Tag Archives: People on the Rise

Changing Lives After a Life-Changer

September 18, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

She never imagined that checking a small box on a job application would have such a big impact.

Jasmine L. Harris was trying to turn her life around from a couple of misdemeanors as a young adult. She learned that answering “yes” to the question of criminal charges in her background put up barriers to employment.

“All I heard was, ‘We can’t hire you’ for almost two years,” Harris says. “And that was with misdemeanors. Someone with a felony on their record doesn’t stand a chance.”

With only her family in her corner and a young son for whom she was now responsible, Harris determined she was going to get her life on track and make a better way for others with similar life experiences.

“I had to get a grip on my life because I was going nowhere fast,” says Harris, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, then a Master of Public Health from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “If I didn’t make drastic changes, I was going to be dead or in jail.”

With her newfound lease on life, Harris became a health educator and tobacco prevention coordinator for Creighton University School of Medicine’s Clinical Research Office. She also served as civic engagement committee chair for the Urban League of Nebraska Young Professionals, where she focused on advocacy and awareness of criminal justice issues.

Her passion became helping those who wanted to move beyond past mistakes and find someone to believe in their future. That passion led Harris to co-found Waymaker LLC, an organization that motivates women and girls to overcome setbacks from being involved in the criminal justice system—the kind of service Harris could have used when she was climbing her way back. 

“We focused on making a way of life—creating second chances—for women and girls who were having similar experiences as mine,” says Harris, who focused much of her work in North Omaha where she grew up. “A lot of times, all someone needs is a second chance.”

Harris was the driving force behind efforts such as Black and Brown Legislative Day, when people of color were hosted at the state capitol to learn about the legislative process and register to vote. She also helped push for legislation that would remove the “Criminal History” section from an application for any job in the state—a bill that didn’t make it off the legislative floor.

Harris then turned her attention to volunteering with a new Nebraska organization called Defy Ventures, a group that works with incarcerated and previously-incarcerated people to help them land jobs or become business entrepreneurs. 

She deployed programs such as “CEO of Your New Life,” which focuses on character development, employment readiness, and entrepreneurship training. Defy helps people in post-release develop a new business pitch in a “Shark Tank”-like competition—with the idea that the new business will eventually hire others who have been in jail.

“The main goal is to help people, upon release, be ready for gainful, meaningful employment,” says Harris, who landed a full-time position as Defy’s post-release program manager. “We teach how to talk about your incarceration in a way that doesn’t turn off employers or cause them to pity you.”

Harris, awarded the Omaha NAACP Freedom Fighter Award in 2017 and named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Omahans by the Omaha Jaycees, knows there might be opportunity to help more people in a bigger city. But the “love-hate relationship” she had with her hometown when she was a teen is now all love. She is motivated by the endless opportunity she sees here.

“I came back here because I see the potential in Omaha,” Harris says. “I see people who sincerely want to help and are making the change. I want to be an integral part of that.”


Visit defyventures.org for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Young and Professional

March 23, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

After graduating from Omaha Northwest High School in 2009, Ashley Rae Turner says she was happy to leave town to pursue undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“I was definitely that person in high school who thought I was never going to be in Omaha again after I left,” she says.

By 2015, she was ready to return. Coming back, however, was contingent upon finding activities involving other young professionals and exploring civic opportunities for her peer group.

“If I could find a reason to stay, I would stay,” she says. “And I didn’t really want to have a mindset that, ‘this is temporary and then I’ll leave for somewhere else.’”

Realizing that several people in her peer group express similar concerns about a lack of opportunity, Turner became involved in community engagement through Urban League of Nebraska, where she joined the volunteer auxiliary group
ULN Young Professionals.

“From the very beginning I just saw an opportunity to improve Omaha for YPs [young professionals] but especially YPs of color,” Turner says.

Last year, Turner became a member of a community diversity and inclusion workgroup stemming from a joint effort of ULN and the Greater Omaha Chamber. The group aims to address key findings from a 2017 diversity and talent inclusion survey commissioned by the two organizations, including an area in which Turner has a special interest: technology and start-ups.

“It is one area I made sure was not overlooked in the survey recommendations, finding more ways to support black YP start-ups and helping them get funding,” Turner says.

Turner served as the programming co-chair for the Chamber’s 2018 YP Summit, held March 1 at CenturyLink Center.

YP Summit Chair Angel Starks says she called this year’s Summit planners “Dream Team 2018.”

“As chair, I couldn’t be more proud of my co-chairs, and especially of our programming. We enacted a speakers’ academy, we’ve done some things for our breakout speakers we’ve never done before, and I think we’ve set the tone for what’s to come,” she says. “That’s thanks to Ashley and her co-chair (Megan Flory Tommeraasen with Mutual of Omaha), specifically.”

In January, Turner also added volunteer engagement chair for the YP Council to her Chamber responsibilities.

She says she aspires to help foster a community in which YPs throughout Omaha feel welcomed, which hopefully will ultimately inspire them to become more engaged and involved. It’s all part of her mission to “be a voice for other YPs who aren’t necessarily at the table,” she says.

Last year, Turner began working for Borsheims as a content and marketing specialist, and one of the biggest contributions she’s made so far is executing a revamp of the company’s content marketing program, including establishing relationships with key influencers for future contributions and creating plans for new web features such as an education center and a lifestyle blog.

“It will be really robust content around Borsheims, around our vendors, and just around why we are the best at what we do and why you should choose Borsheims,” Turner says. “I really love social media. I love communicating and finding different ways to reach different individuals.”

In what little free time she has left, Turner also writes a food blog. And now she’s working with a partner to launch a lunchtime networking series for YPs, a channel that brings together her palette of talents and interests.

Whatever she does, Turner brings a sense of professionalism to her projects.

“It’s amazing that, although she’s involved in a lot of things, she brings quality to everything she touches,” Starks says.

This article was printed in the April/May 2018 edition of B2B.

An Evangelist for Innovation

January 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

As vice president of marketing and communications for YMCA of Greater Omaha, Jocelyn Houston’s days never look alike. “No day is ever the same for me, and I like that,” she says. “Plus I love that it’s all for a good cause.”

Originally from Crawford “on the other side of Nebraka,” she attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to study journalism. Houston came to Omaha less than five years ago to work in client relations at Universal Information Services.

Universal’s vice president, Todd Murphy, says Jocelyn brought energy to the tech-forward company.

“Attitude is everything, and she exhibited a professional, warm personality in the office, which I think helps to raise the attitudes of everyone around them,” Murphy says. “She was a good evangelist in helping raise awareness of our culture of innovation.”

Jocelyn likes Omaha for a variety of reasons. “It’s a great place to raise a family and still get that ‘big city’ feel,” she says. She and her husband, Josh, particularly enjoy visiting the farmers market at Aksarben and eating at au courant restaurants. “There’s always new things happening in Omaha.”

That love of the town is one of the reasons she is a good fit for the YMCA. She’s also an avid volunteer for the YMCA and has made a name for herself within the local media community as a member of the Marketing and Membership Committee of the Omaha Press Club. “I use the advice I get from other Press Club members daily,” says Houston.

Following one year on that committee, the members now also look to her for advice—she was voted to their board of directors in mid-January.

Marketing and Membership Committee chair and board secretary Bridget (Weide) Brooks says that Houston is “…a great gal. What I like about her most is her interesting ideas. Her perspective is unique and very actionable.” Brooks adds that sometimes Houston simply asks a question during meetings that gets everyone thinking and looking at things differently.

That may be because Houston is always open to new experiences. “I met my husband on a blind date!” she says, laughing. She also urges professionals to not be too hard on themselves. “We have to stop doing that,” she says.

Her years of success so far have taught her valuable lessons that she’s happy to share with other professional up-and-comers. “Success is hard work and it takes sacrifices. It can be discouraging trying to get a professional career off the ground. You have to create your own ‘having it all’ and decide what that means for you. Take advantage of opportunities and don’t be afraid to stumble into success.”

She looks forward to watching her two young children grow up and where life takes her. “I love the industry I work in,” she says. She’s a professional living in a city she loves, working in a career she loves—and that is certainly an excellent example of success at any age.

“Write your own story,” she adds. “Be part of a cause.”

Visit metroymca.org for more information.

This article was printed in the February/March 2018 edition of B2B.