Tag Archives: volunteering

Laura Kirschenbaum

January 13, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Laura Kirshenbaum is a straight-A student, but it is not good grades that her mother talks about first when describing her daughter’s scholarly accomplishments.

“It’s comments that teachers make. It’s wonderful hearing about how she treats others and how she is respectful to teachers. They say that she’s an active listener in class, that she’s kind and courteous. That’s what I’m proud about,” Jennifer Tompkins Kirshenbaum says. “You may have it in your DNA that these things are easier than for other people, or you learn at a faster pace. That may be a gift with you, but what do you do with it? Some people may have an ego with it, but Laura doesn’t. She’s grateful for what she has and is highly motivated.”

Kirshenbaum, an eighth-grader at Alice Buffett Magnet Middle School in the Omaha Public School District, admits to being a fast learner but says her excellent grades in her honors classes don’t come effortlessly. “I work hard for that,” she says.

And she definitely prefers some subjects over others. “My top subject would definitely be math,” she says. “But I love science, too: chemistry, physics, and astronomy.”

Kirshenbaum has no shortcuts to academic success to share, she says. Being a good student means being diligent: finishing the assignments, completing the reading, following directions. It also helps to have good organizational skills that ensure she’s always prepared. “I turn homework in on time and I try to stay on top of things,” she explains. “I’m proud of that.”

She even enjoys learning outside of the classroom, watching informational YouTube channels in her spare time, and competing in multiple academic events like Quiz Bowl, Science Bowl, Math Counts, Academic Pentathlon, and Book Blasters. She has an artistic side, too, that brings some balance to student life—Kirshenbaum is active in dance (ballet, modern, and jazz) and plays the violin, even performing in the orchestra pit for Omaha Public Schools’ summer musical Peter Pan in 2016.

“I also do a lot of acting,” she adds. “I’ve been in a lot of the school plays, and I’ve done some community theater as well.”

She’s even managed to make time for volleyball and local volunteering at a food bank and a homeless shelter. Two summers ago, she was a classroom helper at Jackson Elementary School. Because she’s an honors student, she is also eligible to tutor fellow students. “I like being able to help others,” she says.

Kirshenbaum says her future plans absolutely include college, which her mother and father (Matt Kirshenbaum) like to hear. It may be a little early to start choosing a particular institution, but judging by the scholarly aptitude she’s demonstrated so far, it’s clear that she’s going to be able to take her pick of schools—and programs of study—upon graduation four years from now.

“I see myself becoming a chemist,” she says. “Or a college professor in math or science.”

This article was printed in the Winter 2017 edition of Family Guide.

Elizabeth Byrnes

November 20, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Students come up to me in the halls and ask when the pantry is going to stock toothbrushes…Toothbrushes…What they’re coming in for, it’s not just food they need, but basic items to survive and help their family.”

-Elizabeth Byrnes

Tucked away in a discreet supply room at Ralston High School, beyond the steel lockers and crowded classrooms, Elizabeth Byrnes is stocking nonperishable goods.

While classmates hurry to first period at 7:30 a.m., Byrnes shuffles paperwork, counts inventory, coordinates volunteer shifts, and organizes pick-ups and drop-offs for the school’s food pantry.

Byrnes is not your typical teenager. Sure, she’s a 17-year-old cheerleader who gabs on a smartphone and loves to shop at American Eagle. But this 5-foot-6-inch brown-eyed beauty takes her community service seriously.

So when she saw a sign last year advertising the school’s free food pantry, titled the R-Pantry, Byrnes decided to check it out.

“I didn’t know it was needed,” she says.

On that particular day, she visited the small closet of a lecture room where teachers had been operating a makeshift pantry that allowed students in need to shop anonymously for food, toiletries, and other supplies inside the high school.

Roughly 60 percent of students at Ralston Public Schools receive free or reduced-rate meals.

To create a healthy pantry, teacher Dan Boster says the Ralston High staff noticed the need and donated nonperishable items and the seed money—roughly $800 worth—in exchange for casual dress days.

“Once the pantry was created, we handed it off to the students,” says Boster, who also serves as National Honor Society adviser and oversees the pantry project.

Byrnes acquired the larder responsibility and has helped it evolve from the small closet of a lecture hall into a spacious supply room with large tower shelves brimming with food as diverse as artichoke hearts, fruit snacks, and granola bars.

Byrnes has grown the one-person operation to having 70 volunteers on deck to assist when needed. She has presented before the Ralston Chamber of Commerce when soliciting for donations and has advocated and made Ralston High an official Food Bank of the Heartland donation site.

She describes the families who utilize the pantry as living break-even lifestyles, existing paycheck-to-paycheck, with little left over for simple luxuries such as lip balm or toilet paper. Students from such families experience a lot of stress and anxiety over where their next meal is coming from, she adds.

“I saw how education is extremely difficult to get, especially if there’s a need in the household,” Byrnes says. “Students come up to me in the halls and ask when the pantry is going to stock toothbrushes…toothbrushes…What they’re coming in for, it’s not just food they need, but basic items to survive and help their family.”

Food insecurity—which means that people lack access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle—can be invisible, she explains. “Not knowing if there will be dinner on Friday night or lunch on Saturday.”

The R-Pantry idea is a positive response to a really challenging situation: student hunger. It is not the ultimate solution, but it is a start.

“I have so much respect and admiration for these students who are asking for help to support their
families.”

Byrnes excels in calculus, biology, and creative writing. She serves on DECA, is a class officer, and participates in National Honors Society. She enjoys running, hiking, and playing with her two dogs—Sophia and Jack.

Byrnes credits her family for always influencing her to do what’s best and help those in need. Dad (Robert E. Byrnes) is a doctor. Mom (Mary Byrnes) is a mortgage banker. Brother (Kent Keller) is a police officer.

“Her empathy for people runs very deep,” her mother says.

However, the driven teen doesn’t always communicate well with mom and dad, jokes her mother: “She was never one to seek glory. We didn’t know how involved she had been in the pantry until she was recognized. When she made homecoming court, we didn’t know about it until people began congratulating us.”

Mom adds, “She moves through life as if this is just a job. Helping others is just what she does.”

Byrnes plans to attend a four-year university next year and major in biology. She’d like to someday become a cosmetic dentist or dermatologist.

Byrnes encourages other young people: “If you see something you could change or help out, don’t be afraid to jump in there. You could change someone’s life with your one small action.”

The R-Pantry at Ralston High School (8969 Park Drive), is open on Fridays after school until 4 p.m. To volunteer, contact the school at 402-331-7373.

This article was printed in the Winter 2016 edition of Family Guide, an Omaha Publications magazine.

Footloose

June 26, 2015 by

This article appears in June 2015 edition of Her Family.

Perhaps there is no age that can appreciate the joys of summer more than the teens. Swimsuit weather, no homework, driving privileges…finally. Even those older teenagers with jobs have time and freedom unlike during the school year. It is a glorious time in which lifelong memories are made.

But getting there safely takes a little planning and, perhaps, good ideas and a little encouragement from mom or dad.

Left to their own devices, it would be easy for many teens to quickly fall into negative patterns once the last bell sounds on the school year. While there’s certainly a place for sleeping in, lazy days, and video game marathons, no one, including your teen, is going to feel good about a summer in which nothing else is accomplished. Or, as they might say the week before school starts, “I feel like I wasted my whole vacation.”

Or, even worse, they have too much freedom, leading to trouble or tragedy.

In the Omaha area, there are many options for teens to get involved. If you haven’t already talked with your student about creating a plan for how they will spend their break, you still can.

Many of the big-three choices are already determined by this time: summer employment, summer school, or other school-related activities like athletics or band camp. It may not be too late for your teen to still find a job, but the longer they wait, the harder it may be for them to find something they like that will be flexible enough for their other summer activities.

If a job is not an option, there are other ways to encourage your teen to stay somewhat productive and busy. Look for volunteer opportunities. Even if they are not ongoing, having established projects will keep kids active and learning. Check with your place of worship, your school—even your own workplace might provide opportunities for teens to volunteer.

Teen driving fatalities start going up in June and peak in August.

Local nonprofits have their own rules about their volunteer workforce. Special rules apply when working directly with clients, but in Omaha especially, non-profit organizations hold events nearly every weekend and can always use willing workers to help. Fundraising events like golf tournaments, 5K runs, or auctions generally rely on volunteer power to be successful. Projects like these are terrific ways for older teens to strengthen their resumes for college or future employment.

Just setting a minimum standard or goal for the summer is a step forward for many kids. For example, one goal might be that your child will be responsible for getting dinner on the table twice each week, plus keeping the yard mowed and trimmed—whatever makes sense in your home. The idea is that your teen is not left with endless and empty days to fill with no direction or support.

Parents should also be aware that summer—not winter—is by far the most dangerous time for teen drivers. Teen driving fatalities start going up in June and peak in August. You may want to have a conversation that revisits basic safe driving rules about having additional teens in the vehicle, drinking and driving, texting and driving, and frankly, unnecessary driving.

Above all, cherish the time you still have with your children at home. Enjoy the adults they are becoming, and do what you can to help them get there—happily and safely.

BevCarlson

JoysofSummer

After the Storm

September 22, 2014 by
Photography by Sara Lemke

Justin Niss spent the day before the Fourth of July out in the sunshine. But he wasn’t hanging out with buddies or lounging at the lake. Niss spent a long, hot day volunteering to clean up tornado damage in Pilger, Neb.

“I just wanted to help,” says the 17-year-old aspiring Eagle Scout from Troop 558, who has also signed on with the United States Marine Corps. With a group of fellow recruits, Niss worked hours in the heat wearing long pants, work boots and heavy gloves, tearing down a partially destroyed storage structure piece by piece.

“There was some pretty heavy metal,” says Niss, a senior at Elkhorn High School. “There were ceiling braces, and those were really heavy.”

His Boy Scout experience helped prepare him for the task, he says.

“I knew the basics on how to clean something up and fix things and put new things in spaces,” he says. “So I just kind of put that experience in a new context.”

District Executive Tracy Yost, with the Diamond Dick District (part of the Boy Scouts of America Mid-America Council, the same council Omaha-area troops are part of), says volunteering is second nature to a Boy Scout.

“We go back to, ‘Do a good turn daily’—one of the Scout mottos. We leave no trace. That’s a Scout concept: Leave the place better than we found it,” says Yost, who oversaw the Pilger volunteering efforts of the region’s Boy Scouts. “These kids have such a sense of giving back to the community at such a young age.”

Yost’s district serves an eight-county area in northeast Nebraska, including Pilger and other communities and rural areas affected by the June tornadoes.

“Some of these places have been wiped clean,” she says. “It’s so emotional, everybody in the community seems to know somebody who has taken a direct hit and a loss.”

Yost says that Scouts from the immediate area stepped up to help right away, quickly followed by out-of-towners like Niss.

“In a situation like this, they don’t care what they’re earning for badges; it’s kind of like an instinct in them,” Yost says, adding that organizers were able to find work for even the younger Scout volunteers.

“There are fields that have debris spread all over and they have to be walked,” Yost says. “It’s getting your hands down and dirty. You just have no idea until you actually, physically go see it in person what damage has been done. The debris—everywhere.”

Niss, who says his parents “were all for it” when he asked for their consent to volunteer, went willingly into Pilger despite not knowing exactly what would be asked of him.

“I’d seen the pictures right after (the tornadoes) happened, so when we actually got there, it looked a lot better than I thought. There’s like nothing left of the town, but there’s not rubble everywhere. It’s a lot of plain lots,” he says. “They’re making progress, but there’s still a lot left to do,” he says.

Niss says he feels good about helping in Pilger, and was also pleased to find himself in good company.

“While we were there, there were always people driving around and helping others; there were five or six people who stopped and helped us take the building down. We had people stop and give us water while we were working,” Niss says. “It was surprising how many people were there helping. It was amazing.”

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Volunteer Advice from a Pro

September 20, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Did you watch more than an hour of the Weather Channel today? Do you put less than 25 miles on your car in any given week? Do you approach crossword puzzles with such confidence—and frequency—that you dare to solve them in ink?

There’s no reason that senior living can’t be active living. And there’s no better solution to “stir crazy” than to get out there and volunteer.

Ann Hosford is a seasoned volunteer who serves on the board of the Omaha Parks Foundation. She was a founding member of the Girls Club (now Girls Inc.) and has previously served on the boards of Fontenelle Forest and Community Alliance, among others. We checked in with Hosford for her Top Five tips on how to live a richer and more rewarding life through volunteering.

Keep it Local

Volunteering can begin at your front door. “Join your neighborhood association,” says Hosford, previously the multi-term president of the Metcalfe-Harrison Neighborhood Association. “That’s a great and easy place to start. What better way to build stronger communities than with your neighbors?”

Matchmaking

There’s a nonprofit out there that speaks to almost any interest. The key is to find something that fits your passions and personality, says Hosford. “Are you, for example, really into gardening, but you live in an apartment? There’s plenty of volunteer opportunities for people who think green,” or any other color.

Go Small

Don’t overlook new or smallish nonprofits. “I made perhaps some of my most impactful contributions,” Hosford says, “when I served on the board of the [smallish nonprofit] Omaha Hearing School. Smaller groups need just about everything in terms of support. Your work there in any role you play can really make a difference.”

A Family Affair

“I started volunteering when I was young and my mother was volunteering,” Hosford says. Include your children and grandkids in the great tradition of helping others. “It’s great modeling behavior. And volunteers always have such great stories to tell.” Those stories are even better when such shared experiences serve to add deeper and more meaningful levels of family connectedness.

Two’s Company

Are you a little shy? Can new people, places, and experiences be a little intimidating? “Use the buddy system,” Hosford advises. “Volunteer with a friend. You’ll
have a great time!”

Act Today!

Need more ideas to stir your imagination? The United Way of the Midlands maintains an online directory with scores of volunteer opportunities. Check out the “Volunteer” tab at unitedwaymidlands.org.

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Boxes of Cheer

January 5, 2014 by
Photography by Justin Barnes

Northwestern Mutual employees recently teamed with the Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Foundation to deliver 170 boxes of cheer to children suffering from cancer and other ailments.

“Look, Mom, it’s a glow sword!” 5-year-old Sammy Nahorny chirps as he digs through a bright green Cheeriodicals box packed to the brim with smile-inducing toys, crafts, and more. Sammy, who lives in Columbus, is battling neuroblastoma.

His mother, Erin, is the recipient of her own Cheeriodicals box, this one loaded with reading materials (including Omaha Magazine and HerFamily) along with other grown-up goodies. “We haven’t seen a smile like that on Sammy’s face in three or four days.” She beams as her son shifts his attention to adorning his fingers with light rings and laser talons. “Whoever came up with this idea is a genius,” she adds. “What a fabulous boost it is to have you here doing this for Sammy.”

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Cheeriodicals is a web-based company offering a wide array of customizable gift boxes for all seasons and reasons. The boxes delivered that day were carefully curated so that each child would receive age- and gender-specific surprises. Two Men and a Truck donated its time and people to transport the treasures to the hospital.

“This was a wonderful event that brought our team together to help give back to the community and spend time with so many special children and their families at Children’s Hospital,” says Michael Tews, managing partner of Northwestern Mutual of Nebraska. “We were honored to have the opportunity to bring a smile to so many families.”

“It was amazing that Northwestern Mutual could join us in this way,” says Alyssa DeFrain, development officer of the Foundation. “We could tell they had a great time getting to know our young patients, but what they didn’t get to see was that those little green boxes continued to bring big cheer to the kids and families for many days after the event.”

Lutheran Family Services

October 30, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lutheran Family Services President and CEO Ruth Henrichs remembers meeting a young man a year ago who had a tattoo on his lower arm that read “Born to Lose.” When she asked him about it, he told her that life had always been against him—that he had been “born to lose.” That was, of course, until he came to LFS, he said.

“There are lots of people who come to LFS on a daily basis who have this sort of invisible tattoo on their hearts that says ‘Born to Lose,’” Henrichs says. “I want them to leave here after receiving help with a different invisible tattoo.”

Strengthening the individual, the family, and the community is how LFS intends to change those heart tattoos. And that’s exactly the mission the organization has followed since its humble beginnings in 1892.

“When you work somewhere like LFS, no matter how difficult the day is, you always go home knowing that someone’s life was changed because you came to work.” —Ruth Henrichs

Over its many years within the Omaha community, LFS has grown into a faith-based nonprofit providing multiple services in over 30 locations across Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas to over 35,000 individuals annually regardless of age, race, religion, or income. In other words, just because it’s called Lutheran Family Services doesn’t mean you have to be Lutheran to receive aid.

Mental health counseling, sexual abuse treatment, substance abuse treatment, foster care, adoption, pregnancy counseling, family support services, immigrant and refugee services—they do it all and more for people 
in need.

“When you work somewhere like LFS, no matter how difficult the day is, you always go home knowing that someone’s life was changed because you came to work,” says Henrichs, who worked as a pregnancy and adoption counselor, a marriage and family therapist, and Interim CEO with LFS before she became its leader in 1985.

She believes LFS’ work is part of the fabric of the community. For many years, nonprofits used to work alone, focusing only on their own work. Now, however, many organizations, including LFS, embrace the idea of uniting their limited resources with other organizations’ limited resources to provide a bigger impact.

“There’s a rich diversity of nonprofits in the Omaha community, and we all offer difference services. Together, we have a collective impact. It’s important that we all work cooperatively so that our community can be strong. Communities are only as strong as their weakest link. Everyone has problems in life. Sometimes, those problems are so great that people need the help of the community. When the community helps those people, it strengthens the community as a whole.”

Nancy K. Johnson, volunteer and president of LFS’ Forever Families Guild, agrees. “Children are the future, as cliché as it sounds,” she says. “If, for example, we can get in there and help a single parent learn to be a better parent, that trickles down into our community to make it stronger.”

“We work with families and children to increase academic performance and help with obstacles, like attendance, to make sure the students are doing well with their education.” —Nellie Beyan

Johnson, who also works in real estate as the senior vice president of CBRE-MEGA, was introduced to LFS about 15 years ago through Adoption Links Worldwide, which later aligned with LFS. She began attending fundraising events for the organization and met Cheryl Murray, who was the executive director of Adoption Links at that time. “I really admire Cheryl a lot. She’s passionate and dedicated to the cause of helping young women and children. She’s one of those kinds of gals that you can’t say no to,” she laughs.

Clearly, Johnson couldn’t say no to Murray, now a development officer and guild liaison for LFS, because she was drawn into more volunteer work with LFS. “I started volunteering more for them, and I became the president for LFS’ Forever Families [Guild].”

As the guild president, Johnson works to increase fundraising and gain more exposure through other organizations. “There’s an organization called CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) that I’ve been involved with before through my real estate work. So I mentioned the Forever Families Guild to them, and they’ve picked the guild up as their philanthropy of choice for the next year.

“People are always afraid to volunteer because they think it takes too much time or money, but it really is simple…LFS can do a lot on limited funds and time because the group is so passionate.”

One such passionate supporter is Nellie Beyan, who works as a Family Support Liaison with LFS in the Omaha community and the Omaha Public Schools district.

“We work with families and children to increase academic performance and help with obstacles, like attendance, to make sure the students are doing well with their education,” Beyan says. “OPS has a large population of Burmese refugees [the Karen] that we work with, too.”

Working with refugees and immigrants comes easily for Beyan because she, herself, is an Omaha transplant. She moved in April 2000 from her home country of Liberia to work as an international volunteer with LFS. Later, she enrolled at University of Nebraska-Omaha to get her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work with the help of sponsors Mr. and Mrs. Howard Hawks and Mr. and Mrs. Jeff Alseth.

“I underwent a similar experience and hardships that most non-Americans undergo when they first come to America…I can put myself in their shoes because I know exactly what it’s like to come into a country with a new culture and new way of life, leaving family behind. It’s a difficult thing, the assimilation process. It’s very gradual, but it’s made easier by the available resources.”

“People are always afraid to volunteer because they think it takes too much time or money, but it really is simple.” —Nancy K. Johnson

Beyan likes working with LFS because she feels that the organization is everywhere in the community. “Imagine what Omaha would be like without LFS,” she muses. “I can’t even picture that. Without all that they have to offer, especially for all of the immigrants and refugees, people would be totally lost.”

Understanding just how many people in the community rely on LFS, Henrichs and the Board of Directors are taking major steps to improve LFS’ outreach and work in Omaha.

“Whether we’re talking children’s needs or refugee and immigrant needs, we’ve recently decided our focus in the program development should be primarily on prevention and early intervention,” she explains. “Many services are ‘fire truck’ in that they respond when a crisis happens. We need to become ‘smoke detectors’ and catch issues before they become bigger problems.”

Another improvement? They’ve been at their 24th & Dodge location for more than a decade, and they’ve slowly been acquiring the city block between Dodge and Douglas streets in order to renovate and build more space. “Many that we serve are in the heart of the city,” Henrichs says. “We’re going to stay right here.”

And here is exactly where the community wants them to stay.

Lutheran Family Services will host their annual Wicker & Wine® Basket Auction fundraiser on Nov. 7 at Mid-America Center (One Arena Way) in Council Bluffs, Iowa, from 5-7:30 p.m. Tickets are $40. For more information, visit lfsneb.org or call 402-342-7038.

Community Service

October 29, 2013 by

I don’t feel that most teenagers have anything against community service. We just don’t know how to go about it.

When you’re my age, the benefits of community service far outweigh the negatives. You can have fun with your friends while doing something that helps out the people in your life that you may not come into contact with that often, but who are important nonetheless.

When I look for volunteer work, I think of two things: How does this help the group I’m volunteering for, and how much are my accomplishments going to be valued? Everything that’s done to pitch in matters, but sometimes, if I don’t feel that my contributions are going toward a goal, it’s hard to keep track of why I’m volunteering in the first place.

Despite the clichéd sayings about volunteer work, my reasons for choosing to volunteer have always been selfish. Is it shallow of me to admit that I enjoy the welling up of pride in my chest from a job well done and knowing that I helped someone in the process?

Self-satisfaction is as good a reason as any to pitch in for the community’s sake. There are always opportunities for teens to get out there. My advice would be to find something that appeals to you—something that you can get fulfillment out of—and pursue it. That way, when the time comes that you are asked to do community service for school or other organizations, you know exactly what you like to do.

When you’ve figured out what you like to do for community service, stick with it. No one will ever tell you that you have to branch out with your volunteering. As long as you’re able to find a volunteering experience that is rewarding to you, everyone will end up happy—you included.

Derek Nosbisch is a student at 
Millard North High School

Filling Mom’s Shoes

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Daughters become inspired, motivated, and awed by their mothers as they see them dash out the door on a volunteer mission time after time. They often follow in their footsteps.

But as daughters trail mothers down the volunteer road, they’re finding the path has veered. More women in the workplace means a different approach to volunteering. Meetings once scheduled for mornings are now scheduled for noon so volunteers can return to jobs. An e-mail sent at midnight is now more likely to happen.

How volunteers schedule their time has changed. The dedication and sense of responsibility that daughters learn from mothers has not. Here we share four stories about the gift mothers give daughters that keeps on giving —the gift of volunteering.

Gail Yanney & Lisa Roskens

Gail Yanney became an anesthesiologist in the 1960s when few women held careers. At the time, the consensus was that working women didn’t have time to volunteer. (We know better now.) But she soon became one of Omaha’s most active volunteers.

Her volunteering career began while she was a busy student at UNMC College of Medicine. Invited to join Junior League, she asked permission from her department head.

“He said, ‘Physicians need to be part of their community,’” remembers Gail, who is now retired.

Passionate about the environment, she was a teacher naturalist at Fontenelle Forest on her day off. Gail is also a founder of the Women’s Fund of Omaha.

 “I was inspired by my mother, who did things women didn’t do then. If you’re not influenced by your parents, you’re not paying attention.” – Lisa Roskens

With her husband, Michael Yanney, she received the Spirit of Nebraska Award from the Eppley Cancer Center last year.

Gail’s daughter, Lisa Roskens, learned from her mom. “I was inspired by my mother, who did things women didn’t do then. If you’re not influenced by your parents, you’re not paying attention.”

Lisa is chairman of the board, president, and CEO at the Burlington Capital Group, a company founded by her father, who partners with his wife in philanthropy. Volunteering is a family affair at the Roskens’ house where Lisa’s husband, Bill, and their two children join in. They rally around animals and kids and have helped at the Nebraska Humane Society and at Take Flight Farm.

Lisa tries to pass on to Charlie, 13, and Mary, 10, what her mother passed on to her. “We try to instill that sense of giving back as an obligation to being a citizen in a community. I don’t tell them what charities to support, but foster independence.

“Mom said the only thing you get out of life is what you give away.”

Sharon Marvin Griffin & Melissa Marvin

Sharon Marvin Griffin and her daughter, Melissa Marvin, have received many of Omaha’s top honors for volunteering. For Sharon, they have included Arthritis Woman of the Year, Ak-Sar-Ben Court of Honor, Salvation Army Others Award, and United Way of the Midlands Volunteer of the Year, among others. For Melissa, awards have included the 2010 YWCA Women of Distinction and honors from the Omaha Junior Chamber of Commerce.

Each has been involved in more than 40 charitable activities over a lifetime. Each presently serves on 10 nonprofit boards. Coincidence? Not likely. Melissa has inherited her mother’s zest for volunteering.

“Mom is a professional volunteer,” says Melissa. “No. 1 is the importance of giving back. No. 2 is the importance of how to be a leader, how to work together in teams. I try to emulate that.”

“Mom is a professional volunteer…I try to emulate that.” – Melissa Marvin

Melissa remembers her first volunteer experience at age 7. She and brother Barney, then age 2, delivered Christmas gifts to shut-ins. “We looked on it as an honor,” she says.

The family, including her father, Sam Marvin, who died in 1997, together rang bells for The Salvation Army.

The mother and daughter also have in common busy careers. Sharon, who is married to Dr. William Griffin, has had a 25-year career in real estate at NP Dodge. Melissa is with the Cohen Brown Management Group and is director of Community Engagement for Metropolitan Community College.

Mom has the final word: “The more you give, the more you grow.”

Susan Cutler, Jeanie Jones & Jackie Lund

Susan Cutler has big fans in her daughters.

“I watch all the friends Mom has made and the rewards you get from giving. I have huge shoes to fill,” says Jeanie Jones. “I don’t think she realizes how big those shoes are.”

Those shoes took the first steps to volunteering in her hometown of Council Bluffs, where Susan lived with her husband, Bill Cutler, a funeral director. They moved to Omaha in 1987. “When I started volunteering, I learned so much about my community,” she says.

She volunteered at her children’s schools. “I wanted to meet other parents, learn what was happening,” says Susan, who was a third-grade teacher earlier in her life. She presently is on the board of directors of the Methodist Hospital Foundation and Children’s Hospital Foundation and is co-chairman for Joslyn Art Museum’s 2013 Gala.

“I have huge shoes to fill. I don’t think [Mom] realizes how big those shoes are.” – Jeanie Jones

Her daughters have their own impressive resume of community service.

“I remember Mom was involved in Ak-Sar-Ben when I was in sixth and seventh grades. I had to go to stuff and didn’t like it,” laughs daughter Jackie Lund. The mother of two children is owner of Roots & Wings Boutique in Omaha. But Jackie now goes to “stuff” and enjoys it. She is guild board treasurer of the Omaha Children’s Museum.

“I met some of my best friends through volunteer work,” says daughter Jeanie, who has three children. She serves in leadership positions for such groups as Clarkson Service League, Ak-Sar-Ben, Joslyn Art Museum, and Girls, Inc.

Susan said she didn’t try to influence her daughters. “Your children do what they watch, not what you say.” She continues her devotion to volunteering. “You learn about yourself, as well as about the community. It all comes back to you more than you can ever imagine.”

Sharon McGill & Kyle Robino

Kyle Robino remembers as a child slapping stickers on hundreds of mailings for charities. That was her first exposure to the world of volunteering with her mother, Sharon McGill.

Their family’s tradition of volunteering has been passed down from generation to generation. Sharon inherited the volunteering gene from her mother, who helped establish the Albuquerque Garden Center, and from her grandmother, a strong force in her rural New Mexico community. “I looked back at their lives and learned how they made things better for others,” she says.

Sharon brought along her talents as a ballet dancer when she moved to Omaha in 1968. Not surprisingly, her first volunteer act was helping to build a professional ballet company. A dancer, teacher, board president, and, later, ballet mistress for Ballet Omaha, Sharon took her two daughters along. They attended ballet classes and absorbed the essence of volunteering from watching their mother. She now serves on the Joslyn Castle board.

“I think people who volunteer clearly had mothers who were great role models. My mom was a great role model.” – Kyle Robino

Kyle and her sister, Gwen McGill, who resides in Napa Valley, Calif., are following in their mother’s ballet shoes.

The JDRF is the center of Kyle’s volunteer work. Five years ago, her older daughter, Olivia, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Kyle’s husband, Mike, is board president of the JDRF Heartland Chapter.

“As you get older, you figure out what your passions are and what causes are personal to you,” says Kyle, who owns Old Market Habitat flower shop. “I think people who volunteer clearly had mothers who were great role models,” she says. “My mom was a great role model.”

Kyle is now a role model for a possible fifth generation of volunteers—daughters Olivia, 14, and Ava, 7. These young ladies will have big shoes to fill, too.