Reflecting On 2019

Dear United Way of the Midlands Supporters,

Here at United Way of the Midlands, we continuously reflect upon the meaning of the word “united.” We know the success of our work is tied to our community’s ability to come together and work toward a common goal.

But this year, when floodwaters swept across Nebraska and Iowa, that ability was put to the test like never before. As word of this natural disaster spread across the country, people wondered, “How would the Midwest recover from this?”

The answer? We would embrace the meaning of the word “united” like never before.

After the flood’s onset, hundreds of people began reaching out to United Way about hosting fundraisers, collecting supplies and donating dollars. And United Way of the Midlands was just ONE of the many organizations that was able to work together with the community to help flood victims. This response is a testament to what it means to be truly united… to what it means to come together, to work together, and to believe that, together, we can build a community that’s stronger than ever.

So as 2019 comes to a close, let’s carry our newfound appreciation for “united” forward. Other challenges may not be as visible as this year’s flooding, but they still exist. Somewhere in the metro, a child is struggling in school. A mother is worrying about how she will feed her children. A teenager is searching for a stable job.

You make it possible for us to make a difference in their lives. With your support, we can continue to bring people together to help those who need it most. With your guidance, we can continue to invest 92 cents of every donated dollar into the metro’s strongest nonprofit programs, which earned us a 7th in the nation ranking for performance in 2018. And with your belief in this community, we can continue to transform it into a place where more people can thrive and grow.

Thank you for your never-failing support of our mission. United, you have made great things happen in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro, and we have no doubt that, united, we can continue to do so.

We are grateful to this passionate group of community members for their support, leadership and guidance.

Shawna Forsberg

President & Chief Executive Officer

United Way of the Midlands

Steve Kaniewski, Board Chair

President & Chief Executive Officer

Valmont Industries

Ranked 7th in Nation for Performance

United Way of the Midlands was ranked as the 7th best United Way in the nation for performance out of approximately 1,200 United Ways. This ranking was determined by United Way Worldwide’s Performance Index.

Earned Income Tax Credit

Filing income taxes can be overwhelming, and not everyone can afford to pay for expert advice to ensure they’re filing accurately and taking full advantage of available tax refunds. To assist these individuals, the Omaha Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition – a program funded by United Way of the Midlands – oversaw five free tax preparation sites in the metro area. Thanks to the program, 4,400 individuals received more than $9.5 million in federal and state tax refunds.

National 2-1-1 Day

National 2-1-1 Day is celebrated on February 11th each year. In addition to taking 60,000 calls from those in need in Nebraska and Southwest Iowa, UWM’s 2-1-1 Helpline also partnered with Lyft and GM to provide nearly 1,000 rides for those needing them for a job interview, medical appointment or to get to a food bank; partnered with OPPD and MUD in facilitating Energy Assistance to those at risk of having utilities cut off; partnered with Omaha World- Herald’s Goodfellows program; and partnered with OPS in their 10,000 Villagers event, providing support information to parents of elementary students.

Click here to read more about 2-1-1, the work they do and to meet our specialists. If you or someone you know is in need of assistance, simply call 2-1-1 or text your zip code to 898211 to get in touch today. Our helpline is available 24/7.

Nebraska & Iowa Flood Relief

After witnessing how the spring flooding was impacting families and communities, United Way of the Midlands created the Nebraska & Iowa Flood Relief Fund with the leadership of the Board of Directors. Donors contributed more than $1.1 million to this fund, and 100% of every donation was invested in nonprofit programs providing shelter, food and more to flood victims. By collaborating with organizations, United Way of the Midlands and its donors were able to meet flood victims’ immediate needs and provide support for long-term recovery efforts. Our 2-1-1 Helpline also provided assistance to more than 1,400 people.

View our Flood Report at

Concert & Conversation with Peter Buffett

We had the pleasure of hosting A Concert & Conversation with Peter Buffett. He shared stories about growing up in the Buffett family, his personal views on complex social issues and the important role of philanthropy. This event brought together business leaders, philanthropists and young people to ignite new thinking and energy around local community issues. Special thanks to Fiserv and University of Nebraska- Omaha for sponsoring the event.

Photo L-R: Jerry Crouse, Peter Buffett, Mary Sellers, Shawna Forsberg Click here to read more about the event and view photos.

Women United

Women United (WU) consists of a diverse, vibrant group of women leaders who are bound together by their desire to advocate, volunteer and give to those who need it most. Currently, they dedicate their time and financial support to the “Opportunity Youth” initiative, which connects young adults between the ages of 16-24 to school or work so they can reach their full potential. WU also inspires leadership in the community by hosting events such as the Lunch & Learn series, Bi-Annual Summits and a Breakfast with Champions. This year, events were generously hosted by Security National Bank, HDR, Inc. and Union Pacific Railroad.

Photo: 2018-19 Women United Steering Committee

Omaha Gives

Thanks to Wells Fargo’s generous support, United Way of the Midlands was able to provide a match for donations made during our Omaha Gives fundraising campaign. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska also lent their support by producing our Omaha Gives video. Thanks to these companies and our community’s immense generosity, we more than tripled our fundraising goal of $30,000 and raised $91,901 for local basic needs programs.

United Way’s 2-1-1 Helpline Receives State Funding

On May 29, Gov. Pete Ricketts signed LB641, a bill introduced by Senator Mike McDonnell, into law. This bill ensures United Way’s 2-1-1 Helpline will receive $300,000 in state funding each year. 2-1-1 is a free, comprehensive information and referral system linking Nebraska residents to health and human services, community and disaster response and government programs. The newly granted state funding allowed 2-1-1 to reinstate 24/7 service and bolster awareness and outreach efforts.

Photo L-R: Evan Schmeits, Mariel Harding, Pam Schwalb, Steve Kaniewski, Paul Johnson, Senator Mike McDonnell, Karen Rathke, Shawna Forsberg, Lindsay Paulsen

Letter Carriers Food Drive

We were honored to partner with the Omaha Federation of Labor for the National Association of Letter Carriers’ 27th Annual “Stamp Out Hunger” food drive. Nationally, 71.6 million pounds of food were collected from mailboxes and delivered to food banks and homeless shelters across the country.

Day of Action

During United Way of the Midlands’ 4th annual Day of Action, 400 volunteers read to approximately 500 children from across the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro. To inspire a love of reading, prevent summer learning loss and ensure kids are on track to succeed in school and life, volunteers distributed literacy kits containing books and information about summer learning programs to each child. Special thanks to Sojern for sponsoring the event.

Emerging Leaders

The Emerging Leaders are passionate professionals under 40 who are driven to make a difference through volunteerism, advocacy and philanthropy. They aim to help kids read on grade-level by supporting Book Trust, an initiative that fosters child-hood literacy and is part of the “Raise Me to Read” campaign. This year, they hosted several successful fundraising events that included a “Rock Out to Read” benefit concert and a “Birdies for Books” golf tournament. The events were generously sponsored by Core Bank, Black Hills Energy, Gavilon, Fidelity National Title Group, OPPD and MUD.

Photo: 2018-19 Emerging Leaders Steering Committee

Food Summit

Partners from Nebraska and Southwest Iowa celebrated the launch of “Share Our Table,” a collective effort to address community food insecurity, at the “Share Our Table” Food Summit on June 28. The food insecurity conversation continued at United Way Worldwide’s conference, “United for the Future: Tocqueville. Tomorrow. Together,” in New York City. United Way of the Midlands was invited to present about the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro’s approach to food insecurity, as well as discuss the scope and causes of food insecurity in the United States and how other United Ways are working with community partners to address it.

Click here to read more about “Share Our Table”

Campaign Leader Workshops

At these workshops, which were hosted at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, attendees had the opportunity to hear from several campaign leaders as they shared their campaign ideas and results. These innovative best practices helped many local companies take their campaigns to the next level.

Opportunity Youth

In our community, there are approximately 8,000 youth ages 16-24 that are disconnected from school or work. In order to help these “Opportunity Youth (OY)” become connected, credentialed and employed, United Way of the Midlands is proud to serve as the convener of the Opportunity Youth Alliance in the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro area. The OY Hub, which is housed out of Project Everlast-Omaha at the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation, helps youth navigate the local services provided by the OYA partners. United Way is honored to have its Women United affinity group raise funds for OY over the next two years.

Campaign Chairs

We were honored to have Paula and James Blackledge chair the 2019 campaign. James is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Mutual of Omaha, and Paula is an active community volunteer.

Campaign Kickoff

United Way of the Midlands kicked off its annual fundraising campaign and recognized community members who contribute their time, talent and resources to the metro during a celebratory breakfast. The program featured a panel presentation with representatives from United Way-funded agencies: Completely Kids, Family, Inc. and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Midlands. Special thanks to Malorie Maddox, chief communications and marketing officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, for moderating and to Mutual of Omaha for underwriting the event.

Photo L-R: Panelists Claire, Jaylyn, Nicole and James and Paula Blackledge, Shawna Forsberg, Malorie Maddox Click here to read more about the kickoff and our wonderful panelists.

Hats Off Campaign

The community rallied together to participate in a new social media fundraising promotion, #HatsOff4UnitedWay. People from companies and nonprofits alike had fun taking off their hats and sharing the pictures with the hashtag on social media. Mutual of Omaha, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska and First National Bank donated to families in need, resulting in a total of $25,000 being invested into our community.

Click here to learn more about #HatsOff4UnitedWay.

Good on the Go Launch

We were so excited to launch our new volunteer opportunity, Good on the Go. During a Good on the Go project, the United Way team brings a volunteer opportunity straight to an organization, where employee teams work together to assemble kits for people in need. United Way handles the logistics and delivery of the kits, making it easy for organizations to make a difference in a meaningful way.

Special thanks to companies who participated in 2019: Buildertrend, GreenSlate Development, National Indemnity Company and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, TSYS and HDR, Inc.

Click here to read more about GOOD on the Go.

Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (Raise Me to Read) & Attendance Matters Campaign

The Omaha metro took a major step toward improving student success by joining the nationwide Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (CGLR), a collaborative effort to improve reading proficiency and early school success for children. Known locally as “Raise Me to Read,” the Campaign focuses on three key areas proven to impact grade-level reading: school readiness, school attendance and summer learning. Raise Me to Read partners include United Way of the Midlands, the Metropolitan Omaha Educational Consortium (MOEC), the Learning Community of Douglas and Sarpy Counties and the Iowa West Foundation. The partners kicked off the Campaign and highlighted the importance of school attendance at an event held at University of Nebraska – Omaha.

Tocqueville Community Forum

At United Way of the Midlands’ Tocqueville Community Forum, attendees had the opportunity to hear from insightful and dedicated community leaders who shared why they are so passionate about serving in the community and giving back to those who need it most. The panel included Clark Lauritzen, Chairman and President at First National Bank; Dr. Cheryl Logan, Superintendent at Omaha Public Schools; Mayor Jean Stothert, City of Omaha and Thomas Warren, President and Chief Executive Officer at Urban League of Nebraska. It was moderated by James Blackledge, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Mutual of Omaha and United Way Campaign Chair.

Photo L-R: Shawna Forsberg, Thomas Warren, Mayor Jean Stothert, Marian Andersen, James Blackledge, Clark Lauritzen, Dr. Cheryl Logan

Day of Caring

More than 1,000 volunteers participated in the 18th annual Day of Caring, completing 100 projects at nonprofit agencies across the Omaha-Council Bluffs metro. For many local companies, Day of Caring is an annual tradition. Many run United Way of the Midlands fundraising campaigns, and volunteering on Day of Caring allows them to see firsthand the impact their donations are making in our local community.

Click here to read more about Day of Caring and view photos.

Annual Meeting

At the 2019 Annual Meeting, sponsored by Cobalt Credit Union, United Way of the Midlands was proud to give a progress report on its 2025 goals and share goals for future impact. In the past four years, with the community’s support:

  • 4.5 million services, including access to healthy meals, safe and stable housing, physical and mental health services, domestic violence services and referrals, were delivered to people living in or at risk of poverty
  • 88,390 students were able to access education supports like mentoring, out-of-school time programs and early childhood education programs
  • 57,988 people were able to access job training, personal finance classes and post-secondary education

View our 2025 Progress Report at View our comprehensive online Annual Report by clicking here.

Campaign Recognition Awards

We were honored to present the second annual “United Way of the Midlands Campaign Recognition Awards” to six businesses who went above and beyond to support our community: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, Midwest Maintenance, Co. Inc., IBEW Local 22, Lindsay Corporation, SCHEELS and Valmont Industries, Inc. Our 2018

Campaign Chairs, Terri and Tim Burke, presented the awards.

Citizens of the Year

Barbara and Wally Weitz received the “Citizens of the Year” Award for their generosity and community leadership. Annette and Paul Smith, the 2018 “Citizens of the Year,” presented the award to the Weitzs.

To view their video, visit Photo L-R: Paul and Annette Smith, Barbara and Wally Weitz

Tocqueville Society Reception

Tocqueville Society members attended the annual reception, hosted by Mary and Rodrigo Lopez, where they were celebrated for their immense generosity and commitment to our community. Special thanks to Mutual of Omaha for underwriting the event.

Photo L-R: James and Paula Blackledge, Mary and Rodrigo Lopez To view additional photos click here.

Blue Collar Boxing

Thanks to Omaha Federation of Labor President Mike McDonnell, United Way of the Midlands and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) joined forces to host the first annual Blue Collar Boxing. This exciting and competitive event featured local labor union members boxing it out in the ring. Proceeds from Blue Collar Boxing supported the efforts of United Way of the Midlands and the Nebraska Center for Workforce Development and Education.

Visit our blog post to learn more about the big night and view photos.

Kellogg’s, Boxed and United Way Support Flood Victims

United Way of the Midlands teamed up with Kellogg Company Fund and Boxed to provide a fun, engaging event for families who were directly affected by spring flooding in Omaha and surrounding communities in Nebraska and Iowa. The event was held at the zoo, and activities included interactive animal exhibits, face painting, goodie bags, a photo booth and appearances by Kellogg’s characters.

Photo L-R: Shawna Forsberg, Kellogg’s employees, Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, Belinda Weidner, Ben Schorr To read more about this event click here.

10,000 Villagers

United Way of the Midlands was a proud sponsor of the Omaha Public Schools’ “10,000 Villagers Drive,” which provided children with the hats, gloves and scarves they need to come to school on time every day. When OPS distributed the winter gear to children and their families, United Way of the Midlands and its 2-1-1 Helpline were on hand to share information about available resources in our community, pass out books and provide attendance materials.

Photo L-R: Shawna Forsberg, Lisa Utterback, Ian Rose, Heidi Bartles, Jennifer Di Ruocco, Matt Wallen, Dr. Cheryl Logan, Heather Tomczak, Kathy Buso Healy, Pam Schwalb

Giving Tuesday

On this global day of giving, United Way of the Midlands and the Emerging Leaders raised funds to provide more than 5,000 books to children enrolled in the Book Trust program. To celebrate the students’ reading accomplishments, Creighton University also generously donated 165 tickets so Book Trust students and their families could attend the men’s basketball game that evening. Special thanks to Cobalt Credit Union for providing matching dollars for the fundraiser.

Photo L-R: Garrett Sellhorst, Steve Esch, Brayton Hagge, Book Trust Students, Gail DeBoer, Courtney Kastelic, Shawna Forsberg, Kylie Gumpert, Ali Larsen

We truly appreciate every organization that dedicated time, talent and financial support during the 2019 campaign. Their creativity and generosity have empowered us to create lasting change within the community.

Thank You!

Thank YOU for dedicating your time and financial support to United Way of the Midlands during the 2019 campaign. You are truly the heart of United Way!

United Way of the Midlands   |   2201 Farnam Street   |   Omaha, NE 68102   |   402-342-8232

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