October 20, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When you first meet Karen Levin, you see an attractive, petite, smiling woman whose eyes sparkle with passion—her smile radiates from across the room. She is dynamic and persevering in all that she does and has done for the Omaha community. She is a true visionary in every respect.

Levin is definitely a mission-driven mover and shaker with regard to helping Omaha organizations find development avenues, donors, board members, and volunteers.

Early on, retail involvement was also one of her passions and successes. She and former husband, David, owned the women’s clothing store The Avenue. She was very involved in the day-to-day aspects of the family business.

“Loyal customer associations and interactions for The Avenue were a primary goal of Karen’s, as well as with her charitable pursuits. Her input of energies helped everything come together for the long-term family business,” states David.

Currently, Levin serves as Director of Development for the Colleges of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Nebraska Foundation. She has been with the foundation since 2007. Previously, she worked at the Nebraska Cultural Endowment and Metropolitan Arts Council, on which she still advises.

“I’m all about dreams, passion, mission, generosity, building, and nurturing relationships, gratitude, and education,” Levin says. “My vision of myself is someone that holds the door open for the next person to walk through.

“I joined the University of Nebraska Foundation because I resonate with how we describe our organization. Since 1936, the University of Nebraska Foundation has existed to accomplish one goal, which is to advance the University of Nebraska. While independent from the university, we are intrinsically linked to it, connecting the dreams and passions of donors to the mission of the university, and stewarding donor generosity across its four campuses.

“Everything that I do is done with a labor of love and from the heart.”

“I am honored to be a member of the team that raises money for UNMC. The medical center’s mission is to improve the health of Nebraskans and beyond,” she adds.

“When I hired Karen a number of years ago, she told me that I was getting ‘designer shoes at T.J. Maxx prices.’ She was absolutely correct,” comments Amy Volk, Vice President of the University of Nebraska Foundation. “Karen brought tremendous experience in fundraising to our organization, [as well as] her personal philosophy of generosity to the University of Nebraska Foundation…She gives financially to organizations that she loves, but she also generously gives her time, experience, and compassion for people. All of this giving has enriched the University of Nebraska Medical Center, but it has enriched my work and the work of our entire team at the University of Nebraska Foundation. We are all thankful to have ‘designer shoes.’”

Levin is also a very active member of the Omaha community and a co-founder of the Omaha Children’s Museum, the primary participatory museum in the heart of Downtown Omaha dedicated to engaging the imagination while creating excitement about learning for children—though not many people know just how diligently she worked to get the museum started.

In 1976, Levin saw a need in the community for such a hands-on learning environment. Having previously worked at the Boston’s Children’s Museum, she knew that education for art and creativity was greatly needed for Omaha youth. Initially, she pursued the endeavor by beginning a traveling art program throughout the community. It all began in the trunk of her station wagon. Betty Hiller and Jane Ford Hawthorne were two of her colleagues who helped her bring art activities and creative experiences to children at community centers, libraries, schools, and malls.

Levin goes right to the heart of things as she spurs onward with her quests. She obtains help from local philanthropists, such as Susie Buffett. She even got former Senator Dave Karnes to help her get the Omaha Children’s Museum endeavor rolling.

“Everything that I do is done with a labor of love and from the heart,” Levin says with a smile.

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