA Certification, Culinary and other vocational fields.
  4. Internships.  More corporate partners and small businesses are working with Step-Up to provide opportunities in their respective career fields.  American National Bank, CHI Heath, UNMC, the City of Omaha and Union Pacific are major employers who have committed to developing and retaining Omaha youth by connecting with Step-Up.  Employers of all sizes, including non-profits, can participate.  Interested employers, sponsors and worksites, can learn more here.

    Moniki Cannon has joined Step-Up Omaha partner, CHI Health, as a Senior HR Business Partner.
    Cannon will continue to partner with Step-Up from an employer’s role.  A new Step-Up Omaha Director will join the Empowerment Network team in March 2021 to continue the expansion of the program.
  5. South Omaha.  The Step-Up Omaha team continues its city-wide expansion with even more outreach and partnerships in South Omaha and within the Latino community.  The South Omaha and Latino Advisory Council has been expanded and is already producing positive results.

    Ana Torres was hired as a full time South Omaha coach in 2020 and will lead efforts in the area.  Step-Up is also increasing outreach to the Asian, Native American and immigrant audiences.
  6. Council Bluffs.  With the support of the Charles E. Lakin Foundation, Step-Up will formally launch in Council Bluffs in 2021 after being put on hold last year because of the pandemic.  The Step-Up Council Bluffs application will open in March.

Step-Up Omaha is an initiative of the Empowerment Network and works with the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Midlands, Girls Inc., Hope Center for Kids, Urban League of Nebraska and PACE as coaching partners. Youth are assigned to these organizations who then hire coaches to train and prepare the participants and partner with worksites throughout program.

Long time community partner, Thomas Warren, CEO of the Urban League of Nebraska, discussed the importance of Step-Up at the press conference.

“I have the privilege of working with affiliates of the Urban League in every major city.  This public/private partnership in Omaha is recognized across the country for the results it has generated,” said Warren.  “Very few communities have this type of partnership for youth employment.”

“We focus on helping students to thrive.  We are preparing the next generation’s workforce and it is important for us to retain our talent in Omaha.”

Youth and young adults can apply at stepupomaha.com and employers, worksites and sponsors can also use the site to partner with Step-Up Omaha!

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Ted Lampkin: Rising to Meet the Challenge

Sponsored Content:
Charles Drew Health Center

Growing up down the street from Charles Drew Health Center, Inc., it was no question for Ted Lampkin to give back to the community that helped raise him.

“I’m passionate about public health because I am a product of public health services. Coming up, my family and I used the services at Charles Drew.”

As the Associate Director of Behavioral Health Services, Ted has been on the front-line teaching and training team members in new approaches to behavioral health. It’s no surprise that when COVID-19 struck, Ted was front and center.

“My role was to help transition the Behavioral Health department from doing face-to-face therapy to telehealth therapy.”

While COVID-19 began to escalate, increasing evidence highlighted racial and ethnic minority groups are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“We made it easy for the patients, providing traditional face-to-face, telehealth, and when needed telephonic sessions. A lot of patients had anxiety about COVID-19 and being in the middle of a pandemic, in addition to their other stressers.”

“The benefit of telehealth is we can continue to provide quality service during a pandemic. You take out the barriers to care with telehealth.”

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Brenda Avant: Providing Quality Healthcare in the Midst of COVID-19

Sponsored Content:
Charles Drew Health Center

As a North Omaha native, Family Nurse Practitioner, Brenda Avant, understands educating her patients about their healthcare choices is a foundational principle to accessing safe and quality healthcare.

When the pandemic shut down Omaha metro schools, Brenda and the team members at Charles Drew Health Center, Inc. School-based Health Centers had to switch gears. While still providing in-person care, the SBHC Medical providers began utilizing telehealth to remain in contact with their patients.

“The telehealth program at Charles Drew really grew at that time. As Medical providers, we were able to continue serving our student patients through telehealth. The parents really enjoyed it because they felt even through a pandemic their child’s provider is still in tune with their needs.”

As the pandemic surged, the healthcare inequalities within the American health system began to come to the foreground. “It made me proud to see that Charles Drew was a front runner in COVID-19. The community was looking to us to help guide them through.”

“Charles Drew made it very easy for the population we serve to continue receiving care. We may be small, but we are mighty.”

 

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Larry Duncan: Resiliency in the Face of a Crisis

Sponsored Content:
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.”

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