Tag Archives: faces

Chris Cook

March 3, 2016 by
Photography by Scott Drickey

This is an open letter to the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art’s new executive director.

Mr. Cook,

Welcome to The Cornhusker State and The Big ‘O.’ And welcome to beef country, tornado alley, and the heartland. All packaged, of course, in the warm embrace that is “The Good Life.”

Run.

If you didn’t catch my Morse-coded pen clicks when I interviewed you last October, your first month in town, that’s my only advice to you as a fellow transplant: Run. Run back to Florida, back to Miami and Cannonball and all the great things you did there in innovative forms of cultural production and education to advance critical discourse and understanding of contemporary art.

Look, I get it. The Bemis Center’s executive director position is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You’re 40, ready to make your mark at an internationally renowned artist-in-residence program. But believe me when I tell you this: Omaha will husk your heart and butter it and consume every last morsel of it, and then you’ll never be able to feel whole outside of this town again.

The ice age of January will be underway when this article is printed. And you’ll also have one of the organization’s fabled annual art auctions under your belt. By then you’ll have a manic sense of community and belonging…

That’s just the prairie fever kicking in. It has something to do with the wind and isolation.You’ll soon find out. Then again, you seemed to already have at least a Wikipedia’s grasp of our climate:

“I’m certainly looking forward to four true seasons and rotating the wardrobe and dusting off my winter driving skills for sure,” you joked with me on that false autumn day.

It was all I could do to keep from laughing. “Four seasons.” Good one. You’re going to need that sense of humor to survive our dry (as in wry) climate. As for the seasons, there are only two: too hot and too cold.

But you knew that. You’ve dabbled in Midwestern affairs curating at the Sioux City Art Center, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, and the Salina Art Center in Salina, Kansas.

“Returning to this part of the country is returning to an old friend,” you confessed. “I seem not to be able to get away from the Missouri River.”

But you’re not here to rekindle old relationships, are you? You’re here to make new ones.

“I’m trying to download as much information as possible in terms of the history of the organization [the Bemis Center], so I can try to better understand the context here,” you said. “And it’s also a period of establishing relationships and asking relevant and sometimes critical questions to better understand where we are and where we need to go as
an organization.”

Well, at least you have your job. Because the way I see it, if you’re reading this and you’re still in Omaha, it’s already too late. You’re now one of us. Go ahead, try and run.

“It’s not just about the Bemis, and it’s not just about the history and legacy that the organization has,” you said. “It’s about a certain quality of life one can have in Omaha. I’ve finally seen the light.”

Visit bemiscenter.org to learn more.

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Tanya Cook

October 20, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

An abiding curiosity led Neb. State Sen. Tanya Cook to serve as an official observer during the presidential election in war-torn Ukraine earlier this year.

Joining a Ukrainian Congress Committee of America delegation, she witnessed candy czar Petro Poroshenko’s landslide victory in an election monitoring organizations declared free and fair.

The District 13 representative often travels abroad to feed her wanderlust. Her weeklong stay in the former Soviet satellite state provided an opportunity for enlightenment and service. With Ukraine’s fragile union threatened by separatist uprisings and Russian expansionism, the election was a moratorium on democracy and autonomy.

“I met a lot of great people who had grown up as part of the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada and the United States,” Cook says. “I learned a lot about how they kept their language and culture alive, and more about the circumstances that led to their leaving. They were very warm, very welcoming.”

The lifelong Democrat has worked with municipalities as a public relations consultant and for elected officials as a campaign and administrative staffer. In 2008 she and Brenda Council became the Unicameral’s first black women legislators.

Born in Guam to an Air Force family, Cook grew up in Omaha in the 1960s and ‘70s. Her parents were from the South, where she says “the ability to take part in elections was something they didn’t take for granted.” Despite being a teacher, her mother was forced to take a literacy test in order to vote. Her father became a teacher following his retirement as a military civil engineer.

Cook inherited a passion for learning that complements her desire to experience new cultures. The Georgetown University international business graduate has visited 20 countries, but Ukraine was her first Eastern European visit. Besides fulfilling her poll-watching duties, the inquisitive Cook says, “I learned a lot about the country, its history, its culture…That’s what I love about travel in general.”

Ukraine’s strategic importance in a region where borders and allegiances are in flux appealed to her geopolitical focus.

“The United States has an interest in the Ukraine remaining sovereign, and in (Russian premier Vladimir) Putin not reconvening the USSR,” she says.

Assigned to seven polling places in Kiev, Cook witnessed large voter turnout and typical election snafus (long waits), but saw nothing amiss.

“You’re an observer,” she adds. “You’re not there to intervene or advocate or have a point of view. You observe what you observe and you record it.”

The earnestness of election officials and voters impressed her. She says the popular Poroshenko clearly “emerged as a leader who would stand up to” Putin’s interventionism.

Now halfway through her second legislative term, it won’t be long before she gets the itch to travel again.

“There’s a lot bigger world out there.”

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Patique Collins Finds the Right Fit

January 28, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In 2011 Patique Collins left a two-decade corporate career to open a fitness business. Two-and-a-half years later her Right Fit gym on West Maple Road jumps with clients.

This former model, who’s emceed events and trained celebrities (Usher and LL Cool J), now seeks to franchise her business, produce workout videos, and be a mind-body fitness speaker with a national reach.

Under her watchful eye and upbeat instruction, members do various aerobic and anaerobic exercises, kickboxing and Zumba included, all to pulsating music, sometimes supplied by DJ Mista Soul. She helps clients tone their bodies and build cardio, strength, and flexibility.

The sculpted Omaha native is a longtime fitness convert. Nine years ago she added weight training to her running regimen and got serious about nutrition. She’d seen too many loved ones suffer health problems due to poor diet and little exercise. The raw vegan describes her own workouts as “intense” and “extreme.”

And she pushes clients hard.

“I really want to help every single person that comes in reach their maximum potential, and that is a big responsibility,” she says. “If you don’t give up on you, I won’t. I will do whatever I can to help you earn your goals if you’re ready to.”

Collins has even been known to show up at your workplace if you skip class. “There’s accountability here at Right Fit. I’m very passionate about my clients.”

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She believes the relationships she builds with clients keeps them coming back. “People will tend to stay if you develop a relationship and work towards results.” Her gym, like her Facebook page, is filled with affirmations about following dreams, being persistent, and never quitting.

“I think positivity is a part of my DNA,” says the woman who sometimes dresses as a superhero for workouts.

A huge influence in her life was her late maternal grandmother, Faye Jackson, who raised her after Collins and her siblings were thrown into the foster care system. “My grandmother told me I could be whatever I wanted to be and made me believe it.” Collins went on to attain multiple college degrees.

Motivated to help others, she made human resources her career. She and her then-husband Anthony Collins 
formed the Nothing But Net Foundation to assist at-risk youth. While working as a SilverStone Group senior consultant and as Human Resources Recruitment Administrator for the Omaha Public Schools, she began “testing the waters” as a trainer by conducting weekend boot camps.

Stepping out from the corporate arena to open her own gym took a leap of faith for this single mother of two small children.

“This is a lot of work. I am truly a one-woman show,” she says. “Sometimes that can be challenging.” Right Fit is her living, but she works hard at maintaining the right balance, where family and faith are top priorities.

She’s proud to be a successful female African-American small business owner and humbled by awards she’s received for her business and community achievements. Collins believes opportunities continue coming her way because of her genuine spirit.

“There’s some things you can’t fake, and being authentic is one of them,” she says. “I’m doing what I want to do. I think it’s my ministry. Everybody has their gifts, and this is mine. I’m able to influence people not just physically but mentally.”

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.

Her 13 Cents Worth

January 6, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Though inching 
perilously close
 to senior citizen status, Robin Welch still moves with the grace and agility of a young prima ballerina, which of course she once was.

Welch came to the Midlands in 1985 as principal dancer for Ballet Omaha, continuing an upward trajectory in ballet that can only be described as meteoric. Previously, she had won a full scholarship at age 15 to train with the Harkness Ballet in New York City, where she was born. Her talents won her a permanent spot with the company and at 17 she jetted off to Monaco.

“Our company was based in Monte Carlo,” she recounts. “Princess Grace would invite us to the castle. We’d swim in their pool.”

The company danced all across Europe, where Welch met or performed with the greatest ballet legends of the era, including Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Yes, everything was beautiful—until Rebekah Harkness decided to close the company she had founded. Welch returned stateside to join the Connecticut Ballet. It was in New Haven in 1978 that a photo of her was taken and used on a postage stamp—worth a princely 13 cents—as part of the Postal Service’s USA Dance series.

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The call to Omaha actually came from her then-husband, artistic director Robert Vickrey, who brought his wife and their young daughter, Rachel, with him to develop Ballet Omaha. After Robert’s departure in the early ’90s (the couple had divorced by then), Ballet Omaha collapsed, and Welch retired as a dancer.

The curtain rose again in 1999 when The Rose Theater offered to house a new school and company, Omaha Ballet Theater, which Welch founded. After 11 years at the helm of Omaha’s only professional ballet company, she was stunned when The Rose decided to sever its ties.

“It was draining to see it disintegrate before my eyes,” says Welch of her ballet school.

But she was born to teach. Welch gathered her strength, her money, and her daughter—an accomplished ballet artist herself—and in 2010 opened Robin Welch Dance Arts, home of Heartland Youth Ballet. Welch’s gift of unfettered, joyous movement now shines in her 
young students.

“I have worked with children trained by Robin,” says Ernest Richardson, Resident Conductor of the Omaha Symphony. “They come consummately prepared. They’re disciplined, respectful, and they know how to work with the orchestra. She’s an 
amazing woman.”

Accolades from her peers sustained Welch after she thought her life’s work had ended. When the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards presented her with their Lifetime Achievement Award two years ago, she broke down in gratitude.

“I had felt isolated until that point,” she admits. “But [the award] made me feel like I was part of the community again. It came at a great time.”

With Heartland Youth Ballet now soaring, Welch’s story adds another en pointe chapter—this one with a happy ending.

Susan Koenig

November 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In the early evening hours of December 7, Susan Koenig will put a fun party dress on her slender frame, bling on her wrists and strappy heels on her feet. She will then travel a short distance from her gracious second-floor home on South 13th Street at the edge of Little Italy to an art gallery in the Old Market. And, as she has done for the last 20 years, Koenig will greet dozens of people—friends, family, and friends of friends, who have paid to be there. In return, she will offer them much more than beverages and food.

Hers will be one of several pre-parties held across the city as a fundraising prelude to the main event later that evening—the annual Night of a Thousand Stars to benefit the Nebraska AIDS Project (NAP).

“At the beginning, I didn’t know hosting a party would be something I would always do,” laughs Koenig, a founding partner of the Koenig/Dunne Divorce Law firm, whose offices are downstairs from her home. “But my friends have made it evident that it’s meaningful to them because they show up every year with their checkbooks open.”

Meaningful to her friends, but very personal to Koenig; Night of a Thousand Stars offers a bittersweet time for reflection.

Koenig knew something was terribly wrong when her younger brother moved back to Omaha in 1990. Of eight siblings, Koenig had always been closest to Tim. They shared a special bond as the fifth- and sixth-born. While Tim didn’t dwell on the reasons for coming home or mention his health, Koenig saw through the silence.

“Tim’s long-time partner had just died of AIDS,” explains Koenig, the mother of two sons. “They owned a beautiful home and a successful restaurant in Atlanta. Tim sold them and came back to Omaha. He was diagnosed here.”

“[The gala] has strengthened my belief in the importance of making a contribution where you can; of the power of small things done over time…” —Susan Koenig

In the early ’90s, a diagnosis of AIDS equaled a death sentence. Baffled scientists hadn’t yet put all the pieces of the headline-grabbing scourge together. There were no life-extending medical cocktails. Koenig, who had spent years successfully helping spouses navigate the shoals of Nebraska divorce laws, suddenly found herself in need of answers and direction. What she did next changed her life.

“I called the AIDS hotline. I contacted NAP.”

Still a young organization at that time, NAP became her family’s lifeline by helping them stay positive.

“Tim’s diagnosis wasn’t the focus of our relationship with him,” says Koenig. “He transcended his diagnosis by continuing to be the best of who he was, by continuing to work. He taught us about living. We appreciated every minute we had with him.”

Koenig and her husband, John Mixan, attended the very first Night of a Thousand Stars in 1992 in support of Tim. In December of 1994, the couple hosted their first pre-party. Tim didn’t see it. He died that Thanksgiving.

Through the years, the couple raised over $40,000 for the HIV/AIDS community. Koenig, who now works mainly as an executive coach, still says “we” when referring to the pre-party planning, as her husband was always by her side. Sadly, cancer claimed John two years ago. But memories of John and Tim bring comfort, and the opportunity to gather friends close for a good cause brings joy.

“[The gala] has strengthened my belief in the importance of making a contribution where you can; of the power of small things done over time,” reflects Koenig. “And it’s just a great party!”

On December 7, hundreds of people will leave the various pre-parties and gather at the historic Mastercraft Building north of downtown for more beverages, food, music, and a silent auction at Night of a Thousand Stars. If you haven’t been invited, call Koenig. Everyone has a place at her table.

Colin and Jessica Duggan

November 11, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The next time you sit down for dinner at Kitchen Table, one of the newest restaurants in Downtown Omaha, you might want to take a closer look at the diners next to you—your salad might have come from them.

Husband and wife owners Colin and Jessica Duggan started Kitchen Table to highlight local food. They’ve been touched by the relationships built with local customers and farmers, eager to bring the Duggans everything from rabbits to peaches to use in their restaurant.

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“We wanted to embrace the trend of local, organic products but in a more casual and all-accessible setting,” Colin says. Even the couple’s menu planning is casual. They decide what to cook based on what’s in season and what’s local.  But they also just want to share with customers what they like to eat. Jessica likes tacos, and Colin likes pasta, so a recent dinner menu included chile verde chicken tacos one night and potato gnocchi with a local tomato vodka sauce the next.

Colin is the head chef at Kitchen Table while Jessica handles everything else. They met 12 years ago after Colin returned home to Omaha from working in Boston. His work later took them both to San Francisco, but Omaha was calling them back.

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“We really started to realize the potential of local food in Omaha and how it was kind of a missing piece in Omaha,” Colin says. “The idea was to bring it [the local food movement] back—to go out in the world, gather tools, and come back and build a house.” In October, the Duggans found a space and began building their “house”—a comfortable restaurant that served homemade food and showcased local produce. On June 4, 2013, they opened to the public, and Kitchen Table was born.

There’s no question as to what goes on in the kitchen, due to its open format located right in the center of the restaurant. Seated at the bar, customers can order their food, watch how it’s cooked, and be served all without leaving their seats. The open kitchen was one of the Duggans’ must-haves, in order to make Kitchen Table a “home away from home, where anyone can find something to eat,” according to Jessica.

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Fortunately for Colin and Jessica, home isn’t far away. Both Omaha natives, they say they’ve received tremendous support from family members in the area. They can always call on Colin’s mom or Jessica’s dad if they are out of paper towels or forgot something at the farmers market. Meanwhile, the bar at Kitchen Table has its own history with the family. The bar originally came from Jessica’s cousin in Bennington, who was looking to get rid of it.

While the Duggans cherish the relationships they’ve built during their short time so far at Kitchen Table, the one they cherish most is their relationship with each other. Colin says that opening Kitchen Table was “always about us being able to work together,” because they rarely saw each other in their previous jobs. Both admitted with a laugh that they still like each other, even after working together almost all day, seven days a week.

Although word has spread about Kitchen Table, Colin and Jessica currently have no plans to expand. They are focusing on keeping their menu fresh and simple and continuing to share “slow food fast” with Omaha.

Michael Lyon

September 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

After years singing opera, this transplanted Brit finds a niche in American standards.

He studied with some of the world’s finest opera coaches and vocal teachers; sang the lead in famous operas like Tosca, La Bohéme, Aida, Pagliacci, and Madame Butterfly; performed as soloist for oratorios and masses by Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and Verdi; and graced the main stage at Carnegie Hall as a featured soloist.

So why is Michael Lyon singing cover songs of Sinatra, Bennett, and Bublé for the Thursday-evening crowd at Ryan’s Bistro? He’s living his dream—a dream he has re-formed many times over.

“It took me until my mid-50s to understand that what I am is a performer,” says the singer in his West Omaha home. And what a performer he is!

Dressed casually in black, Lyon sings the standards with the air and confidence of a seasoned professional. His beautiful tenor voice carries a rich tone, but he holds back on the power his voice can reach. He hits high notes with ease and in tune. He’s smooth but never smarmy and keeps the schmaltz at bay. He doesn’t rely on gimmicks; he has the talent and training to let the music and lyrics do the talking.

 “…I knew down to my very toes that I had to sing opera.”

“We get people in here who think they’re listening to a recording, a sound system,” says Julia Stein, bar manager at Ryan’s. “He’s awesome. We love him here.”

Is this what Lyon envisioned over 30 years ago when he set out to be a great opera singer? No. Is he satisfied with his life as Omaha’s go-to tenor for special events? “Yes,” he says without hesitation. “I have become very adept at surviving in this world.”

Lyon’s world began in England’s county of Cornwall, where he grew up in a small dairy farming community. Neither parent displayed any musical abilities, so when their little son opened his mouth and made a beautiful sound, the only nurturing of his talent came from the school choir…until he got kicked out at age 10 for “goofing around.”

Lyon eventually channeled his feistiness into a single-mindedness that paved the way for his future. When he was about 20, he listened to a recording of an Italian opera “and I knew down to my very toes that I had to sing opera.” And so he did.

With newfound purpose, Lyon won a position with the Bristol Opera Company. Within a year and still without vocal training, he secured the lead in a production—as a baritone. “I then decided that I had to study seriously, which I did, and won several competitions,” explains Lyon.

“A guy was leaving Ryan’s and said…’How come you’re not somebody?’ And I said, ‘I am somebody, just not necessarily the somebody you want me to be.’”

Flush with confidence in his talent, Lyon emigrated in 1981 to Los Angeles, where he continued his vocal studies. He credits opera star Baldo dal Ponte for “giving me my high notes” and transforming him into a tenor. In 1984, Lyon met his future wife at an opera workshop. He and Kristin, an Omaha native, spent the next decade and a half performing in L.A.’s numerous opera and music theatre venues. They were at home on the stage and in demand, but singing didn’t pay the rent. The bottom fell out when both lost their day jobs within a month of each other.

Michael, Kristin, and son Max relocated to Omaha in 2000. With limited opportunities to pursue opera here, Michael and Kristin began a successful real estate career. Michael also teamed up with KIOS-FM as the local host of NPR’s “Morning Edition” from 5-10 a.m.

But Lyon, who retains only a tinge of an accent from his native England, knew his whole identity was wrapped up in singing. After an eight-year hiatus, he bought a sound system and remade himself into “a hip guy.” Word-of-mouth brought success quickly.

“An events planner at Stokes [Grill & Bar] told me about Michael,” says Chris Blumkin, a management consultant and wife of Ron Blumkin, the president of the Nebraska Furniture Mart. “We went to hear him at the Zin Room downtown. He has a genuine, warm way about him. We’ve hired him five times for corporate and family events.”

Lyon has never lost sight of who he is. That’s why sideways compliments from customers don’t faze him.

“A guy was leaving Ryan’s and said, ‘You’re so great. How come you’re not somebody?’ And I said, ‘I am somebody, just not necessarily the somebody you want me to be.’”

Joe Shearer

August 28, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“I don’t hate on Nikon users,” photographer Joe Shearer declares. “I hope we can all get along. I’m pretty open-minded, but I’m going to blindly put my bias towards Canon because that’s all I’ve ever known.”

Shearer, 27, laughs easily, but at the core he’s extremely serious about his job. As photo editor of the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s Gateway newspaper since 2010, he knows the meaning of hard work. He graduated from Gross Catholic High School in 2002 and went to UNO the following semester. He wasn’t sure what he really wanted to do, but he knew from his experience in yearbook class that he liked photography.

“It all started in my sophomore year of high school,” he explains. “I didn’t really have any extracurricular activities or athletics I was into at the time, but yearbook stood out. I did design, writing, and photography and ended up enjoying photography the most.”

Armed with his first professional camera, the Canon 10D (of course), Shearer started snapping photos of concerts he attended, sporting events, and everyday life. Then he hit a few bumps in the road.

“Whatever I contribute and turn in, I don’t want it to be sloppily put together. It should be award-winning journalism every day.”

“Life is weird sometimes. I was out of school for a couple years,” he says. “I just worked and traveled while learning life lessons and seeing the real world on my own. The whole time I did continue shooting photography. I did a few things for The Reader and Gateway before I went back to school. I never stopped shooting photos. I was just trying to grow up.”

Once back in school as photo editor, Shearer forged ahead with his career. For the past three years, he’s won several first place trophies at Omaha Press Club’s Excellence in Journalism Awards. This year, he won Best Feature Story (video), Best Feature Story (print), Best Sports Photo, and Best Feature Photo in the student category, as well as the Best Photo Essay award in the professional category. He also landed an internship at KETV News, where he’s preparing for a career in photojournalism. His dream job would have something to do with ESPN, music, or traveling, although he insists he’s “not a sports nerd.”

“Whatever I contribute and turn in, I don’t want it to be sloppily put together,” he says. “It should be award-winning journalism every day. There are a lot of talented journalists and artists in the Omaha area. We have a lot of incredible television, radio, and print. It’s a very creative city. If I could be associated with all of the greats in town, that would great.”

Gridiron Hero Becomes Mentor and Coach

August 27, 2013 by
Photography by Eric Francis Photography and Ted Kirk

What former Nebraska Cornhusker Steven Warren remembers most from his days playing football is not a particular game or plays, but rather the camaraderie among his teammates—along with key tenants such as persistence, integrity, and trustworthiness. These were experiences and traits that would serve Warren well later in life.

Recruited out of Springfield, Mo., he recalls Nebraska Head Coach Tom Osborne paying Warren and his family a visit in their living room the same week Big Red won the 1995 national championship. Warren accepted a UNL football scholarship and packed his bags for Lincoln.

Warren (96) delivers a bone-crushing hit back in his playing days for Big Red.

Warren (96) delivers a bone-crushing hit back in his playing days for Big Red.

“Nebraska football was No. 1; it was everywhere,” Warren recalls. “And being a part of it was like being a part of The Beatles.”

Freshman year was both a culture shock and an athletic shock for Warren: rigorous practices alongside the fame of being a Cornhusker. “There was so much temptation because of what you were part of. But you also had to learn time management,” he adds.

While playing for Nebraska, Warren found himself developing close friendships with other players and families in and around Lincoln. Oftentimes, parents would seek Warren out to speak with their children about setting goals, planning for the future, and living one’s dream.

Warren left Nebraska as a 3rd round pick of the Green Bay Packers in the 2000 NFL Draft. Thirteen weeks into his rookie year, Warren was sidelined with an injury and told he would miss the remainder of the season. He stayed in Green Bay, undergoing rigorous rehabilitation and training. He returned to the Packers for one more season before moving to the AFL, first playing for the San Jose Sabercats and, later, the Arizona Rattlers. At each of his AFL stints, Warren suffered separate injuries. “That’s when I realized my body was trying to tell me something,” he recalls.

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Warren returned to University of Nebraska-Lincoln and finished his sociology degree in 2004. After graduation, he had a decision to make. His wife, Heidi, is from Columbus, so staying in Nebraska certainly seemed like an option. And being a Nebraska alumni opened many doors for Warren. Former Huskers often pursued successful careers after leaving the field.

But a sales job or related opportunities just didn’t feel right.

“I always liked helping others, and I worked with mentors while at Nebraska,” Warren shares. At his Lincoln home near 30th and Y streets, some of Warren’s fondest memories were sitting on his porch and talking with children and teens who lived in the neighborhood.

That feeling never left him, which is why today he is president and founder of D.R.E.A.M. (Developing Relationships through Education, Athletics, Mentoring). It’s an Omaha-based nonprofit mentoring organization that reaches out to young men enrolled in middle school.

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“Seven years ago, everything for D.R.E.A.M. just fell into place: the pieces, the people. It was meant to be,” Warren says.

D.R.E.A.M. began in 2006 as an after-school program at Walnut Hill Elementary School at 43rd and Charles streets. Five volunteers met regularly with 20 at-risk students. Today, the program has expanded to several Omaha schools and added a chapter in Springfield, Mo., Warren’s hometown. In all, the program serves about 300 boys.

D.R.E.A.M. finds its success from 40 volunteers who spend three to five hours each week at an assigned school throughout the academic year. The theme is simple: becoming a man.

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“Our volunteers work with seventh- and eighth-grade students each school year teaching them the positive attributes of being a man: respect, responsibility, relationship building, establishing rapport,” Warren says. “All of these lessons I learned from football at Nebraska and our peer counseling.”

D.R.E.A.M. teaches young men that it’s okay (even encouraged) to be successful in school. College-age mentors serve as living, breathing examples of the success that comes with hard work, dedication, and diligence.

Teena Foster, an Omaha Public Schools site director at McMillan Magnet Center Middle School, has worked alongside Warren and his college-age volunteers since last fall. Foster says she continues to see growth in the seventh- and eighth-grade students who participate in D.R.E.A.M. each week. And she knows Warren is the driving force.

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“Steve is dedicated to mentoring these young students,” Foster explains. “He’s always smiling, is always pleasant. So are his volunteers. They build great relationships with our students. Mentors are extremely important in these young lives.”

Warren’s belief in mentorship yielded a second program that also occupies much of his time. From his experiences as a student athlete, Warren launched Warren Academy in 2010. It’s designed to provide students (from elementary and middle school to high school and college) with leadership skills and character-building through athletics.

Warren Academy, however, isn’t just for students. Coaches and other leaders also participate to improve and refine a variety of leadership skills, both on and off of the field. Warren Academy programs include training sessions, camps, coaching clinics, nutritional counseling, education assistance, and mentoring. The athletic training component features speed, strength, and agility training programs. Warren says that once the organization has its own facility, Warren Academy’s offerings will expand to include fitness for adults and children of all ages.

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“Our goal is to become the primary training resource for field sports,” Warren adds. “That includes baseball, football, track, soccer, and lacrosse.”

Seems Warren’s best playing position is that of teacher. And he’s loving every minute of it.