More than 300 business, nonprofit and community representatives gathered for the celebratory kickoff breakfast. After a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by the Mutual of Omaha gospel choir, Shawna Forsberg, United Way of the Midlands’ president and CEO, started off the morning with a heartfelt thank you to everyone who supported last year’s campaign. Thanks to everyone’s efforts, thousands of lives were changed – 223,000 in just one year! Shawna followed this news by sharing her excitement for the upcoming campaign.
“The campaign builds upon the metro’s strengths – our sense of community, our collaboration and our care for others. I am confident, with the support of our 700 partner organizations, all the agencies we are privileged to work with and everyone in this room, there’s no limit to the things we can accomplish and the change we can create.”
– Shawna Forsberg
James Blackledge then took to the podium to share why he and his wife Paula volunteered to serve as the chairs of the 2019 campaign. James is the President and CEO of Mutual of Omaha, and Paula is an active community volunteer.
“The United Way plays an important role in our community. They really help our most vulnerable neighbors… help them meet their basic needs, succeed in school, become financially stable. My wife Paula and I are just really just blessed and privileged to be able to chair this year’s campaign. So much work from so many people goes into it. We get to stand up here in front of you and maybe take some credit for this, but we don’t deserve the credit. The credit goes to all of you in this room and all the folks that are working very hard to make this a success.”
– James Blackledge
Following James, three different individuals were invited to the stage – all three have received support from programs funded by UWM donors and graciously agreed to discuss their experiences. The conversation was moderated by Malorie Maddox, the chief communications and marketing officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska and a former news anchor at WOWT.
A Conversation With Claire
Claire is a busy college student, but she still finds time to give back to her community by working at Completely KIDS. Just a few years ago, she was receiving help and support from this very same organization.
Claire first started attending Completely KIDS as a young child – and while she was initially hesitant to go, she shared how thankful she was for her time there.
“My mom signed me up against my will, but I’m very glad that she did. I ended up getting involved in a lot of things I never would,” she said. “I felt the genuine care of the staff there.”
Later on, when Claire was in high school, she enrolled in Completely KIDS’ teen employment program. She said that, with the coaching she received through the program, she was able to land one of the nation’s most prestigious scholarships – the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Scholarship.
“Every dollar that you give counts… (These programs and facilities) really end up being such a highlight in these kids’ lives, and really is just that safe place for them. Really every dollar that you give helps so much in keeping these amazing things going,” she said.
A Conversation With Nicole
Nicole is a mother of six, and things can get pretty hectic at her house as she and her husband care for their kids. That’s why she’s so grateful for the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. Five of her six children are currently matched with mentors through the program.
“It’s helped our family knowing that we have somebody else we can count on, somebody we can trust, to take our kids out in the community, go fishing, go bowling, go to the movies,” she said.
Through her family’s ups and downs, which include Nicole’s ongoing health struggles, the Big Brothers and Big Sisters mentors have been there for her family.
“I give props to Big Brothers Big Sisters for picking up the pieces when me and my husband were unable to during this hard time for us. They go above and beyond,” she said. “They have opened so many doors for me and my kids. Now my kids have other people to look up to.”
A Conversation With Jaylyn
When it came to parenting, Jaylyn sometimes felt alone and uncertain. She hadn’t grown up in a positive family environment, so she couldn’t draw on her previous experiences when it came to raising up her own children.
“People in our situations… we don’t trust anyone,” she said. “We’ve lost that, and we’ve had to depend only on ourselves.”
But with support and guidance from the helpful and patient staff with FAMILY, Inc., Jaylyn began to feel more hopeful.
“They help a lot of families,” she said. “They’ve been around for 28 years. They also help to branch out to other community resources and they make sure the whole family is getting every need that they have met.”
Now, she advocates for community members to support relationship and trust-building by giving or volunteering.
“As long as we can keep getting people out into the community to build those relationships, it’s helping one more person, talking to one more kid, helping one more family to find some kind of normalcy at the end of the day,” she said.
We’d like to give a huge thank you to our panelists Claire, Nicole and Jaylyn, Malorie Maddox for moderating, Paula and James Blackledge for their support, Mutual of Omaha for underwriting this event, the Mutual of Omaha Gospel Choir for their performance of the Star Spangled Banner, the Burke ROTC for presenting the colors and all of our wonderful partners who came out to help us celebrate!
About the Author
Brayton is the Manager of Communications at United Way of the Midlands. She spends most of her days writing press releases, letters, brochures and more, but she wouldn’t have it any other way! She loves to travel and is always daydreaming about her next adventure. When she’s at home, you’ll most likely find her hanging out with her family and friends, eating chocolate or reading a good book.
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