August 19, 2019 by

This July, my husband wanted to organize some family photos sitting in a closet that had become a dumping ground. On the Saturday after the Fourth of July, he organized the photos, but we also reorganized the closet. That started a cleaning spree that has led to us gathering clothes, books, dishes, knickknacks, and other assorted items we do not use or do not want any more. We have also been keeping track of the monetary amounts, as eventually this stuff may end up at a charity shop such as the Salvation Army or Goodwill. Thus far, we have estimated that we have a few thousand dollars worth of stuff, and all it took was a couple of days of cleaning out closets. It’s a feel-good project that anyone can (and probably should) do that will eventually help those in need.

Welcome to the Big Give—Omaha Magazine’s annual special section about charitable giving. This year, we have created an entire magazine around the idea of giving, and we have many great articles for you.

Our main article, “We Built This City,” looks at the ways Omahans have traditionally given to charity, and goes a bit into what is happening with the new generation of philanthropists. We also bring you an article about multi-impact organizations such as SHARE Omaha and Omaha Community Foundation. What at first seems like competing organizations actually are a network of organizations that work together toward a common goal of impacting the entire city.

Another feature article in this magazine is one about the floods, which impacted many people in the area. I know at least two people from the Fremont area who had to stay with relatives this spring when the floods hit, and at least one good friend has lost her home due to the flooding in Pacific Junction, Iowa. This feature looks at the volunteer fire departments of Waterloo and Valley, which spent hours upon hours helping citizens evacuate their respective cities this past spring.

September is a big month for charity in Omaha. Our Giving Calendar of Events features more than 50 events you can attend. One of those events, the Ak-Sar-Ben ball, has been in existence for 124 years and highlights over 100 families who have given to charity through the years. We bring you the names and images of the young Pages who will represent their families at this year’s ball.

We have some great Arts and Culture stories for you this month. Musician Larry Dunn (Lash LaRue) donates his time and energy to his organization Toy Drive for Pine Ridge, which helps provide toys for kids on Pine Ridge Reservation. Chantal Pavageaux uses her performance skills to help with the In[HEIR]itance Project, an organization creating original theater based on interpretations of sacred texts. Visual artist Ang Bennett has donated hours to a variety of organizations, from Habitat to Humanity to Lutheran Family Services. Another visual artist, Richard Chung, is an active member of the Kent Bellows Mentoring Program and WhyArts.

In our dining section, we spotlight Chef Robert Wilson of Stephen Center, Table Grace Ministry, and the restaurant at the Buffett Cancer Center.

Our history article brings you the story of several leaders at Mutual of Omaha, from the Crisses to the Skutts, who have given millions to charity during their tenures. This has led to the creation of the Mutual of Omaha Foundation.

And we spotlight several people who give time and energy to this city and great causes within it.  Shawn Davis has given an outstanding number of hours to community service, working with the Henry Doorly Zoo, the R Pantry at Ralston High School, and many other places.

The Rev. Debra McKnight has a long history of service. Her church, Urban Abbey, is an independent church with Methodist roots. Her love of God and service has led her to create a religious community in the face of resistance, from being open to the LGBTQ community, and as a woman in church leadership.

MLB pitcher Brian Duensing has aligned himself with several childhood cancer causes, and given thousands of dollars over the past few years to helping cure or eradicate these cancers. He lends his name, and sometimes his chest, to raising money.

Omaha’s future philanthropists are already giving what they can to charities, whether that is time or money. Our Obviously Omaha section highlights some organizations that include a Young Professionals Group—from the long-standing Omaha Jaycees to the Urban League of Nebraska.

One article that you will not see in this edition: “Not Funny.” Columnist Otis Twelve has been recovering from surgery, but will be back next round with more insights. We wish him well in recovery. We also wish our friend and former intern Will Patterson well. Will recently graduated from UNO and is headed for Hong Kong for graduate school.

Although the people highlighted in this magazine frequently give big amounts of time or money, you do not have to. Charitable work can be as easy as cleaning out a closet. I hope this issue inspires you to help others, whether that means donating books to Friends of the Public Library so the library can continue to grow or chairing a committee for a large event to help cure ailments.


This letter was printed in the September 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.