Tag Archives: Omaha Jaycees

Organization Cornerstones Working for Change

January 20, 2020 by
Photography by provided

Featured Image: top row, Sarah Sjolie, Liz Codina, Ashlei Spivey; middle row, Rachel Fox, Dominique Morgan, Lacey Studnicka, Eric Crawford; bottom row, Kelsey Haswell, Andrew Aleman, and Jodi Benenson.

Since 1933, the Omaha Jaycees each year have honored the best of the city’s young professionals with the Ten Outstanding Young Omahans award.

The awardees typically are drawn from smaller firms in the city, but this year the winners come from some of the most “cornerstone” establishments in Omaha, said Nathan Jones, president of the Omaha Jaycees.

Also, there often is a clear divide between the awardees’ professional and philanthropic work, but this year that is generally not the case.

“This is one of our most interesting groups,” Jones said. “A lot of these people are boots on the ground [types], and they are actively working for the change they are seeking.”

The group includes two staffers of the Peter Kiewit Foundation, the CEO of the Heart Ministry Center in North Omaha, and a public administration professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Jones said the purpose of the award is to recognize people who are trying to make a difference, who may not be as readily known as their older colleagues, and who are breathing new life into the city.

“We think young professionals are sometimes overlooked because they are early in their career and may not be doing the momentous things people later in their career and (who have) more resources may have,” he said.

The awardees are more diverse than prior classes, though diversity is not necessarily taken into account when selecting winners. Jones said he was thrilled by how distinctive the group is.

“We’re elated at the individuals who have been selected and I think our award shows that anyone, no matter what the background, can do great things,” he said.

Liz Codina, one of this year’s winners, echoed that sentiment. She said she hopes the diversity of this group will encourage people in Omaha to think about the makeup of their own organizations.

“It’s incredibly amazing to me to see such a diverse group of leaders that has been named in this year’s TOYO class, and I think our community thrives because of the…perspective of these leaders,”
she said.

Codina is a program officer at the Peter Kiewit Foundation. She does outside work with the Metro Young Latino Professionals Association and the South Omaha Business Association.

“Nebraska and parts of Omaha are rapidly changing, and I think there are still systems in place that prevent some of this work to happen. But I think when you look at the on-the-ground work that the communities of color are doing…there is an amazing opportunity to make some change,” she said.

Like Codina, Ashlei Spivey, 33, is a program officer at Peter Kiewit Foundation. Much of her work is focused on combating racism.

An Omaha native, Spivey went to college at Jackson State University in Mississippi—a historically black university—and earned an M.S. from University of Texas at Arlington. These and other experiences bring her a different perspective.

“I lead with my blackness and how that shows up for me is really important,” she said. “I was able to see things and gain a perspective that I never would have had I stayed here in Omaha.”

Lacey Studnicka, 38, senior director for community engagement and outreach at Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, became passionate about helping refugees after living in India as a Rotary exchange student for a year after high school.

“When I returned, I really had a passion for working with people with diverse backgrounds and from all over the world. I sought out Lutheran Family Services because they are the largest refugee resettlement agency in Nebraska,” she said.

The community is very supportive of refugees, she added. “Omaha has a legacy of being a place of welcome and we have overwhelming support and engagement throughout Nebraska, and in
Omaha especially.”

Eric Crawford, 37, is the CEO of the Heart Ministry Center in North Omaha. He is the son of an Omaha police officer and an Omaha Public Schools principal, so the ethic of serving the public has always been part of his life. The ministry helps the impoverished, with the motto of “Dignity
for all.”

“If you are coming to the center to use our services you are probably not having the best day of your life,” he said. “We want to make sure you have a dignified, respectful experience.”

Unlike many of the awardees, Jodi Benenson, 37, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha School of Public Administration, is not originally from Omaha, but is grateful the city has welcomed her.

Benenson started Women in Public Policy Week at UNO and speaks to high school students about voting as part of the Chuck Hagel Symposium in Public Service.

“Young people want to find issues that they are passionate about in their day jobs, but also want to make a living wage,” she said. “We are probably going to see young peoples’ day jobs not be so disconnected from other things in their lives.”

To purchase tickets to TOYO’s Feb. 4 banquet, go to: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/toyo-awards-banquet-tickets-83573493569.

This article was printed in the February/March 2020 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Sexual Justice Warrior

December 21, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sex videos are popular on the internet. Even academic ones. Just ask Dr. Sofia Jawed-Wessel, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s School of Health & Kinesiology.

Her 2016 TEDx talk has been viewed more than 2.5 million times online. In the lecture, Jawed-Wessel discusses society’s objectification of women as tools of men’s sexual pleasure (with little value placed on their own satisfaction), and how this view dramatically changes during pregnancy to one of non-sexual beings whose sole purpose is reproduction.

She has become an internationally recognized expert in her field of research. In November 2018, Jawed-Wessel traveled to Islamabad, Pakistan, to present the keynote address at the country’s National Institute of Psychology annual conference.

“My niche area of research focuses on understanding the sexual health of women and couples as they transition into parenthood by documenting sexual behaviors, sexual function, relationship adjustment, and sexual changes during pregnancy and after childbirth,” she explains.

On top of her professorship, Jawed-Wessel is the associate director of the Midlands Sexual Health Research Collaborative. She also holds a joint appointment with the Women and Gender Studies program at UNO and a courtesy appointment in the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Her teachings utilize a sex-positive and pleasure-inclusive approach to providing medically accurate, comprehensive sexuality education to her undergraduate students.

Jawed-Wessel, 35, didn’t initially set her sights on becoming a sex researcher. The daughter of Pakistani immigrants, she was born in the U.S. and raised with three siblings in a traditional family in Indiana.

“My mom stayed at home and my father worked multiple jobs,” she says. “We were a working-class family.”

Seeing her parents struggle likely prompted the inquisitive youngster to make education a priority. She went on to earn three bachelor’s degrees—in biology, psychology, and English—from Indiana University.

She volunteered as an assistant in a few labs and says she “fell in love” with sex science. “The specific focus on sex during and after pregnancy came to me as my relationship with feminism grew,” she adds. “I did not like how we divorce sexuality and motherhood, and the more I worked with pregnant women, I saw how their psyche was impacted by this forced de-sexualization.”

She went on to earn a Master of Public Health and a Ph.D. in health behavior, also from Indiana University, home to the Kinsey Institute (named after its founder, the famous American biologist and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey). She joined the UNO faculty in 2012.

Jawed-Wessel says her long-term research goal is to understand how women’s intimate relationships are impacted by sexual and maternal objectification. She also believes in “conducting research that will help promote women’s and LGBTQ rights and reproductive justice values, and, therefore, science that will support or push back against policy and systems-level change,” she says. With this public engagement in mind, she has provided expert testimony for the Nebraska Unicameral, the Nebraska Board of Education, and the Omaha Public School Board of Education.

For her work, Jawed-Wessel was a 2017 recipient of the Women’s Center for Advancement’s Tribute to Women Award (and was the luncheon’s keynote speaker in 2018). She was also named among the 2017 Ten Outstanding Young Omahans by the Omaha Jaycees.

In 2018, her Midlands Sexual Health Research Collaborative received one of the first Equality Fund grants ($40,000) from the Omaha Community Foundation to conduct work that will increase LGBTQ equality in Omaha. “Community engagement and my research go hand in hand; one without the other means lesser impact,” she says. “I want to see my science put into action.”

When not teaching, conducting research, or traveling for speaking engagements, Jawed-Wessel says she enjoys hosting dinner parties for close friends. “If I cook you an elaborate Pakistani meal, that means I really love you,” she confides. She’s also the proud mom of two young boys, 9 and 3.

Find more information about the Midlands Sexual Health Research Collaborative on Facebook at @unomshrc and Twitter at @1mshrc.

This article was printed in the January/February 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Correction: Dr. Sofia Jawed-Wessel is an “associate professor,” not “assistant professor,” as noted in the print edition. 

2018 January/February Giving Events

December 27, 2017 by
Photography by Contributed

Featured Event:
Feb. 10 (7-9 p.m.)
Dancing With the Omaha Stars
Ralston Arena
It’s back! Omaha stars Tony Veland, Chinh Doan, Jared Robinson, Miss Omaha, and others will strut their stuff in front of a panel of judges that includes Tom Osbourne, Mayor Jean Stothert, and Todd Schmaderer. While the Mirror Ball goes to the dancer who scores the highest, the other revered trophy in this contest is the Bella Award, given to the star who raises the most money for TeamMates.

Jan. 10 (6-9 p.m.)
Outland Trophy Award Dinner
Benefiting: The Greater Omaha Sports Committee
Location: Downtown DoubleTree

Jan. 12 (6-9 p.m.)
Celebration of Life Dinner Fundraiser
Benefiting: Nebraskans United for Life
Location: DC Centre

Jan. 19 (5-7 p.m.)
Victory Boxing Club Seventh Annual Banquet
Benefiting: Victory Boxing Club
Location: Bellevue Christian Center

Jan. 20 (6-10:30 p.m.)
Midlands Community Foundation Reflection Ball
Benefiting: Midlands Community Foundation
Location: Embassy Suites La Vista

Jan. 25 (5-9 p.m.)
Girls Nite Out
Benefiting: Girls Inc.
Location: Hilton Downtown

Jan. 27 (5:30-10 p.m.)
Rockin’ Rosie
Benefiting: The Rose Theater Guild
Location: Omaha Marriott Downtown

Jan. 28 (5-9 p.m.)
Benefiting: Essential Pregnancy Services
Location: Embassy Suites La Vista

Feb. 2 (5-10 p.m.)
MarianFEST 2018: Life is Sweet at Marian
Benefiting: Marian High School
Location: Omaha Hilton

Feb. 3 (9 a.m.-3 p.m.)
Ultra Chic Boutique and The Dress Flip
Benefiting: The Alzheimer’s Association
Location: A View on State

Heart and Stroke Ball

Feb. 3 (5 p.m.-midnight)
Omaha Heart & Stroke Ball
Benefiting: American Heart Association
Location: Embassy Suites La Vista

Feb. 10 (6-9 p.m.)
Carnival of Love Gala
Benefiting: Heartland Family Service
Location: Embassy Suites La Vista

Curly Tails and Cocktails

Feb. 10 (6-10 p.m.)
Curly Tails and Cocktails
Benefiting: Pug Partners of Nebraska
Location: Arbor Hall

Feb. 10 (10 a.m.-1 p.m.)
Heart Bombing
Benefiting: Restoration Exchange Omaha
Location: TBA

Feb. 10 (6-11 p.m.)
Swing Under the Wings
Benefiting: Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum
Location: Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum

Feb. 10 (6:30-10 p.m.)
Winter at the Beach
Benefiting: Wings of Hope
Location: Mid-America Center

Feb. 10 (11 a.m.-1 p.m.)
Polar Plunge
Benefiting: Special Olympics Nebraska
Location: Lake Cunningham

Feb. 10-11 (starts 10 a.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. Sunday)
Heartland Winter Games, Floor Hockey
Benefiting: Special Olympics Nebraska
Location: UNO Campus

Feb. 13 (6-9 p.m.)
Ten Outstanding Young Omahans Banquet
Benefiting: Omaha Jaycees
Location: Scoular Ballroom

Trek up the Tower

Feb. 17 (7 a.m.-noon)
Trek Up the Tower
Benefiting: WELLCOM
Location: First National Bank Tower

Feb. 17 (4:30-10 p.m.)
Mercy: The Gold Standard (Fiesta 2018)
Benefiting: Mercy High School
Location: La Vista Conference Center

Feb. 22-24 (6:30-9 p.m.)
A Tasteful Murder
Benefiting: Joslyn Castle Trust
Location: Joslyn Castle

Feb. 17 (noon-4 p.m.)
Barstool Open
Benefiting: United Cerebral Palsy of Nebraska
Location: The Old Market

Feb. 24 (1-4 p.m.)
Benefiting: Angels Among Us
Location: Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse

Feb. 24 (6 p.m.-midnight)
Country Side of a Cure
Benefiting: JDRF
Location: CenturyLink Center

Perfect Pour

Feb. 24 (7-11 p.m.)
Perfect Pour
Benefiting: Nebraska Children and Families Association
Location: Slowdown

Feb. 25 (1-5 p.m.)
Art & Soup
Benefiting: Visiting Nurse Association
Location: Embassy Suites La Vista

Times and dates subject to change.  Check organization’s websites for updated details.

This article appears as part of the calendar of events in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.