Tag Archives: philanthropist

Karen Sokolof Javitch

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The image of Karen Sokolof Javitch singing and camping it up on YouTube in the music video of her song, “I’m Not Obama’s Babe” doesn’t square with the unassuming, quietly engaging, makeup-less woman who buys flavored water at her favorite coffee shop. Not surprising, since there are many facets to the Omaha native: singer, songwriter, author, playwright, radio host, advocate, teacher, wife, mother, daughter, philanthropist.

Music is actually Karen’s second act. After earning a degree at the University of Texas, she began as a teacher of visually impaired children, a career inspired by her late mother, Ruth Sokolof. “My mother taught blind children for years. Everyone loved her. Film Streams Theater is named after her.”

It wasn’t until Karen’s own three children were in school that her life headed in a different direction. “It was around 1993. I was talking to a friend of mine, Jim Conant, and he said he had just written the book for a musical, but he hadn’t written any of the songs. And I said to him, ‘Um, can I try this?’”

Karen proved to be a natural at writing both the words and the lyrics to 13 songs for the production entitled Love! At The Café! The show ran for about seven weeks at a small venue in Benson. “It was like a faucet turned on in my brain. The lyrics came first, and then I could hear the music in my head to go with them.”

Karen next collaborated with her good friend, local actress and author Elaine Jabenis, to write more shows, including the tribute Princess Diana, The Musical. Another key player in Karen’s success, Chuck Penington of Manheim Steamroller, orchestrates her music. Whether a song is catchy, rhythmic, and Broadway-like, or a touching ballad, Karen’s melodies stay with the listener.

“It was like a faucet turned on in my brain. The lyrics came first, and then I could hear the music in my head to go with them.”

Where did her talent come from? “My father, Phil, was a song-and-dance man before he became a successful businessman. He tried his luck in Chicago when he was 17. He finally realized he couldn’t be the next Frank Sinatra.”

Phil Sokolof would later use some of his fortune from his drywall company to wage a one-man crusade against cholesterol—a decades-long fight that resulted in nutrition information on food packaging.

Karen has written hundreds of songs, penned four musicals, and released 13 CDs, singing on many of them. While she should be swimming in royalties, the Westside High graduate has instead followed her parents’ legacy of giving back to their community.

“All proceeds from my music go to charities, mostly in Nebraska,” says Karen.

Does she make any money at all?

“Well, let’s just say my goal is to break even,” she says with a smile.

Over the past 20 years, Karen has raised over $300,000 in service to others. One project in particular remains dear to her heart. The “Nebraska Celebrities Sing for Sight” CD, for which she wrote most of the music and lyrics and featuring 20 celebrities from the area (including a terrific country vocal from former U.S. Senator Ben Nelson), raised money for visually impaired children. The man who couldn’t compete with Frank Sinatra also sings a track.

“Dad was alive when I started to do my music. He was very proud.”

Karen’s CDs can be found at the Nebraska Furniture Mart or online at CD Baby. Her radio show, “It’s the Beat!” with Jody Vinci, airs Saturdays at noon on KOIL 1290.

Karen Levin

October 20, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When you first meet Karen Levin, you see an attractive, petite, smiling woman whose eyes sparkle with passion—her smile radiates from across the room. She is dynamic and persevering in all that she does and has done for the Omaha community. She is a true visionary in every respect.

Levin is definitely a mission-driven mover and shaker with regard to helping Omaha organizations find development avenues, donors, board members, and volunteers.

Early on, retail involvement was also one of her passions and successes. She and former husband, David, owned the women’s clothing store The Avenue. She was very involved in the day-to-day aspects of the family business.

“Loyal customer associations and interactions for The Avenue were a primary goal of Karen’s, as well as with her charitable pursuits. Her input of energies helped everything come together for the long-term family business,” states David.

Currently, Levin serves as Director of Development for the Colleges of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Nebraska Foundation. She has been with the foundation since 2007. Previously, she worked at the Nebraska Cultural Endowment and Metropolitan Arts Council, on which she still advises.

“I’m all about dreams, passion, mission, generosity, building, and nurturing relationships, gratitude, and education,” Levin says. “My vision of myself is someone that holds the door open for the next person to walk through.

“I joined the University of Nebraska Foundation because I resonate with how we describe our organization. Since 1936, the University of Nebraska Foundation has existed to accomplish one goal, which is to advance the University of Nebraska. While independent from the university, we are intrinsically linked to it, connecting the dreams and passions of donors to the mission of the university, and stewarding donor generosity across its four campuses.

“Everything that I do is done with a labor of love and from the heart.”

“I am honored to be a member of the team that raises money for UNMC. The medical center’s mission is to improve the health of Nebraskans and beyond,” she adds.

“When I hired Karen a number of years ago, she told me that I was getting ‘designer shoes at T.J. Maxx prices.’ She was absolutely correct,” comments Amy Volk, Vice President of the University of Nebraska Foundation. “Karen brought tremendous experience in fundraising to our organization, [as well as] her personal philosophy of generosity to the University of Nebraska Foundation…She gives financially to organizations that she loves, but she also generously gives her time, experience, and compassion for people. All of this giving has enriched the University of Nebraska Medical Center, but it has enriched my work and the work of our entire team at the University of Nebraska Foundation. We are all thankful to have ‘designer shoes.’”

Levin is also a very active member of the Omaha community and a co-founder of the Omaha Children’s Museum, the primary participatory museum in the heart of Downtown Omaha dedicated to engaging the imagination while creating excitement about learning for children—though not many people know just how diligently she worked to get the museum started.

In 1976, Levin saw a need in the community for such a hands-on learning environment. Having previously worked at the Boston’s Children’s Museum, she knew that education for art and creativity was greatly needed for Omaha youth. Initially, she pursued the endeavor by beginning a traveling art program throughout the community. It all began in the trunk of her station wagon. Betty Hiller and Jane Ford Hawthorne were two of her colleagues who helped her bring art activities and creative experiences to children at community centers, libraries, schools, and malls.

Levin goes right to the heart of things as she spurs onward with her quests. She obtains help from local philanthropists, such as Susie Buffett. She even got former Senator Dave Karnes to help her get the Omaha Children’s Museum endeavor rolling.

“Everything that I do is done with a labor of love and from the heart,” Levin says with a smile.