Tag Archives: The Empowerment Network

Collaboration in Action

November 22, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Many forward-thinking employers emphasize collaboration. Siloed organizations—those with teams, departments, or groups that do not want to share information or knowledge with other individuals in the organization—are increasingly seen as outmoded and inefficient. Collaboration is not just a feel-good philosophy—bottom lines and output benefit from collaborative environments.

At its root, collaboration is a commonsense tactic that simply means working together to produce, create, or execute something. Forbes, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and other business-savvy publications sing the praises of collaboration, and research indicates that women in particular excel in this area.

“I believe that collaboration is key to a successful business or operation,” says Susan Henricks, president and CEO at ICAN, a regional leader development focused nonprofit. “Women, the research shows, are generally better collaborators and more skilled at collaboration than men.”

ICAN offers programs, classes, and events that provide experiential learning. As a happy side effect, participating men and women develop stronger professional networks, which Henricks says often helps them achieve important real-world collaborative efforts.

“Collaboration is a skill we identified many years ago as a necessary, critical characteristic of successful leaders,” says Henricks. “All our programs, many of our speaker events, and certainly the women’s leadership conference focus on what it takes to collaborate and how to get better at collaborating, whether it’s with women, men, or a [coed] group.”

Jami Anders-Kemp, director at Step-Up Omaha!, a youth employment initiative of The Empowerment Network (TEN), also uses the power of collaboration at her organization, where she unites stakeholders from throughout the community. Though her role has expanded and evolved, she was initially hired to direct Omaha 360, a TEN program, where she aimed to build relationships and collaborations to reduce gun and gang violence in Omaha.

Jami Anders-Kemp

“My job was strategizing solutions at a high level and determining who needed to be at the table to address the issue, because we realized we needed to take a holistic approach,” says Anders-Kemp. “We also agreed that we can’t arrest our way out of this situation; a true solution involves many different strategies.”

For Omaha 360, Anders-Kemp says those strategies include enforcement, positive alternatives, re-entry and recovery, and court services, among others. She adds that in all of TEN’s efforts they also look at individuals’ needs at “a basic human level”— such as if the lights are on at home and if they have a job. When looking at a problem from so many angles, collaboration becomes essential to the process and Anders-Kemp brings together representatives from community organizations, OPD, OPS, the mayor’s office, the faith-based community, local business leaders, and others to facilitate action and change.

“With that range of strategies in place, you can see how important it is to ensure you have the right stakeholders at the table,” says Anders-Kemp, who employs similarly collaboration-based strategies when managing STEP-UP Omaha! and taking a major role in other TEN initiatives like Women for Peace, Omaha African-American Male Achievement Council, and Cradle to Career.

“It’s not necessarily that men don’t have this strength, but I think women have that desire to build relationships. And we’re often in environments where we’ve had to find ways to collaborate, whether it’s raising a family or doing business,” says Anders-Kemp. “That relationship piece is key for collaboration. All the strong women I know are good at coming together with that ‘it takes a village’ mentality.”

Certainly, collaboration can go wrong, but more often it goes right—especially for women. According to research from the Women’s Collaboration Project, there are at least five favorable or neutral experiences for every one negative collaborative experience, and 77 percent of respondents said they were “very likely” to employ collaboration again within the next 12 months.

So, what makes someone a good collaborator?

“The No. 1 key strength of an effective collaborator is that you’re not just out for yourself; you desire a good group outcome,” says Henricks. “No. 2 is having empathy, understanding, and willingness to consider other perspectives. Many leaders just don’t want to listen to others, and I really believe that if you’re not willing to listen then you can’t be a collaborator. Third, you must recognize situations where collaboration is needed, and I think women often recognize that faster than some men…the research in this area shows that. While there are certain keys to being collaborative, I also believe an individual can learn to be collaborative even if they aren’t organically collaborative.”

Henricks also stresses “whole-brain thinking,” or holistic team-building, an important focus at ICAN.

“You don’t want all creatives, all numbers people, or all strategic people,” Henricks says. “You need to take all of those different capabilities and include people who represent each set of knowledge, then you’ve got a whole-brain-thinking team. It’s a great way to set up a collaborative situation.”

Anders-Kemp agrees that good collaboration requires a holistic approach.

“There’s no one program or model that fits every need, so it’s crucial to bring the right people together and look at things from all different aspects to accelerate change or success,” she says.

“Everyone’s contributing a little bit, but collectively it makes a huge effect. It’s important to be honest about not being an expert in every area and being able to ask, ‘Who needs to be at this table?’ Particularly when we’re talking about people’s lives, young people, and violence prevention, it’s very important. We have to hear from everyone, put personal feelings aside, and bring everyone in. No one person has all the answers, but together we can always find the answers faster.”

Visit icanglobal.net and empoweromaha.com for more information.

This article appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of B2B.

Susan Hendricks

Jason Fischer

April 19, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The design team for Omaha’s bold “We Don’t Coast” campaign included 30-something Jason Fischer, owner of boutique marketing-branding firm Surreal Media Lab.

“It’s great to know it’s been used so well and been so widely accepted,” Fischer says of the slogan.

This master visual stylist grew up drawing, airbrush illustrating, and acrylic painting. Then he turned to graphic art. He taught himself photography, film-video production, software programming, and computer coding as digital, Web-based platforms came in vogue. All the while, he fed wide-ranging interests in art, culture, media, and history.

“I just wanted to do something creative for a living. It’s nice to be able to have these disciplines and ultimately connect all these dots. I think that’s what really helps me be successful in the marketing-branding area. My brain lives on the big picture scale.

“I like the challenge behind the collaboration of taking what a client wants and creating something that is me but that captures their vision.”

His diverse clients span the metro but he’s done “a body of socially conscious work” for the Urban League of Nebraska, No More Empty Pots, Together, the Empowerment Network, and others.

“At one point I was asked by a few community leaders to get involved. I would be the fly on the wall at meetings and events. That led to opportunities. I really care about community and want to see changes. Everybody has their own part they play. I’m just doing my piece, using what my calling is, to be an advocate the best way I can.

“I am really inspired by the work these nonprofits are doing.”

His feature documentary Out of Frame gives voice and face to Omaha’s homeless. His short docs Project Ready and Work Their Best won festival awards. His new art film, I Do Not Use, puts images to Frank O’Neal’s powerful poem decrying the “N” word. He’s in-progress on another feature documentary, Grey Matter, about being biracial in America.

Fischer’s M.O. is “asking the right questions and getting people to tell their own story,” adding, “I go in with the end in mind but I’m fluid enough to be open to the unexpected. Then it’s piecing it together.”

He’s known tough times himself. Raised by a single mom who labored hard to make ends meet, he used that work ethic to build The Lab. Then a burglary nearly wiped him out. Insurance didn’t cover the loss.

“It put me at ground zero. I was fortunate to have enough resources to get a loan through the SBA (Small Business Administration).

He moved his business from North O to the Image Arts Building’s creative hub at 2626 Harney Street.

“If it hadn’t happened I feel like I would still be stuck doing the same thing, smaller jobs, just turning the wheel. The move brought greater expectations and bigger opportunities to express myself and raise the bar. Before, it was more the hustle of making the dollar. Then it switched from dollars to passion. I think the passion part has definitely shown through and propelled the work and the business.”

Visit surrealmedialab.com to learn more.

JasonFischer2

Loyalty and Pride

February 8, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Ron Dotzler asked his future in-laws for permission to marry their daughter, her mother said no.

“No? Why?”

“Because you’re white.”

Dotzler grew up in rural Iowa, in a small town of about 300 people. “No diversity whatsoever until I went to college and played basketball. Met my wife, fell in love with her…” He shrugs. “I had no clue.”

After a few years of a successful career as a chemical engineer, starting a family, and building a brand new house out west, things settled down. Then Dotzler and his wife Twany announced they were moving to North Omaha as a sort of pit stop before serving overseas in missions. “Her mother went off on me,” Dotzler recalls. “‘We did all we could to get our daughter out of the ghetto, and you’re taking her back?’”

They’ve lived in North Omaha 25 years now. The Dotzlers never did make it overseas.

Instead, the couple works alongside a small staff and a large roster of volunteers as the Abide Network. The organization is one of many groups in the North Omaha area working to infuse neighborhoods north of Cuming Street and east of I-680 with new work, new homes, and new empowerment.

Its reputation

JoAnna LeFlore, interim program director of Bemis Center’s Carver Bank art gallery at 24th and Lake, calls these pockets of activity “bubbles.” “Brigitte over at The Union is a bubble,” she says, referring to Brigitte McQueen, director of the artist residency program at 24th and Burdette. “Love’s Jazz is a bubble. The Empowerment Network. We’re a bubble. If you didn’t grow up in North Omaha, you have no idea what vibrancy is here.”

It’s true that Omahans outside of the vague borders of North Omaha have a certain perception of the area. LeFlore recalls an exchange she had with a bank teller from Bennington after she read LeFlore’s business card. “24th and Lake?” the woman asked. “Isn’t that a bad neighborhood?”

“I just…I took a minute,” LeFlore says with a tired laugh. “And I said, ‘Why would you think that?’ And she said, ‘One of my friends is a police officer, and he told me not to go to that neighborhood.’” LeFlore reverted to her default reaction whenever she runs across someone who relates hearsay. “I listened, and I let her talk.” She pauses. “And then I just told her to come down to Carver Bank and get a sandwich at Big Mama’s.”

The sandwich shop next door to Carver Bank’s gallery and studio space is popular with Creighton students. Grace Krause, a graphic design graduate from Creighton University, has been an intern at Carver Bank for a couple weeks. “I grew up in North Omaha, kind of in the Florence area. I’ve always been a defendant of North Omaha. It’s a really great place; it just has a bad rap.”

JoAnna LeFlore is the interim program director of Bemis Center’s Carver Bank art gallery at 24th and Lake.

JoAnna LeFlore is the interim program director of Bemis Center’s Carver Bank art gallery at 24th and Lake.

LeFlore agrees. “Yes, there are things that happen in this neighborhood that are regrettable, but they also happen all over the city.”

Stats collected by the Abide Network suggest that, while violent crimes do happen all over the city, North Omaha still bears the brunt of them. Dotzler keeps a map covered in red pushpins for every murder (“It’s approximately 820 total”) that’s happened in the city in the 25 years he’s lived in North Omaha. “As you can see, two thirds of them take place right here,” he says, pointing to the area north of Dodge and east of 50th Street.

Its goals

However, Krause’s comments reflect another side of North Omaha, one that statisticians can’t discount. “When you meet people from North Omaha, they’re exceedingly loyal and proud of where they’re from,” says Othello Meadows, lawyer by profession, community developer by chance, and North Omahan by birth. “You always have this feeling of, like I owe something to where I grew up.” His work in Seventy-Five North Revitalization Corporation offers what he calls the best of both worlds. “It’s challenging work intellectually, but there’s also this greater good we’re trying to achieve.”

Through Seventy-Five North, Meadows wants to bring three elements of greater good to North Omaha: high-quality, mixed-income housing; a cradle-to-college educational pipeline; and a network of community services.

“Neighborhoods with good economic diversity are more resilient and economically stable,” Meadows says. “And we’ll create that with a combination of for-sale and for-rent homes.” That means multi-family apartments, single-family homes, and duplexes.

“When you meet people from North Omaha, they’re exceedingly loyal and proud of where they’re from.”
—Othello Meadows

The mixed-income housing is probably the closest of Seventy-Five North’s goals to becoming a reality. The organization owns 23 empty acres where a project called Pleasantview stood near 30th and Parker Streets when Meadows was a child. “If you grew up here, you knew about it,” he says. “It was a really tough place.” When he moved back from practicing law in Georgia in 2008, “they were tearing it down. The cost to rehab it was way more than it was to tear it down. Twenty-three acres with nothing on it. Kind of a rare find.” He plans to break ground on a new apartment building before 2015.

Dotzler, on the other hand, says moving away from rented housing is what the area needs. “Seventy percent of these homes are rental,” he says, referring to the neighborhood where Abide Network is based, “owned by landlords who receive money through Section 8 housing. There’s a reason it’s a good business,” he says. “It’s just bad for our community. Fifty-eight percent of rentals are owned by somebody outside of the community.” Dotzler says that rental properties move people around constantly, making a community lack stability.

Interestingly, lack of stability is what Meadows wants to solve as well but with a combination of rental and market-price homes. “Right now,” he says, “you can’t build a house for what you’d be able to sell it. It’s different to have houses that someone can qualify for versus someone who can pay market rate.”

“It’s important for people to have an option to stay here,” LeFlore agrees, though she also would prefer to see more home ownership in the next five years. 
“Jobs, living situations. Anything that celebrates what’s good will keep people living here.” She adds that another item on her five-year wish list for North Omaha is a strong community development organization. “Something like Othello’s doing,” she says, referring to Seventy-Five North. “Other cities do it. They engage the neighborhoods that exist, and they engage the city to redevelop the neighborhood. So I think in five years that needs to happen. There is no excuse. I think it’s urgent.”

For Dotzler, one point of urgency is neighborhood safety. “The police would tell you a cleaner neighborhood is a safer neighborhood,” Dotzler says, “so let’s mow lawns, let’s pick up trash, let’s fix broken windows, let’s paint over graffiti.” To that end, the Abide Network has for the last six years been steadily “adopting” small blocks of neighborhoods, about 20-25 houses with perhaps four people per house.

The red, dotted line indicates the 23 vacant acres where Pleasantview used to stand and where Seventy-Five North Revitalization Corp. plans to break ground with new apartments by early 2015.

The red, dotted line indicates the 23 vacant acres where Pleasantview used to stand and where Seventy-Five North Revitalization Corp. plans to break ground with new apartments by early 2015.

As Meadows says, “North Omaha is a huge geographic area. It’s critical to take a manageable bite. The person who says they’re going to change North Omaha is nuts. You have to say we’re going to go to work in this neighborhood. And then hopefully you can establish a model that’s replicable.”

That’s just what Abide Network is doing. Since that first block six years ago, the organization has adopted about 100 such neighborhoods, visiting at least once a month to address the fixes that Dotzler lists. They’d like to reach over 700.

Its determination

“We see a lot of emphasis on affordable housing, a lot of emphasis on education, a lot on community services,” Meadows says of the various programs working in North Omaha, “but independently, these don’t get a neighborhood to turn a corner and stay around that corner. You can’t implement these things in any kind of isolated fashion. They really have to work together.”

In fact, one of the reasons the old Pleasantview plot was so attractive to Seventy-Five North (in addition to the vacant 23 acres) was the existence of several already-strong community partners. Meadows lists off just a few: Charles Drew, a federally qualified low-income health-care provider; Salem Baptist Church, the largest African-American congregation in the state; and Urban League of Nebraska, which provides services from job training to parent education.

“It’s our role to coordinate the support that our residents can look forward to,” Meadows says. Housing, education, and services—those elements working together, he says, are what will turn the boat around in North Omaha.

“A small organization like Carver or The Union can only do so much,” LeFlore agrees. “To really market an area of the city, it has to be a communal effort. It has to be a commitment from—well, I don’t know who to put at the table. It’s everyone’s job. Find your place and sit there. Get to the table and have a seat.” She laughs but there’s an element of no-nonsense. “Don’t point the finger and don’t be the naysayer.” LeFlore says she’s tired of hearing ‘We tried that 20 years ago, and it didn’t work.’

“Maybe someone who you meet now can you help you do it right,” she says. “You have to be humble to start a movement. Your ego has to be gone.”