Tag Archives: Women’s Fund of Omaha

Women Mentoring Women

November 21, 2018 by
Photography by Contributed

According to a 2016 study done by the Women’s Fund of Omaha, women make up only 19 percent of the board members at S&P 500 companies, and 25 percent of executive or senior level positions at those same companies.

That same study found that 42 percent of women in Nebraska work in management, a better figure yet. And one method of increasing those numbers may be for women to mentor other women in the workplace.

In this abridged roundtable discussion, B2B talks about mentorship with four businesswomen from Omaha—Anne Branigan, senior vice president of Innovative Services at Greater Omaha Chamber; Melissa Farris, marketing manager at Boystown; Sharon Robino-West, community employment coordinator at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Omaha; and Dr. Maria Vazquez, vice president for Student Affairs at Metropolitan Community College.

B2B: As a female mentor, what do you bring young women that benefits them as younger women in the workplace?

Vasquez: I am just in awe of the young women I mentor. They are dynamic, further along than I was at that age.

Farris: I’m open to being OK to saying “I don’t know.” I want you to be able to collaborate. I want you to find the answer to better the team.

Robino-West: To be able to say I am weak in this area and I need your help.

Branigan: The younger women have been able to adapt to technology so well. The acceptance of that new technology, to me, is something else.

Farris: We have grown up with technology. There is an expectation that this is going to work.

B2B: What do you gain from being a mentor to young women?

Vasquez: I like to see them having the confidence to do things, and if they make a mistake they own up to it. I want young women to be their authentic selves. Accepting who they are and what they can contribute to the workplace.

Robino-West: Last year, there was a Girl Scout who has risen through the ranks, and I asked her what she wanted to do after college. She looked right at Fran [Marshall, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska] and said, “I want your job.” That was so empowering.

Branigan: I really enjoy learning from them. You think of mentoring, and you think it’s one way. But I always appreciate someone making me think, or learn something, or showing me a new way to do something.

Farris: I’ve been on the receiving end. I’m still close to one of my mentors from college [Dr. Eileen Wirth of Creighton University]. One thing that always stuck out to me was her availability. The fact that I maintain that relationship 12 years later is a success.

B2B: Can you give us an example of a great experience with mentoring?

Robino-West: I did a TEDx Talk last year, and I partly did it to challenge myself. I didn’t think I’d get picked. It was about healing by writing. I got done, and I got in the elevator, and there was someone right there, wanting to know if I could speak to a different group. Rita [Paskowitz, a TEDx Omaha coach] “get ready, you’ll be asked to speak on a regular basis.” so I could see him paying it forward and spoke out. I thought “Wow—you just never know what kind of an impact you will make.”

Vasquez: About 10 years ago, I was contacted by someone [Amanda Ponce] to speak in a Latina sorority. We stay in contact, and now she works at MCC. Her growth has been quite dynamic. We’ve always collaborated informally, but now we can do so formally as colleagues. That has been rewarding.


This article was printed in the December 2018/January 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

From left: Dr. Maria Vasquez, Melissa Farris, Anne Branigan, Sharon Robino-West

Lorraine Chang

December 13, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lorraine Chang is all about sticking it out—whether it’s winning over skeptical constituents at their doorstep, reorganizing inefficient corporate and government bureaucracy, or even just making it through the 90th minute of a hot yoga class.

Chang currently sits as Chairperson for the Learning Community Coordinating Council’s 3rd District. Entering her third election, Chang said she’s thought about stepping aside, “But given where we are right now, there’s still so much more I want to be a part of getting done,” she says. “It means too much. I really do love what I’m doing and find it very, very rewarding.”

While sitting in a Women’s Fund of Omaha Ready to Run meeting in 2007, a Westside Community Schools board member informed the group about upcoming elections for the newly formed Learning Community. “I found myself writing the pros and cons as she was talking,” Chang said. “It was this automatic reflex of interest.”

Developed during a contentious time in Omaha’s evolving education landscape, Chang said the Learning Community was met with intense skepticism she’s still trying to quell.

“When I would walk door to door, people would say, ‘I don’t want it to be taking over my school and telling my district what to do! They’re doing a great job, what’s the Learning Community going to do that’s going to be better? You’re going to take my tax dollars!’ They had all kinds of imaginative things they came up with, so I’d say, ‘We haven’t even started! This group hasn’t even met yet, so tell me what you want it to be because the possibilities are so great and we can make this something that’s really beneficial to the district.’”

Six years later, Chang says change has been slow, but still effective. The Learning Community has developed a more definitive purpose and mission and is taking aim at closing the learning and achievement gaps across socio-economic landscapes.

“We have contracts with Lutheran Family Services to provide family support workers who are in the schools and work with principals and teachers. If there is a child identified as absent a certain amount of days or who is struggling with some other sort of issue, or academics, those are a sign that there’s something going on. And if it’s something outside the school, like a family situation, like transport, or the family’s having the kid babysit, or whatever it may be, the social worker can help identify what the issues are and get the family the help they need,” Chang adds.

Chang said things are starting to click with the Learning Community. “I think we’re just beginning to realize the full potential of the Learning Community, and that’s the greatest benefit over time.”

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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.