July 20, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Stephanie Murphy is advancing her family’s legacy of community service.

Her grandmother, Marge Quinlan, served on the Aksarben Women’s Ball Committee in the early 1980s. Marge’s daughter-in-law, Kathy Quinlan, served in the 1990s when the Coronation Ball turned its focus to scholarship fundraising.

Stephanie (Quinlan) Murphy took the dedication of her mother and grandmother a step further this year when she became the ball committee’s chairwoman.

Why would she take on one of the toughest volunteer jobs in Omaha?

Family tradition was one reason. But scholarships were the key motivation for the former elementary school teacher. Murphy anticipates that the Aksarben Foundation will once again award more than $1 million two- and four-year college scholarships this year.

“I want to make a difference in kids’ education,” she says. “Education is something no one can take from them.”

Murphys2Following a Family Tradition

The third-generation volunteer is making a difference in many areas of the community, just as her family has for years. In 1990, Murphy was named an Aksarben princess in recognition of her family’s volunteer work.

She remembers spending time in her younger days at Omaha’s Lauritzen Gardens, where her father—attorney Jim Quinlan—volunteered as president. She still has great affection for the Gardens, having served on the Lauritzen Garden Guild and assisted with the Antique & Garden Show held there.

Stephanie is a mother of two (Teddy, 18 and Olivia, 15) with husband Todd Murphy. She attributes her passion for volunteer work to her parents’ continuing example. “My mother, Kathy, has a list I can’t even tell you. She’s a big volunteer.”

Her mother served on the Fontenelle Forest Guild, chairing the events “BBQ on the Prairie” and “Feather Our Nest.”

Bringing a Children’s Nonprofit to Life

In 2004, Stephanie and a friend, Kathi Ferguson, co-founded the nonprofit Project Nightlights to improve the lives of children who struggle with mobility and spend a lot of time in their bedrooms. Such children may have ongoing illness, use a wheelchair, or rely on oxygen.

Project Nightlights’ mission is to provide “dream bedrooms” for these struggling children, where they can relax and heal in the comfort of their homes.

What each bedroom looks like depends on the child’s circumstances. It may be remodeled to be wheelchair accessible; it could feature a specialized bed to accommodate other needs. Each bedroom remodeling job costs from $5,000 to $10,000. Many of the services and supplies are donated.

“Environment will affect your recovery, according to research,” she says. “Instead of being dependent on somebody, when you act for yourself, you feel successful.”

Founding Project Nightlights began with an event that raised $10,000 in seed money. “People gave me $10,000 for just an idea,” she says. “Children’s Hospital gave us the kids. We’re offering a bit of light in every child’s room.”

The ardent volunteer does not look for recognition. “I volunteer because I’m passionate about the organization. My recognition is the success of that organization.”

Visit aksarben.org for more information.

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