insideWLC – Spring Edition, March 2016

Get and Stay Involved!

Every four years, U.S. citizens cast their votes in a presidential election. There is much at stake, of course, and this grand American tradition gathers much media attention. As important as it is – one of the keys to our democracy – we also understand that individual action on behalf of our country and our community can and does reap tremendous benefits.

This concept lies at the heart of United Way’s work, and is flourishing among the membership of the Women’s Leadership Council. As chair of the group and a longtime charter member, I cherish the camaraderie of my fellow WLC supporters. Time and again, I’m energized by the passion our members feel for those of our neighbors who live in poverty.

I am inspired by the women who care enough to invest their financial support and their time to help United Way focus on addressing that poverty head-on – in a variety of collaborative efforts – to participate in activities that reveal not only our community’s challenges, but potentially life-changing solutions as well. There is a strong commitment in our group to stoke the fires of hope among parents who dream of a better life for their children. For their families’ futures.

Our group thrives, and achieves, because individual women commit their time to learn more about the Basic Needs, Classroom and Workforce Ready services that help stabilize our neighbors’ lives. Our WLC Lunch & Learn series, inspired by Mary Lopez, will have three events in 2016, including a comprehensive discussion on April 6, that will explore local services that help refugees transition successfully to life as Americans.

Committee work is critical to these luncheons. To those serving now and who have served on WLC committees in the past, our group and our community thank you. I invite current and new members to step forward, and share your talent and passion with us – in a mission to make our community even stronger. Because women, united, can lead the way.

Jess Pate

WLC’s “Train to Gain for Student Success” Assessment and Training Underway

Work has ramped up quickly for the youth-serving agencies and programs at the center of the WLC’s “Train to Gain” initiative.

Nine participating nonprofit organizations in the Omaha area have gone through a Youth Program Quality Assessment (YPQA) at a combined 20 of their local sites. The process includes a visit from an on-site observation team that examines processes and activities at each location. After scoring each site, the observation team also suggests training opportunities to improve their practices.

The youth club site directors have online access to all of the observation results for their agency, and they can enter their program improvement plans there as well.

Representatives of the participating youth agencies recently attended a workshop called “Planning with Data,” facilitated by Bob McNeil, which provided guidance on how to use the YPQA data to build effective improvement plans.

Nonprofit agency representatives who participated in the process thus far have shared positive feedback:

  • “The strategies we learned are not only helpful at work in the agencies, but in everyday life events.”
  • “I liked the team-building game. The activities work well with our strategies and I will use this for our kids and staff.”

Collective for Youth team members are tracking completion of the assessments, as well as the agency improvement plans.

To date, the assessment and training have the potential of making a positive impact on more than 3,700 children and teens who are members of the agencies that participated in this first phase of “Train to Gain.”


Even in a great community like ours, human trafficking is taking place. Our proximity to major highways and our metro area’s large annual public events make it an unfortunate attraction for this disturbing crime.

While it’s a difficult subject, our metro area can address this reality by having open conversations – and by building a community-based response.

The WLC’s Lunch and Learn on August 17, cosponsored with The Women’s Fund of Omaha, will provide our members and guests with up-to-date information, including victim services and the latest on the local, state and federal response. This learning opportunity will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the University of Nebraska Omaha’s Thompson Alumni Center. Watch for your invitation and additional event details this summer.

United Way To Host Community Symposium On Poverty

Even in a strong community like ours, poverty poses difficult challenges for our neighbors. It has an effect on services and systems across the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area. United Way of the Midlands and partners are committed to support a lively discussion about our community’s challenges, and the opportunities we have to address them. The goal is to arrive at shared expectations of what “progress on poverty” will look like.

On June 16. Robert D. Putnam, professor of public policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government will discuss how poverty impacts America’s children, families and the strength of entire communities. Putnam consults often with national and international leaders and has authored more than a dozen books, including “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.” The event will take place at Ramada Plaza Convention Center at 72nd & Grover St.

The event will take place at Ramada Convention Center at 72nd & Grover. Seating is limited and the RSVP deadline is June 2, 2016; response can be made by calling 402-522-7933 or via email to

Joining United Way as co-sponsors are the University of Nebraska Omaha, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Buffett Early Childhood Institute and the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation.

Melissa Marvin Joins United Way as Senior Vice President of Donor Engagement

United Way president and CEO Shawna Forsberg has announced the appointment of Melissa Marvin as senior vice president of donor engagement. Marvin now oversees the department responsible for raising funds through a variety of channels to support a network of focused and effective local human service programs that are aimed at reducing poverty in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area.

Marvin previously served as vice president of global accounts for Vantage Point Performance, an international sales management training and consulting firm. Prior to that, she directed performance results for and managed the community bank and credit union division of Cohen Brown Management Group. Since 2013, Marvin has supported the office of the president at Metropolitan Community College on fundraising and community engagement projects.

She also served in executive positions at Omaha’s Commercial Federal Bank and Norwest Bank Nebraska. She has more than 30 years of experience in management and executive leadership, as well as sales, marketing and advertising. Marvin was a graduate of Leadership Omaha in 1997 and was recognized with a YWCA (WCA) Women of Distinction Award in 2010.

Over her lifetime, Marvin has also built a long resume of leadership service with more than 30 nonprofit and educational organizations across a wide variety of human service and arts organizations in the metro area, including a current appointment by the governor to the board of the Nebraska Arts Council Board.

Marvin is married to Geoffrey Hartig, and is the daughter of well-known community leaders – Sharon Marvin Griffin and the late Sam Marvin.

2-1-1 Anniversary

The 2-1-1 call center recently marked its 13th anniversary of service to Nebraska and Southwest Iowa.

2-1-1 is a “one-stop shop” for information on everything from food pantries and emergency housing to veterans’ services and vaccination clinics. Most important, the call and program referrals are free, and available 24/7. Members of the Women’s Leadership Council and all other individual and corporate donors provide the critical support necessary to make the service available to individuals and families in need.

Nearly 57,000 calls came into the Nebraska-Southwest Iowa call center in 2015; the website was accessed nearly 47,000 times. The callers’ most common request last year was for utility assistance, accounting for 29% of reported needs. 23% of calls involved rent, and 9% for food assistance.


It’s been a tremendous year of engagement and opportunity for members of the Women’s Leadership Council (WLC). On Thursday, May 5, the WLC will hold its first annual meeting. The event, open to all WLC members and honoring our “Train to Gain for Student Success” initiative donors, will take place at the Henry Doorly Zoo in the African Lodge from 9:00 to 10:30 a.m. Invitations will be mailed in early April.

Our group’s “Train to Gain for Student Success” initiative will be a main focus. Megan Addison, executive director of Collective for Youth will lead a panel discussion on the projects goals and accomplishments to-date. Joining her will be a trainer who is working with staff members at local out-of-school time youth agencies, and agency employees who are participants in the program.

We look forward to bringing our group’s strong and engaged members together in a celebration of the past year, and laying the groundwork for an even more promising 2016.

Mark Your Calendars: Omaha Gives on May 25

Once again, United Way of the Midlands will participate in “Omaha GIVES,” a 24-hour period that celebrates the power of individual donations – most made online at

This year, all Omaha GIVES donations made to United Way of the Midlands will be directed to the “Grade-Level Reading Literacy Project,” a community effort that addresses literacy and truancy issues that local kids face, from kindergarten through high school. UWM has selected two programs –“Book Trust” and “Club Connect”– classroom readiness programs that work to improve grade-level reading in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro area.

“Book Trust” empowers each child to create a personal library for themselves; each student receives a monthly budget of $7 which allows them to choose 2 to 3 books to add to their library every month.

“Club Connect” provides reading resources and books to local schools by creating a 400-book reading library, providing annual membership for kids and engagement support for their parents – all with the goal of improved access to books every day, all year long.

Read more about these initiatives at