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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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Community Features

Atlanta Congresswoman Nikema Williams visits North Omaha

Williams was elected to serve in the district formerly held by the late legendary Congressman, John Lewis

While in Omaha, Williams stopped by Pleasant Green Baptist Church led by Pastor Brian Page for morning services, attended a rally to support congressional candidate Tony Vargas and was the keynote speaker for a luncheon sponsored by the Nebraska Democratic Party and Team Vargas on Sunday, October 30, 2022.

Williams emphasized the importance of voting and mobilizing others to vote.

“Tell your family, friends and everyone you know to get out and vote.”

Specific to Nebraska, Williams encouraged voters to support the $15 minimum wage, reject voter ID and vote for candidates that support health care, voting rights and economic advancement for all.

Her primary message was democracy is not a spectator sport. Everyone must use their voice.

“Your vote is your voice,” said Williams. “This is a vitally important time in our country. Nebraska is a crucial state. That is why I am here. You cannot sit this one out.”

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Careers

Welcome Veta Jeffery, CEO of Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce

Revive Magazine asked some leaders to share their thoughts about the Chambers new CEO and to provide an official welcome to Omaha for Mrs. Veta Jeffery, her husband, Tony and daughter, Toni.  Jeffery officially started her new role in May of 2022.

 

Cheryl Logan
Superintendent of Omaha Public Schools

We welcome Veta to this extraordinary community. The promise of Omaha is fundamental to the success of our students and we look forward to supporting her and the vision of the Omaha Chamber for all who call Omaha home.

 

Pete Festersen
President of Omaha City Council

Omaha City Council President Pete Festersen met Jeffery during her first chamber of commerce board of directors meeting and was very impressed.

“We discussed the huge opportunity that exists right now to address economic development in North and South Omaha. She has a lot of experience with diversity, inclusion and ARPA fund distribution and I am excited to work with her on those issues. Great things happen when business, government and philanthropy work together.”

 

Richard Webb
CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of the Midlands

“I am excited about Veta Jeffery’s leadership she will bring to the Omaha community. I am looking forward to her leveraging her local, statewide, and federal relationships and experience with internships and recruitment of diverse talent to continue the Omaha community on a path towards success.”

 

Precious McKesson
President of North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance

“Extending a heartfelt welcome to CEO/President Veta Jeffery and her family to Omaha. I am excited to see the ideas and programs Mrs. Jeffery’s will bring to the Omaha market and look forward to working with her to ensure there is an intentional focus on economic and business development in North Omaha.”

 

Dr. Viv Ewing
President & CEO Childrens Square

“Veta Jeffery is a brilliant business and community leader with deep experience in economic development.  She will be a tremendous asset to the OMAHA community. I look forward to her leading a transformation for the city in economic development and engaging young professionals.”

 

Keith Station
Deputy Chief, Diversity and Inclusion, City of Omaha

“Veta Jeffery is exactly what Omaha needs right now; an accomplished, visionary, strategic woman to continue the unprecedented economic development growth of our region. I’m ecstatic that she is a DEI subject-matter-expert, and I look forward to helping her and the family to get acclimated to the City of Omaha!”

 

Aisha Conner
Special Projects and VEC Manager, Empowerment Network

“I would say that with the announcement of the new CEO it shows that Omaha is moving in the right direction.  Circling back to the brain drain it shows that Omaha is being intentional about seeking out talent and diversity. I am excited about what is happening in my city.”

 

Thomas Warren, Sr.,
Chief of Staff, Mayor’s Office

“The appointment of Veta Jeffery as President/CEO of the Omaha Chamber of Commerce (OCC) is historic and monumental.  The OCC serves as a catalyst for business development and economic growth in the City of Omaha and the metropolitan area.  Ms Jeffrey’s background and experience are aligned with the area’s priorities and needs, talent recruitment and retention, workforce development and increasing diversity through hiring and training initiatives.”

“The City of Omaha and OCC benefit from having the support of a very generous donor/philanthropic community.  Ms Jeffery’s skills as a convener will enable her to facilitate public/private partnerships and continue the positive trajectory of our local economy.”

 

Chris Rodgers
Douglas County Commissioner

“I grew up in the St. Louis metro area and her tenure there prepares her to step in and build a business climate that inclusively creates jobs and develop small and big businesses.”

 

Terrell McKinney
State Senator

“It’s refreshing to see that the chamber has hired a black woman to take its organization into the future, bringing her years of experience to Omaha from St. Louis.  I look forward to meeting and working with her in the near future.”

 

Tim Clark
Manager of Community Relations, Metropolitan Community College

This is a serious step towards creating a business community that will become even more intentional when it comes to diversify and inclusion…the Greater Omaha Chamber is key in leading the business community to help strengthen minority and small businesses for start up and escalation.  We welcome the new CEO Veta Jeffery Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce to this place we call the “Good Life”!  We look forward to having the conversations around the alignment Skill training and Associates Degrees that will support Businesses in the Greater Omaha area.

In my opinion strength of a progressive City is how it uses culture and diversity as a strength when it comes to creating vibrant places to live work and place, it becomes very important and I believe right thing to do…The future of the Greater Omaha area is full of Hope and Opportunities!

I was excited when I heard Veta Jeffery was selected to serve as the next President and CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber.  She is the first woman and first person of color to serve in this role.

It’s inspiring to see Black women getting opportunities to serve in leadership roles. I am sure she will do an amazing job taking the chamber to the next level.

 

Sherie Thomas
Deputy Chief, Omaha Police Department

“I was excited when I heard Veta Jeffery was selected to serve as the next President and CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber. She is the first woman and first person of color to serve in this role.”

“It’s inspiring to see Black women getting opportunities to serve in leadership roles. I am sure she will do an amazing job taking the chamber to the next level.”

 

Carmen Tapio
CEO of North End Teleservices

Veta Jefferey from a leadership perspective is best characterized by strategic development, broad consensus building and convening public and private stakeholders to achieve business, economic and community outcomes. Her approach and achievements in city government, the financial sector and economic development transfer and align with the innovative, impactful and collaborator leader we sought to be the CEO and President of the Greater Omaha Chamber.

Notable of her many achievements Ms. Jeffrey was appointed by the Governor of Missouri to help bring back and rebuild Ferguson and the business community after the riots.

Ms. Jeffrey brought together public and private partnerships to work together on creating plans and bringing about outcomes. Her ability to do that in a divided community is impressive.

The committee consisted of diverse leaders and was chaired by Leslie Andersen, CEO of i3 Bank, and includes Carmen Tapio, CEO of North End Teleservices, LLC, Mindy Simon, CIO of ConAgra, Clark Lauritzen, Chairman and President of First National Bank of Omaha and Mogens Bay, retired CEO of Valmont. The selection committee was assisted by Korn Ferry, a worldwide leader in executive search.

We worked tirelessly, vetting all candidates and coming to a unanimous and enthusiastic conclusion that Veta Jeffery is the best choice and person to lead the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and to bring further transformational change.

 

Welcome to Omaha Veta Jeffery and family.

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Community Features

Stable Gray, award-winning business open at 24th & Lake

Stable Gray, award-winning, black-owned branding and tech firm, opens at 24th & Lake

Stable Gray was founded in 2015 by CharDale Barnes and Teddy Young to help small businesses build strong brands at affordable prices. The efforts of Stable Gray have evolved from providing a few simple media services, to pioneering some of the most innovative branding solutions in the industry.

“We want to create 8-10 six figure jobs right here in our community,” said Barnes at their grand opening held in July 2022.

The Stable Gray mission is: “to help businesses build the brand of their dreams. We strive to blur the lines between large companies with unlimited marketing budgets, and local small businesses. We help businesses of all sizes develop their brand into ones that look just like the companies we see on tv every day.”

The store front at 24th and Lake is their second location.  They have a production studio located on the Better Together campus.

Revive Omaha would like to congratulate CharDale Barnes, Teddy Young and the entire Stable Gray team on their grand opening at 24th and Lake.

“Stable Gray does outstanding work with branding, marketing, social media and website development,” said Willie Barney, co-publisher of Revive Omaha Magazine.   “They were recognized as small business of the year by the Omaha Chamber of Commerce.  Teddy and CharDale are committed to supporting and investing in the North Omaha community.”

Learn more about Stable Gray

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