Archive

Archive for the ‘Entrepreneurial’ Category

Omaha’s Old Market: History, Stories, Places, Personalities, Characters


Omaha’s Old Market: History, Stories, Places, Personalities, Characters

 

The Old Market represents different things to different people but it is undeniably one of the few go-to destinations Omaha has to offer. It is a concentrated mish-mash of local culture, though still predominantly a white-bread, precious experience. It could use a healthy dose of diversity and grit, which is to say it could use some broader community representation that brings in some fresh entrepreneurial and cultural experiences and perspectives. But however you feel about it or view it, the Old Market holds some of the richest history in this city and it has been home to a fascinating mix of places, personalities and characters. Here is a compilation of some of my Old Market stories featuring some of that history and some of those venues and figures.

 

One of the biggest champions of Omaha’s Old Market and the history of the place has died.  George Eisenberg devoted much of his life to the historic warehouse district.  As boys and young men he and his brother Hymie worked alongside their father, Benjamin, manning a fruit and vegetable stand when the area was home to the Omaha Wholesale Produce Market.  Later, the brothers revolutionized the family business to become niche suppliers of potatoes and onions to major food processors, operating out of offices in the commercial center.  When the wholesale district declined and largely disbanded altogether the area was transformed into an arts-culture haven and George, who never left and owned substantial property there, became a landlord and an active Old Market Association member.  In his later years he was advocate and amateur historian for the Old Market and proudly led an effort to get decorative street lamps installed and other improvements made. He contributed some anecdotes to a section I wrote on the history of the Old Market for a recent book, Memories of the Jewish Midwest: Mom and Pop Grocery Stores published by the Nebraska Jewish Historical Society.  An excerpt with that section can be found on this blog.  George was one of the last of the go-to sources who personally worked in the Omaha City Market.  He enjoyed reliving that history and as he saw it educating the public about a way of commerce and life that is largely no more.  His enthusiasm for the subject will be missed.  I did the following short profile of George about five years ago for Omaha Magazine and now as fate would have it I will soon be writing an in-memoriam piece about him for the same publication.  That rememberance will join one I wrote about another Old Market legend who died recently, Joe Vitale.  You can find the Vitale story on this blog.

George Eisenberg’s Love for Omaha‘s Old Market Never Grows Old

@by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in Omaha Magazine

Old Market icon George Eisenberg has more than the usual attachment to the historic warehouse district that once was the area’s nexus for produce dealers, buyers and transporters. His late father Benjamin was a peddler in what used to be called the City Market. As boys Eisenberg and his brother Hymie worked alongside their dad in the leased open air sidewalk stalls whose overhead metal canopies still adorn many of the 19th century-era buildings preserved there. Once home to wholesellers and outfitters, the brick structures now house the Old Market’s mix of condos, restaurants, shops, artist studios and galleries.

After serving in the U.S. Army in World War II Eisenberg rejoined his father, delivering items by truck, and by the early ‘60s he’d modernized and expanded the enterprise and bought out papa. In 1972 his brother Hymie partnered with him. Innovations gave the company such a competitive advantage that the brothers were dubbed “the potato and onion kings of the United States” supplying millions of pounds a week to commercial customers across America and into Canada. They made their fortune and retired in 1983. Hymie died in ‘91.

The 83-year-old is proud to be a peddler’s son. He’s also proud of his continuing relationship with the district. He’s a property owner and an active volunteer with the Old Market Business Association and Downtown Omaha Inc.. Eisenberg secured the authentic lamp posts that lend such a distinctive design element to the 10th Street Bridge. He played a key role, too, in making the 11th and Jackson Street parking garage a reality. Downtown Omaha Inc. honored him with its 2007 Economic Development Award.

He’s a model landlord for the tasteful restoration he’s done and solid tenants he’s brought to his 414-418 South 10th Street buildings, properties originally owned by his father for wholesale storage, distribution and offices.

Generous with advice, he’s given counsel to many Old Market entrepreneurs, including Nouvelle Eve/Jackson Artworks owner Kat Moser.

As much as he’s involved in the “new” Old Market’s destination place identity and as much as he supports the emerging SoMa and NoDo developments, he enjoys looking back to the Market’s past. Back when ethnic blue collar produce vendors pitched their wares in the ancient tradition of the open air market. When pockets took the place of cash registers and vendors took a break from 14-hour days by reclining on bales of hay or overturned crates. It was a boisterous, press-the-flesh carnival of men, women and children using sing-song chants to hawk fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers and plants. Shoppers hailed from all walks of life.

A chorus of Eisenberg shouting, “Get your watermelon — red, ripe and sweet watermelon,” blended with the pitch, dicker and banter of hundreds of merchants-customers. Accents were common among the mostly Jewish, Italian and Syrian vendors. “English was the primary language spoken,” he said, but many foreign-born merchants, like his Russian immigrant father, “conversed among themselves in their native tongues. Every ethnic group was represented in one way or another.”

All those peddlers packed in a small space shouting to get customers’ attention created quite a racket. “Our advertisement was our voice,” he said. “It was noisy, yeah.” But that noise was sweet “music.”” Besides, he said, the ruckus and color “were part of the charm of the market.”

Hawking’s not for wallflowers. “If you’re shy you don’t belong in marketing,” he said. Things only quieted down, he said, after a warning from the market master, whose job was to collect monthly fees from vendors and mediate disputes among them. Once gone, the din began again. It was a special time and place.

“It was fun,” Eisenberg said. “There was excitement.”

He said his father steeped him in the market’s history. Ben Eisenberg got into the trade through his father-in-law Solomon Silverman, whose daughter Elsie became Ben’s wife and George and Hymie’s mother. Just as Silverman began as a door-to-door peddler with a horse and wagon, Ben followed suit. Just as Solomon leased stalls in the market, so did Ben. In the early 1900s, Eisenberg learned, a bidding process divvied up the stalls. Some locations were better than others. Getting outbid caused sore feelings and fistfights broke out. The bidding system was disbanded, he said, and exisiting stalls grandfathered in. Ben had four choice spots at the northeast corner of 11th and Jackson as well as his own wholesale house.

In an era before “Thanks for shopping…come again,” he said many vendors lacked good customer relation skills. His dad, though, had a gift with people.

“My dad was a really good salesman and he separated himself from everybody else because he was very polite, businesslike, and his word was his bond. If my dad said, ‘You got it,’ you didn’t need a contract — that’s it.” Eisenberg said.

He said his father “bought and sold in big quantities,” a practice Eisenberg continued. Many of Ben’s grocery-supermarket customers were former peddlers like himself. “My dad knew all the peddlers, so when he got in the wholesale business all the peddlers came to do business with dad. They knew he was going to give them the right price and not insult them.”

Like his father before him, Eisenberg served as vice president of the Omaha Wholesale Fruit Dealers Association, a predecessor of the Old Market Business Association. In some ways he’s still hawking, still looking after the best interests of his beloved Old Market. “I love business. I love marketing. I welcome anybody who wants to hang up their shingle and start their business.” He embraces the growing community there. “That’s the district’s salvation — it’s a neighborhood now.”

_____________________________________________


photo

Oh, for the days when there was almost literally a grocery store on every corner and a movie theater in every neighborhood.  I only know those days through articles, books, movies, photographs, and reminiscences and I am sure the reality did not match my romanticism about them.  As fate would have it, the Mom and Pop grocery phenomenon I only got a glimmer of during my childhood became the subject of an assignment I was offered and gladly accepted: as co-editor and lead writer for a NebraskaJewish Historical Society book project that commemmorates and documents the Mom and Pop Jewish grocery stores that operated in and around the Omaha metropolitan area from approximately the beginning of the 20th century through the 1960s-1970s.  But it was Ben Nachman, along with Renee Ratner-Corcoran, who I worked with on the project, that truly realized the book .  Ben’s vision and energy got it started and Renee’s commitment and persistence saw it through.  I just helped pick up the pieces once Ben passed away a year or so into the project.  Ultimately, the book belongs to all the families and individuals who contributed anecdotes, stories, essays, photos, and ads about their grocery stores.

Immediately below is Jewish Press story about the project, followed by an excerpt from the book.

The book is dedicated to the man who inaugurated the project, the late Ben Nachman, who was responsible for starting what is now my long association with both the Jewish Press and the Nebraska Jewish Historical Society.  Ben led me to many Holocaust survivor and rescuer stories I ended up writing, many of which can be found on this blog.  My stories about Ben and his work as an amatuer but highy dedicated historian can also be found here.  I also collaborated with Ben and Renee, as the writer to their producder-roles, on a documentary film about the Brandeis Department Store empire of Nebraska.  A very long two-part story I did for the Jewish Press on the Brandeis family and their empire served as the basis for the script I wrote.  You can find that story on this blog.

Historical Society publishes grocery store history

by Rita Shelley

11.11.11 issue, Jewish Press

Freshly arrived from Europe a century ago, thousands of men and women found work in South Omaha’s packinghouse and stockyards.

South 24th Street grocer Witte Fried, also a first generation American and a widow with children from ages 2 to 7, knew something of her neighbors’ struggles to survive and prosper. She also knew they needed to eat. According to her descendants, Fried took care to mark prices on the merchandise in her store in several languages. She wanted her customers, regardless of their German, Irish, Italian, Russian, Polish, Greek, Czech or other origins, to have an easier transition into their new world.

Fried’s story is one of many featured in Memories of the Jewish Midwest: Mom and Pop Grocery Stores. Scheduled to be published in November by the Nebraska Jewish Historical Society (NJHS), the book includes recollections of Jewish grocers and members of the families who operated stores throughout Omaha, Lincoln, Council Bluffs and surrounding areas from the early 1900s to the present.

photo

“A history of Jewish owned stores is also a history of the grocery business,” Renee Ratner-Corcoran, NJHS executive director, said. “Beginning with peddlers who traveled from farm to farm to trade their wares for farm produce to sell in the cities, through one-room Mom and Pop stores with adjoining living quarters, to the first large self-service grocery stores, to today’s discount stores that sell housewares and groceries under the same roof, the Jewish community played a vital role in the grocery industry.The book was a dream of Dr. Ben Nachman, an NJHS volunteer whose father owned a small store on North 27th Street. Dr. Nachman died in 2010; publication of the book is dedicated to his memory.

Children of early Jewish grocers who were interviewed for the book or submitted recollections recall the hustle and bustle of buying produce from open air stalls downtown (today’s Old Market) as early as 4 a.m. to stay ahead of the competition. Before there were automobiles, grocers’ children were responsible for the care of the horses that pulled delivery buggies. Mixing the flour and water paste to use for painting prices of the week’s specials on the front window was also the responsibility of children. So were dividing 100-pound sacks of potatoes into five- and 10-pound packages, grinding and bagging coffee, and feeding the chickens. (A kerosene barrel and a chicken coop were located side-by-side in at least one family’s store.).

photo

The book’s publication was underwritten by the Herbert Goldsten Trust, the Special Donor Advised Fund of the Jewish Federation of Omaha Foundation, the Milton S. & Corinne N. Livingston Foundation, Inc., the Murray H. and Sharee C. Newman Supporting Foundation, Doris and Bill Alloy, Sheila and John Anderson, Edith Toby Fellman, Doris Raduziner Marks, In honor of Larry Roffman’s 80th Birthday, and Stanley and Norma Silverman.Increasing prosperity meant housewives had more money to spend. Innovations in transportation and refrigeration also brought changes to the grocery industry, and Jewish grocers were among the first to embrace those changes. More recently, Jewish Nebraskans “invented” some of the country’s first discount chains and wholesale distribution networks, as well as the data processing innovations that made them profitable.

For additional information, contact Renee Ratner-Corcoran by e-mail at rcorcoran@jewishomaha.org or by phone at 402.334.6442.

Excerpts from the book-

©by Leo Adam Biga

Memories of the Jewish Midwest: Mom and Pop Grocery Stores                                                                                Omaha, Lincoln, Greater Nebraska and Southwest Iowa

photo

Jews have a proud history as entrepreneurs and merchants. When Jewish immigrants began coming to America in greater and greater numbers during the late 19th century and early 20th century, many gravitated to the food industry, some as peddlers and fresh produce market stall hawkers, others as wholesalers, and still others as grocers.

Most Jews who settled in Nebraska came from Russia and Poland, with smaller segments from Hungary, Germany, and other central and Eastern European nations. They were variously escaping pogroms, revolution, war, and poverty. The prospect of freedom and opportunity motivated Jews, just as it did other peoples, to flock here.

At a time when Jews were restricted from entering certain fields, the food business was relatively wide open and affordable to enter. There was a time when for a few hundred dollars one could put a down payment on a small store. That was still a considerable amount of money before 1960, but it was not out of reach of most working men who scrimped and put away a little every week. And that was a good thing too because obtaining capital to launch a store was difficult. Most banks would not lend credit to Jews and other minorities until after World War II.

The most likely route that Jews took to becoming grocers was first working as a peddler, selling feed, selling produce by horse and wagon or truck, or apprenticing in someone else’s store. Some came to the grocery business from other endeavors or industries. The goal was the same – to save enough to buy or open a store of their own. By whatever means Jews found to enter the grocery business, enough did that during the height of this self-made era, from roughly the 1920s through the 1950s, there may have been a hundred or more Jewish-owned and operated grocery stores in the metro area at any given time.

Jewish grocers almost always started out modestly, owning and operating small Mom and Pop neighborhood stores that catered to residents in the immediate area. By custom and convenience, most Jewish grocer families lived above or behind the store, although the more prosperous were able to buy or build their own free-standing home.

Since most customers in Nebraska and Iowa were non-Jewish, store inventories reflected that fact, thus featuring mostly mainstream food and nonfood items, with only limited Jewish items and even fewer kosher goods. The exception to that rule was during Passover and other Jewish high holidays, when traditional Jewish fare was highlighted.

Business could never be taken for granted. In lean times it could be a real struggle. Because the margin between making it and not making was often quite slim many Jewish grocers stayed open from early morning to early evening, seven days a week, even during the Sabbath, although some stores were closed a half-day on the weekend. Jewish stores that did close for the Sabbath were open on Sunday.

Jewish grocery stores almost always became multi-generation family affairs. The classic story was for a husband and wife to open a store and for their children to “grow up” in it. In some families there was a definite expectation for the children to follow and succeed their parents in the business. But there were as many variations on this story as families themselves. In some cases, the founder, almost always a male, was joined in the business by a brother or brothers or perhaps a brother in law. Therefore, a child born into a grocer family might have one or both parents and some combination of uncles, aunts, siblings, and cousins working there, too.

Of course, not every child followed his folks into the family business. Because most early Jewish grocers did not have much in the way of a formal education, the family business was viewed as a springboard for their children to complete an education, even to go onto college. It was a means by which the next generation could advance farther than their parents had, whether in the family grocery business or in a professional field far removed from stocking shelves and bagging groceries.

Some Jewish grocers went in and out of business in a short time, but many enjoyed long runs, extending over generations. Some proprietors stayed small, with never more than a single store, while others added more stores to form chains (the Tuchman brothers) and others (like the Bakers and the Newmans) graduated from Mom and Pop shops to supermarkets. Some owners made their success as grocers only to leave that segment of the food business behind to become wholesale suppliers and distributors (Floyd Kulkin), even food manufacturers (Louis Albert).

Whatever path Jewish grocers took, the core goal was the same, namely to provide for their families and to stake out a place of their own that offered continued prosperity. For a Jewish family, especially an immigrant Jewish family, owning a store meant self-sufficiency and independence. It was a means to an end in terms of assimilation and acceptance. It was a real, tangible sign that a family had arrived and made it. Most Jewish grocers didn’t get rich, but most managed to purchase their own homes and send their kids to college. It was a legitimate, honorable gateway to achieving the American Dream, and one well within reach of people of modest means.

For much of the last century Jewish grocery stores could be found all over the area, in rural as well as in urban locales, doing business where there were no other Jews and where there was a concentration of Jews. In Nebraska and Western Iowa there have historically been few Jewish enclaves, meaning that Jewish grocers depended upon Gentiles for the bulk of their business. Dealing with a diverse clientele was a necessity.

In some instances, Jewish grocers and their fellow Jewish business owners catered to distinct ethnic groups. For example, from the 1920s through the 1960s the North 24th Street business district in Omaha was the commercial hub for the area’s largely African-American community. During that period the preponderance of business owners along and around that strip were Jewish, including several grocers, some of whom lived in the neighborhood. These circumstances meant that Jews and blacks in Omaha were mutually dependent on each other in a manner that didn’t exist before and hasn’t existed since. When the last in a series of civil disturbances in the district did significant damage there, the last of the Jewish merchants moved out. Only a few Jewish owned grocery stores remained in what was the Near Northside.

Until mechanical refrigeration became standard, customers had to shop daily or at least every other day to buy fresh products to replenish their ice boxes and pantries. Having to shop so frequently at a small, family-run neighborhood store meant that customers and grocers developed closer, more personal relationships than they generally do today. Grocers not only knew their regular customers by name but knew their buying patterns so well that they could fill an order without even looking at a list.

Home delivery was a standard service offered by most grocers back in the day. Some stores were mainly cash and carry operations and others primarily charge and delivery endeavors. Taking grocery orders by phone was commonplace.

Most grocers extended credit to existing customers, even carrying them during rough times. It was simply the way business was conducted then. A person’s word was their bond.

Fridays were generally the busiest day in the grocery business because it’s when most laborers got paid and it’s when families stocked up for the big weekend meal most households prepared.

Jewish grocers were among the founders and directors of cooperatives, such as the United Associated Grocers Co-op or United AG and the Lincoln Grocers Association, that gave grocers increased buying power on the open market.

With only a few exceptions today, the intimate, family neighborhood stores are a thing of the past. As automobiles and highways changed the landscape to accommodate the burgeoning suburbs, newer, larger chain stores and supermarkets emerged whose buying and selling power the Mom and Pops could not compete with on anything like an even basis. Thus, the Mom and Pop stores, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, began fading away.

Because Jewish grocers were such familiar, even ubiquitous fixtures in the community, the majority population gave little thought to the fact that Omaha Jewish merchants like the Bakers (Baker’s Supermarkets) or the Newmans (Hinky Dinky), who began with Mom and Pop stores, led the transition to supermarket chains. For much of the metro’s history then, Jews controlled a large share of the grocery market, helping streamline and modernize the way in which grocers did business and consumers shopped.

It is true the one-to-one bond between grocer and consumer may have all but disappeared with the advent of the supermarket and discount store phenomenon. The days of grocers filling each customer order individually went by the wayside in the new age of self-service.

One thing that’s never changed is the fact that everybody has to eat and Jews have been at the forefront of fulfilling that basic human need for time immemorial. The Jewish grocer was an extension of the friendly neighborhood bubbe or zayde or mensch in making sure his or her customers always had enough to eat.

Love Donor – Larry & Amee: A Father/Daughter Love Story


Here is a story I did some time ago about a prominent father and daughter in Omaha, Larry Kavich and Amee (Kavich) Zetzman. Their family business All Makes Office Equipment is a four generation success story. Just as Larry succeeded his father, who succeeded his own father in running the business, Larry eventually passed the business onto his daughter Amee and his son Jeff. After putting it in their good hands Larry was leading a carefree life enjoying his many hobbies and pursuits when he got sick. Suffering from advanced renal failure – his kidneys failing – his only option became an organ transplant. Amee became the donor for this life saving procedure that has given him a new lease on life and brought the already close father-daughter relationship even closer together than before.

I did this story for  Metro Magazine (http://www.spiritofomaha.com/Metro-Magazine/The-Magazine/) and I am posting it here for the first time.

Read an earlier story I did about the multi-generational All Makes at–

Bedrock Values at the Core of Four-Generation All Makes Office Furniture Company

 

Love Donor– Larry & Amee: A Father/Daughter Love Story

  


Bob & Andee Hoig

Larry Kavich and his daughter Amee Zetzman have always been close. They worked together at the family’s fourth generation All Makes Office Equipment Co., where Larry headed things until turning the business over to his son Jeff and daughter Amee a few years ago.

 

All In The Family

The proud papa gave his “little girl” away in marriage. Amee and her husband Ted Zetzman have given Larry and his wife Andi two grandchildren. But the father-daughter bond went to a whole new level when Larry’s advanced renal failure necessitated a transplant earlier this year and she donated her kidney.

Thus, Kavich became one of an estimated 28,000 persons to receive an organ transplant in the U.S. annually. More than 114,000 are waiting list candidates. Amee’s one of 7,000 live donors projected to give an organ this year.The procedures took place March 19 at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona, near Larry’s and (wife) Andi’s snowbird residence in Scottsdale. Father and daughter went into pre-op together and separate teams performed the surgeries in adjoining operating rooms. Weeks of testing preceded the transplant to ensure the best possible match. After four hours of general surgery Larry had a new kidney and just as hoped his body accepted it without complications.

After only four days in the hospital and frequent followup visits, he’s back to the full, active lifestyle he knew before his kidneys failed.

Far from the arduous experience Zetzman says donating is assumed to be, the two-hour laparoscopic procedure left only “three little scars.” Compared to her C-sections, she says it’s “no big deal…it’s doable.”
Hours after the transplant she walked down the hall to find her father sitting up in bed. She returned to work half-days about a week later.

Kavich says “it’s a miracle” she gave him this gift and resumed her life without major interruption. Amee feels she only did what anyone would in the same situation. “If you knew you could change someone’s life and you would still be OK wouldn’t you do it?” she asks.

Still, her father expresses gratitude every week. And not just to Amee. His son Jeff Kavitch also offered to donate. (Mayo will only test one candidate at a time until a suitable match is found.) The siblings decided who would be tested first with a coin flip. Once her donor suitability was confirmed the transplant was scheduled. Amee says she and her family were “very proactive” in educating themselves and pressing for answers. “You have to be your own advocate,” she says.

“I have a fabulous support team in my family,” Larry notes. “We’re the poster family for how things should happen. We’re very fortunate to have had everything that could have gone right go right, and for that I’ll be forever grateful to Mayo and to my children and my wife.”

A Curious Journey

As Kavich readily admits, he’s an anomaly in how his transplant journey unfolded . His new kidney functioned just as it should from the moment of insertion. His creatinine level and glomerular filtration rate steadily improved to where today they’re normal, something they hadn’t been since this all started in 1981. That’s when Kavich, who’s beaten Krohn’s disease and prostate cancer, was diagnosed with a rare disorder, Wegner’s Granulomatosis, that attacks kidneys and other organs.

“I had it 31 years ago and then the disease subsided and 15 years ago it came back,” he says. “On each occasion I was put on chemotherapy and high doses of steroids. It was a very unusual circumstance because I never manifested the symptoms that my numbers would have indicated.”

No loss of appetite or energy. No curtailed activities. It left doctors scratching their heads and Kavich feeling “I’ve been blessed.” He was always told that despite how well he felt he’d one day need dialysis and a transplant. Not wanting to believe it, he says he was “living in the land of denial” in one respect but also maintaining his natural optimism in another respect.

He says Nebraska Kidney Association CEO Tim Neal connected him with people who are transplant success stories and provided “support and encouragement.” He learned healthy regimens for eating right, drinking plenty of water and exercising. His wife filtered out any negative info. He wanted to keep everything positive.

He continued feeling well and living an unrestricted life despite progressive kidney disease, but late last year he finally had to face facts. He needed a transplant and doctors said he shouldn’t hesitate if he had a living, willing donor. His children had already offered but he’d refused. Waiting for a cadaver donor could take years and his condition would require dialysis in the interim. The one thing he didn’t want was a compromised life.

No Other Options

At a doctor’s urging he and Andi visited a dialysis center, where he says, “I saw what would have been my worst fear come to pass. I completely broke down. That’s when my wife called the kids and advised them I was in trouble.” After Amee emerged as his donor she pressed for the procedure to happen as soon as possible so that her father could bypass dialysis.

“Once I got approved I was very persistent and they were totally accommodating in working with us, and my father did avoid dialysis.”

In the extensive physical-psychological vetting process to determine a live donor match she says great pains are taken to ensure donors like herself are doing it for the right reason, i.e. not getting paid. She says it’s made clear that one can opt out at any time for any reason.

Did she have any second thoughts? “I didn’t. Once I made up my mind I was, ‘Let’s get this done.’” Transplant day, she says, is a blur of feelings. “It’s an emotional situation for the family because we’re both being wheeled away to surgery at the same time. It definitely affects the whole family, in all aspects.”

Like her father she’s struck by “the miracle of it,” saying, ““It is pretty unbelievable that they can take part of my body and make it work with his. And his numbers from day one were great. Mine went back to normal quickly as my body adjusted to just having one kidney. It just all worked so fast.”

Just as her father had ample support, she counts herself lucky to have had a support network. Her husband and kids, she says, “were on board, they knew papa was having issues. I have a good circle of friends who covered all my bases, and I have a brother who covered my office base. Not everyone is in that position,” she says, adding that the National Kidney Foundation is trying to devise programs” to assist donors with things like childcare and out-of-work benefits they may need.

Enhancing Lives

The family wants the public to know what a difference organ donation can make, whether getting on the national donation registry or volunteering to be a live donor.
“Towards the end when my kidneys were definitely failing my future and my ability to live any sort of life was impaired. I would not be leading the life I’m leading had the transplant not occurred,” says Kavich. “I am the richest guy you know and it has nothing to do with money.”

He gives back today by volunteering with the Arizona Kidney Foundation. “I will go anywhere and talk to anyone about my experience,” he says.

Another way to assist the donation community is by contributing to your local kidney foundation or association to help its mission of building awareness through education, screening and referral programs-services. For details, go to http://www.kidneyne.org or call 402-932-7200.

 

Yolanda Diaz success story with Little Miss Fashion nets her new recognition


One of Omaha’s most successful fashion designers, Yolanda Diaz, has earned many accolades  for her Little Miss Fashion designs and for her entrepreneurial spirit. She was recently honored in Omaha and at the White House in Washington D.C. as Nebraska’s Small Business Person of the Year. Her story of perseverance and persistence is one we can all learn from. Her story also reminds me that the most commercially successful artists, in her case designer, are very entrepreneurial and must be in order to make a go of it. Through a lot of hard work she has mastered both the creative side of her work along with the business side. Most artists or creatives fail on the business side of things. She has been determined to not let that happen.

 

 

Yolanda Diaz

 

Yolanda Diaz success story with Little Miss Fashion nets her new recognition

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in El Perico

 

Yolanda Diaz dreamed of being a fashion designer growing up in Monterey, Mexico. Living in poverty far from any fashion capitals, it seemed an unrealistic aspiration to some. Not to her. She actually realized her dream in Mexico and then did so all over again in America. Her clothing manufacturing company in South Omaha, Little Miss Fashion, has become such a success that she’s been named Nebraska Small Business Person of the Year.

The recognition comes from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Diaz will accept her award at May 1-2 ceremonies in Washington D.C., where she will be joined by other state winners. The 2016 National Small Business Person of the Year will be announced then.

She is also being honored May 3 at the Nebraska Small Business Person of the Year Award Luncheon and Entrepreneurial Workshops at the Salvation Army Kroc Center at 2825 Y Street. The 8:30 a.m to 12:30 p.m. event is free and open to the public. Registration is required. Call 402-221-7200 to register.

This is not the first time Diaz has been singled out for her entrepreneurial achievements. Her story has captured the imagination of business organizations and media outlets since 2011. Still, this newest recognition was not something she expected..

“Honestly, it surprised me,” she says. “However, I feel very happy. Even though my business has not grown as fast as I would like, it has grown in ways I didn’t expect. I have been working hard for years and I think the award is recognition not just for me but for all the people who work hard like I do in the community. There are a lot of people around me working hard and there are institutions and organizations helping me.

“It is an honor for me to have the opportunity to get this recognition.”

 

 

 

Cover Photo

 

 

Aretha Boex, lead center director for the Nebraska Business Development Center, nominated Diaz for all that she’s done to find success. “She is hard working to the core. Her tenacity and her drive is very contagious. When you work with someone like her you buy into their passion and their idea,.” Boex says. Boex’s admiration grew when she discovered Diaz has mentored women at the Latina Resource Center and trained correctional facility inmates to sew. “She cares and she’s really out there to make a difference.”

Diaz’s children’s collections are sold online through Zulily and Etsy and in select boutiques. The business has seen ups and downs and she’s learned many hard lessons, but through business workshops and loans she’s grown her operation to where she now employs nine people. Her husband and son also assist.

She says news of the award is encouraging her local network of English-as-second-language entrepreneurs.

“They say, ‘Well, one day I will be in the same place as you,’ and I say, ‘You can do it, you will. If you work hard you will get the recognition one day.’”

Boex says there’s plenty in Diaz’s story to inspire others. “She’s a woman who built her business from the ground up. She moved here from Mexico to pursue the American Dream. There’s a lot to take away from her experience and how hard work really pays off. She had the resilience and the courage to build this from scratch. She’s a great success story. We love working with her.”

Diaz’s road to success began in Mexico, where she learned to stitch on an antique sewing machine.

“I really loved doing it, I fell in love with fashion because it gives me everything I want. ”

 

Yolanda Diaz works on a skirt in her Little Miss Fashion shop in Omaha. (Photo by Mike Tobias, NET News; all photos by Mike Tobias, NET News, unless otherwise noted))

Marta Chavez (front) and Dolores Diarcos (back) working at Little Miss Fashion

 


Diaz holds her best-selling Little Miss Fashion design.

 


Diaz hopes to move Little Miss Fashion production into a location nine times larger in the near future.

 

Little_Miss_Fasion.jpg

(Diaz, owner of Little Miss Fashion LLC, Janell Anderson Ehrke, GROW Nebraska CEO, Laurie Magnus Warner, Central Plains Foundation Board Member)

 

 

From an early age she began making her own school apparel from old clothes and fabric scraps. Her ever-changing personal wardrobe drew much attention. Her dreams were encouraged when her talent was identified by a mentor who became her first client and referred other clients to her. Diaz even landed a contract to create school uniforms.

She steeped herself in her craft and built a successful business, learning from seamstresses and studying at design schools. Her business thrived but her then-husband didn’t support her pursuits. That proved frustrating to Diaz. who self-describes as “very independent.” After she and her family came to the States in 1996, her first marriage ended. She remarried and worked regular jobs searching for her niche here. She made pet tents before making children’s clothes. She started her company in 2003 under a different name, at first targeting the Latino market before expanding to the Anglo market. Along the way, she’s participated in the micro loan program Grameen America and taken classes at the Juan Diego Center, the Nebraska Business Development Center (NBDC) and Gallup University.

“She built her business while she had a night job, fulfilling all the orders herself, cutting and assembling by hand, which meant long hours, in addition to having a family. So she really believed in this,” says Boex.

A regular designer at Omaha Fashion Week, Diaz showed a collection that sparked interest from Zulily. The onset of online sales orders forced her to outsource production to Mexico, where family members pitched-in. Now everything’s done in-house in Omaha. An SBA microloan from the Omaha Small Business Network provided working capital to grow her business enough to meet large orders. Little Miss Fashion now averages $10,000 sales a month from online orders. Last May Diaz received a second SBA microloan through Nebraska Enterprise Fund. The loans allowed her to buy additional commercial sewing machines, purchase materials and hire more workers. She gets ongoing management consulting and export support from NBDC. Diaz recently sealed a deal to sale her clothing lines through the German e-commerce company Windelbar.de.

Every step of her journey, from improving her English to learning how to write a business plan to doing budgets to managing employees, has helped her succeed.

“I like challenges. I never say never,” she said. “A lot of work, but a lot of fun. I still learn something new every day.”

True to her entrepreneurial spirit, Diaz envisions growing into more markets, a larger production facility and her own retail shop. But for now, she’s content knowing she’s “doing what I’ve wanted to all my life – I’m following my passion.”

Follow Little Miss Fashion on Facebook or visit http://littlemissfashionusa.com/.

 

Sarpy County, Nebraska: Rewriting the playbook for economic development.

March 22, 2016 Leave a comment

The Sarpy County boom is the focus of this new piece I contributed to for B2B Omaha Magazine ((http://omahamagazine.com/category/publications/b2b-magazine/),

Once boasting only sleepy rural charms, quaint main streets and Offutt Air Force Base mystique, Sarpy County has awakened to a boom of residents, businesses and amenities. No longer a nondescript boondocks, this little county-that-could is now a magnet with on-the-map attractions. The state’s smallest county by land size claims the third largest population – 170,000, trailing only Douglas County on its northern border and Lancaster County to the west.  Sarpy’s seeing the most dramatic growth of any Nebraska county. The surge is not slowing either.Greater Metropolitan Omaha offerings are enhanced by Sarpy’s entertainment venues, shopping centers, historic sites, parks and trails, making Eastern Nebraska a tourist stop and stay-cation spot.

Sarpy County Tourism director Linda Revis isn’t surprised the area’s being discovered. “The more you have to offer, the more you have to see, the more you have to do, the better and more well known you become,” she says.  Sarpy’s five communities – Bellevue, Papillion, La Vista, Gretna and Springfield – benefit from the explosion, whether in houses built, businesses opening or tax revenues flowing into city coffers.  Revis says, “We’re in the best location. We’ve got Omaha and Lincoln as neighbors. We’re on Interstate 80 and Interstate 29. We’re an easy destination to get to. We can be the hub and they can be the spokes.”

In a if-you-build-it-they-will-come spurt, the city’s added many must-do attractions. Sumtur Amphitheater presents concerts, plays and movies. A downtown market for local artisans and boutique owners and the new Midlands Place shopping center add engaging sites to Shadow Lake Towne Center, Papio Bay Aquatic Center, Papio Fun Park and golf courses-driving ranges.  Fishing, boating, camping, hiking, biking enthusiasts flock to Walnut Creek Recreation Area. Prairie Queen Recreation Area is a popular new multi-use water-based outdoor retreat. The region’s only Triple A baseball club, the Omaha Storm Chasers, draws some 390,000 fans to Werner Park each spring-summer. The anticipated boom in housing-business development surrounding the park has not yet materialized but city-county officials expect it will soon. For history buffs, Sautter House is a 19th century farm dwelling and Portal School is a one-room schoolhouse. Papillion Days Festival is a weeklong celebration.  Belvedere Hall serves authentic Polish dinners, music and dance.

Sarpy’s dynamic rise as a place people want to invest and do business in is symbolized by the new $25 million SAC Federal Credit Union headquarters and $200 million Fidelity Investments data center. Yahoo and other name company data processing centers give Sarpy a Silicon Prairie signature. A site opening this spring west of Papillion, the VA’s 236-acre Omaha National Cemetery, is expected to draw visitors from all around.

Sarpy’s managed adding big-time features without sacrificing small town character. Balancing bucolic with bustle takes planning. Bellevue’s bursting at the seams with things to do and places to see. Old Towne features the Historic Log Cabin, Old Presbyterian Church, Fontenelle Bank and Omaha and Southern Railroad Depot. Bellevue Little Theatre has produced stage works since 1968. For natural splendor there’s 1,400-acre Fontenelle Forest. Also Gifford Farm and Bellevue Berry & Pumpkin Patch. Haworth Park has multiple recreation amenities. Hitting the links is easy with Willow Lakes and Tregaron Golf Course. Film buffs get their fix at Twin Creek Cinema. Moonstruck Meadery is a new addition to the robust artisan spirits scene. Offfutt’s value-added impact is large. “It’s amazing how many people who serve at Offutt choose to stay or come back,” Revis says. “People want to live in these great communities.”

Embassy Suites by Hilton Omaha La Vista Hotel & Conference Center is a crossroads for tourists and event attendees. Nearby attractions include Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Lucky Bucket Brewing Company/Cut Spike Distillery, Patriarch Distillers, Nebraska Brewing Company Tap Room, La Vista Falls Golf Course, Defy Gravity trampoline park and Brentwood Square’s shops, services and eateries. Iconic outdoor outfitter Cabela’s superstore features Disney-quality dioramas, the two-story Conservation Mountain with running waterfalls and stream, trout pond and wild game displays and a 34,000-gallon, walk-through aquarium stocked with freshwater fish.

La Vista anticipates a spike once the Nebraska Multisport Complex is built on 184 acres to encompass a natatorium with Olympic regulation pools, an indoor-outdoor tennis center and soccer fields with field turf and lighting. The facilities will be available to local teams, clubs, schools and nonprofits. Hosting regional-national tournaments is possible. Projections estimate the complex generating $17.8 million in new economic impact and attracting 1.2 million visitors annually.

Gretna’s home to some of Sarpy’s biggest draws. No. 1 is Nebraska Crossing Outlets. The $112 million, 335,000-square-foot mall featuring buzz-worthy brand name stores unavailable elsewhere in the region, did $140 million in sales and 4 million shopper visits its first year of operation in 2013-14. Sales and visits trended up last year. A $15 million expansion adding more stores is to open by Christmas. Pumpkin patches are big business in ag tourism and Vala’s Pumpkin Patch has cornered the area market. The 55-acre site welcomes 200,000-plus visitors during its September-October run. A meditative getaway awaits at Holy Family Shrine atop a hill above the scenic Platte Valley. The 23-acre sanctuary features serene gardens, walking paths, visitor’s center and chapel.

Hidden treasures abound in Springfield. Indulge creative interests at Weiss Sculpture Garden and Studio and Springfield Artworks. Satisfy a sweet tooth at Springfield Drug’s vintage soda fountain. Commune with nature’s bounty at Soaring Wings Vineyard & Brewing. The great outdoors is on tap, too, at Mopac Trailhead and Nature Center. South Sarpy development is the county’s next horizon opportunity.

Tourism maven Linda Revis says the people make the difference. “You go to any of our attractions or venues and you will not find friendlier more welcoming people anywhere. We work at being welcoming and it pays off a hundred-fold.”

 

Sumtur-copy

Sarpy County, Nebraska

Rewriting the playbook for economic development.

Originally appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of B2B Omaha Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com/category/publications/b2b-magazine/)

 

 

In 1999, an online-banking company with a nonsensical name built a sprawling operation center next to the I-80 corridor on the edge of Papillion. Baffled passing commuters wondered how long a company named “PayPal” could possibly survive.

Six years later—to the delight of the region’s outdoor enthusiasts—Cabela’s opened a 128,000-square-foot sportsmen’s paradise that transformed the Cornhusker Street exit along I-80 into a bustling retail hotspot.

As the companies moved into the area, so did the employees, and the shoppers. Once boasting only sleepy rural charms, quaint main streets, and Offutt Air Force Base mystique, Nebraska’s smallest county by land mass is now also its fastest growing.

Indeed, while the rest of the state lost 3% of its population (or 55,000 people) between 2010 and 2014, Sarpy County added 13,000 people—an 8% increase.

How did it happen? Is there something to be learned by Nebraska’s other 92 counties?

Sarpy’s formula was a mix of nature and nurture: Aggressive leaders with vision and a willingness to deal. The good fortune of having open land next to a major metropolitan area and one of the nation’s major east-west corridors. Lots of nearby suburbanites with cash. Also, an educated work force within driving distance.

Baseball-Field

It was a perfect economic storm that even pulled off the outrageous and unthinkable: Dragging the Omaha Royals into the suburban Sarpy playground of the Omaha Stormchasers.

And now, in 2016, it’s all about synergy. Momentum. Winning begets more winning.

Ernie Goss, a Creighton University professor of economics, says that when county leaders are successful in building a concentration of development like the one in Sarpy County, it becomes a catalyst for more growth.

“There’s the impact of what we call clustering, Goss says.

The perpetual motion machine is paying off for the county and state. PayPal alone generated $736,930.00 in tax revenue in 2014, more than any other commercial business in the region.

Goss says the presence of PayPal and Cabela’s, among others, has undoubtedly propelled more development. After all, people want to be where the jobs and rooftops are.

There’s a lot to be said for clustering and that’s what we’re seeing out there,” he says.

Embassy Suites Conference Center in La Vista, developed in 2004, has brought in tourism dollars from conventions and weddings. Those tourism dollars also mean more people viewing the city, which builds awareness of the hotel and convention center, which, of course, increases chances that people will spread the word to other shoppers and convention organizers.

Goss says the boom will continue as long as the benefits of providing essential services—such as sewers and roads—in support of new development exceeds the marginal costs. Once those infrastructure elements are in place, he says, the marginal costs tend to decrease and that, in turn, spurs more development.

“It’s the initial development that’s very costly in providing things like fire and police services and other government services.”

Typically, he says, providing services becomes cheaper as the area grows more densely populated. That’s what’s happening in Sarpy County, where a growing resident and business tax base is helping make development cost effective.

The area also benefits from ready access to interstate highways that feed into the Omaha-Lincoln metroplex. Goss says Sarpy is situated just enough outside the urban congestion sprawl to give it a semi-country, away-from-it-all appeal while being near enough to still share in the big city orbit.

Holy-Family-Shrine

“It has a lot to do with interstate access,” he says.

And convenience.

“A lot of folks out west of Omaha find it easier driving to a conference at the Embassy Suites in La Vista than having to drive to the Embassy Suites in the Old Market,” Goss says. “That’s certainly part of it.”

All this growth, too, has come amid a national economy that has generally lagged. But, as the economy sputters, interest rates remain low. In the environment of the last decade, the cost and major development has remained lower as interest rates continue to hover around 4%.

The surge is not slowing.

La Vista anticipates yet another spike once the Nebraska Multisport Complex is built on 184 acres to encompass a natatorium with Olympic regulation pools, an indoor-outdoor tennis center, and soccer fields with field turf and lighting. The facilities will be available to local teams, clubs, schools, and nonprofits. Hosting regional-national tournaments is a massive money generator as families follow players for long weekends of play. Projections estimate the complex would generate $17.8 million in new economic impact and attracting 1.2 million visitors annually.

The win streak extended down the road to the edge of Gretna, where the massive Nebraska Crossing Outlets defied the doubters by doing $140 million in sales in its first year of operation. Within a year of its 2013 opening, the $112 million, 335,000-square-foot mall featuring buzz-worthy brand name stores was planning a major expansion. A new $15 million complex of stores is scheduled to open by Christmas.

Karen Gibler, president of the Sarpy County Chamber of Commerce, says there soon will be announcements about coming neighborhoods and businesses spurred by the new Highway 34 bridge, 84th Street developments, new I-80 exits, and planned sewer and transportation projects.

Gibler cites many reasons why investors and residents choose to work and live there:

“Quality of education and life keeps residents looking to move into our area,” she says. “This growth has opened the eyes of developers. Our leadership in the cities and county are a contributing factor. Land availability and easy access to good highways and the interstate make it easy to access from around the area.” Smart planning helps, as do plentiful jobs and affordable home prices. And people feel safe.”

That success has brought recognition. Papillion now ranks second on Money Magazine’s Best Places to Live for its high median income ($75,000), job growth (10%), thriving cultural life, and great access to the big-city amenities of Omaha.

National awards show up in national magazines and websites. People and companies looking for good homes read about this happenin’ place called Sarpy County in Nebraska.

And so, the wheels of progress keep on turning.

Once you can get it going, Goss says, “one activity draws another activity or one company draws another company.

“They have it all going in the right direction right now,” Goss says.

Sumtur-copy

 

Alesia Lester: A Conversation in the Gossip Salon


Alesia Lester is the epitome of dope style.  It’s in the way she dresses, makes herself up, moves, speaks, and handles herself.  The owner of Gossip Salon in North Omaha has a loyal clientele for her stylist chops and good counsel.  She enjoys a big following on social media for her real talk affirmations and observations. She is a woman transformed and hard earned life lessons are the subject of a forthcoming book she’s authored titled Life Behind the Chair.  Her blossoming into a “concrete rose” is sure to resonate wth many women and men for that matter. I trust that my Omaha Magazine profile of Alesia will make you want to know more of her story.

 

 

Cover Photo

Alesia Lester: A Conversation in the Gossip Salon

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the March-April 2016 issue of Omaha Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com/)

 

Seeing the confidence Gossip Salon owner Alesia Lester, 35, projects, it’s hard to believe she once only felt whole behind the stylist chair.

This master of the weave, the bump, the blowout, the twist and the wrap developed her chops as a teen. The single mother possesses a gift for not only getting clients’ hair right but their head and heart right, too. Women open up, knowing what they say there, stays there.

Located in the former Leola’s Records & Tapes building at 5625 Ames Ave., Gossip is a five-chair, sleek urban hair and works haven. Lester, an Omaha Fashion Week stylist. is the presiding mistress of glam.

“Each year it’s gotten bigger and better, so I must be doing something right, honey,” the slender, suave Lester says over soul tracks.

She’s built a loyal clientele for the way she wields a comb and flat iron as well as doles out straight talk and tough love.

“She’ll tell you just how it is – good, bad or ugly,” client Bonita Stennis declares. “I’m way older than her but I appreciate the conversations we have because you can always be taught. She has wisdom, old-age wisdom.”

Another client, Makayla McMorris says, “She is definitely honest and keeps it one hundred percent real with anybody. She’s not guarded whatsoever and that’s a hard quality to find. People look up to her and want to be like her.”

“Just to be able to have those one-on-one personal conversations with people, that’s what I like,” Lester says. “I want to know they are OK, I just do, and they want know I’m OK. It makes me feel good.”

Young ladies in crisis ask her advice. They know Lester’s been there herself.

“My phone rings all the time. Sometimes in the middle of the night they want to talk to somebody. I get lots of in-boxes on Facebook. I take women that don’t feel good about themselves and make them feel great about themselves. I just try to meet them right where they are.”

 

 

 

Young men seek her counsel as well.

“I try to find different things and different ways to try to help them. It’s just how I’m built. I love people. It’s like a blessing and a curse. I do feel like it’s my purpose.”

She’s come to this point after much trial and transformation. She shares life lessons learned along the way.

“Her life is an open book,” Stennis says. “She has no secrets. She doesn’t portray to be nothing she isn’t. She tells you just how it is and how she would do it and how she wouldn’t do it.”

Lester’s knack for connecting finds her invited to speak before youth audiences. Extemporaneous riffs flow from her. Whether addressing students or clients, she’s alternately sassy and subdued, serious and funny as confidante, confessor, life coach, motivational cheerleader.

“I’m a therapist. I’m a sister to people who don’t have sisters, I’m a mother to those who don’t have mothers, I’m a friend to those that need a friend. I become all of these things.”

Now add author. Her new book Life Behind the Chair is part memoir and part self-help manual. It reads like a testimony about the power of making better choices, healing old wounds, practicing forgiveness, finding purpose and taking ownership. She writes from experience.

Abandoned by her drug addicted biological mother and raised by a sharp tongued-aunt, Lester acted out the hurt inside. At 15 she gave birth to her son DaJuan, whom she raised herself. She masked her chaos in promiscuity. Two unwanted pregnancies ended in abortion. Plagued by doubt, regret and feelings of inadequacy, she attempted suicide.

When told she was beautiful or sexy, she heard “tramp, nasty, dirty.”

Her saving grace was her fighting spirit and abiding faith. At every new low or challenge – such as a 2007 cervical cancer diagnosis –  she rallied. Radical self-improvement only came after hitting bottom.

“It’s like I always say – you have your own level of enough and I reached my level of enough. Nothing was making sense in my life. The only way on was up. I realized I had to let go of everything. If I didn’t, I would just continue to feel bad about myself and I didn’t want that.

“Forgiveness is important. There’s so many people in the book I had to forgive, including myself. It’s the only way you’re able to live.”

The book’s epilogue and subtitle Journey of a Concrete Rose, offer an apt analogy.

“Someone I refer to in the book as My Friday Client, said, ‘You remind me of a concrete rose – this beautiful thing that’s busted through all these different layers, problems, issues. Baby, you’ve done it, and now you’ve blossomed.’ It was a perfect way to describe me. So damn dope.”

The back cover depicts a red rose blooming from the colorless street.

The book celebrates her inside finally matching her outside. Beautiful.

After many failed short-term flings, she’s in a committed, supportive relationship today.

Doing the project was a catharsis.

“I have all these people that pour into me but at the end of the day I don’t have anybody I can pour into. That’s why I started writing.”

She feels called to share her inspiring journey with others.

“I think everything I’ve ever been through was to help someone else.”

Some suggest what she does is a ministry. She says she can’t claim that because “I swear like a sailor.”

Her mentor, Omaha native Paul Bryant, liked her colorful Facebook posts and encouraged her to craft her real life stories in a book.

Bonita Stennis speaks for the Gossip gang in saying she can’t wait for Lester’s life-affirming tale in print because “she can really touch your soul and it’s coming truly from her heart.”

Follow Lester on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/alesia.lester.

 

 

 

 

One of Alesia’s Facebook posts:

I absolutely did not…

Ask to be born.
Expect my biological MOTHER to leave.
Ask to be dark.
Expect low self-esteem.
Plan a pregnancy at 15.
Plan to do it alone.
Mean to disappoint my MOMMA. (My world)
Want to admit I didn’t graduate.
Intentionally seek the wrong men.
Know I’d lose everything.
Know God would give it all back to me!!
Know I’d beat cervical cancer.
Expect to be a top stylist.
Expect to open my own salon.
Know I’d be in a position to give jobs in my community.
Realize I’d make people smile the way I do.
Expect my son to graduate.
Know I’d be the dopest mom.
Have any idea I’d write a book.
Take my clientele for granted.
Know I’d meet the best man 💋
Ever feel sorry for myself.
Know that life could be this peaceful…👌🏾

I absolutely did not know that all of those things would shape me into the person going down your timeline right now…

See how my life started off low, and God took me to new heights? Had I not gone through those things, I’d never have a story to tell you all…‪#‎LifeBehindTheChair‬#ComingSoon

 

 

 

Interface Web School: Coding, Collaboration, Community

December 14, 2015 Leave a comment

Shonna Dorsey is the face of one of Omaha’s new technology success stories, Interface Web School, and she does a great job of selling the endeavor through her personality and passion and her savvy use of social and traditional media. She’s the rare co-founder of a tech company with a real facility and flair for communication. This is a short piece I did for B2B Omaha Magazine on Shonna and Interface Web School. I will soon be posting a longer feature I did about her and the company for another publication. She is a real force on the Omaha startup scene and she does a great job, as the headline of my piece here says, of combining coding, collaboration and community. She’s passionate about putting the tools and skills of technology in the hands of more people. We will all be hearing much more from her in the years to come as she’s sure to consolidate her place as a dynamic leader and entrepreneur.

 

Shonna Dorsey

 

 

Interface Web School: Coding, Collaboration, Community

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the Winter 2016 issue of B2B Omaha Magazine

(http://omahamagazine.com/category/publications/b2b-magazine/)

Shonna Dorsey has merged an aptitude for technology with a desire to help others via Interface Web School, Omaha’s latest cyber ed alliteration. It’s not the first time she’s combined her entrepreneurial, networking and community interests. She’s done that as a Leadership Omaha participant and as co-founder of the monthly Coffee and Code meet-up she hosts with Autumn Pruitt of Aromas Coffee.

Long tabbed a real comer, Dorsey’s been recognized with the 40 Under 40 Award from the Midlands Business Journal.

In 2013 she cofounded Interface with Dundee Venture Capital’s Mark Hasebroock and others. She serves as managing director of the school that until recently housed in north downtown’s tech-haven Wareham Building but now offices in the AIM Building, which is also known as The Exchange at 19th and Harney Streets.

The North High graduate studied technology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

“A turning point for me as a master’s student came working on a project for an organization that serves child abuse survivors – Project Harmony. Our small student team developed an application to store and monitor videos. That was such a meaningful project. It really sparked something to see that people can really benefit from what techies like us know and do.

“It made me think, How can I do this and make it my career?”

While working corporate jobs she mentored for Hasebroock’s startup accelerator Straight Shot. Before long, they formed Interface.

“I’ve always had a knack for saying, ‘OK, this is risky but I can see the reward on the other side.’ That was how I felt about Interface,” Dorsey recalls. “Even though it was definitely a huge leap of faith at the time it made sense when I looked at the market and what the needs were.”

Many tech jobs go unfilled in-state due to a shortage of qualified prospects. Interface strives to bridge that gap.

“We’ve all been affected by this need for more talent in technology, whether it be web developers or project managers or user interface designers,” she articulated in a Nebraska Entrepreneurship video. “We wanted to put together a pretty intensive program people could go through, which started at 200 hours over 10 weeks and has been adjusted to 200 over 15 weeks, meeting three times per week to accommodate students who need to hold down full-time positions during training..”

kidscoding

Dorsey concedes there are online services that teach coding, but she says many Interface students “have tried those tools and realized a more structured approach is necessary.” Among the benefits of a physical versus virtual class is having on-site mentors who personally “help you overcome hurdles and explain why your code isn’t working.”

Interface serves largely nontraditional students.

She says, “Currently 80 percent are full-time employees. Ten percent are minorities. Most are mid-career, late 20s-early 30s, just looking for a way to transition into a new career in web development or tech or to add more skills in order to add more value to their organization. Or to potentially start their own business.

“We usually have a stay-at-home mom or two in every class.”

Interface requires prospects complete an on-line application, in-person interview and assessment.

“It’s been a really effective tool to gauge aptitude and motivation,” she says. “Those things help determine how successful applicants might be.”

Flexible, interactive class offerings are proving popular.

“Students complete weekly evaluations of their performance and how they feel about the class. It allows us to make tweaks and changes as they’re going through it. Students constantly apply what they learn, build on what they know. It’s all pretty hands-on. We’re able to get you to a level of proficiency where you’re marketable at the end.”

In 15-week courses, students design actual applications, portals, websites for nonprofits.

“That’s an important part of what we do. Students really get excited about creating something that is their own by applying what we’re teaching to something very specific. It’s pretty impactful knowing you’re helping organizations who otherwise couldn’t afford development work. It’s a great way for students to get experience working with a client and building a real-world product. It’s good for clients to understand what it’s like to work with developers.”

 

I'm developing a new tech training scholarship fund with AIM and Omaha Community Foundation

 

It all follows Interface’s emphasis on immersive serving learning.

“The nonprofit projects give our students a chance to extend the learning beyond the classroom and maybe learn something new.”

Developer-client Interactions are just as critical as programming.

“There’s so much to web development that cannot be taught in a class. Even if you’re a great technologist if you can’t work well with people then it makes it difficult to stay employed or get promoted. Skills like collaboration, project management and communication are important no matter what our students decide to do outside Interface.”

Dorsey says employers are hiring and promoting Interface grads, many of whom report salary gains. Some employers partner with Interface.

“We’re happily surprised with how much traction we’ve gained in terms of employer support. We have several companies, including Hudl and Agape Red, that offer tuition reimbursement for our students. That’s really helped us on the student enrollment side.”

Dorsey and her partners have cultivated” close relationships” with the AIM Institute and the Omaha Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, Heartland Workforce Solutions provides financial assistance and  Affirm provides tuition financing.

From the school’s inception Dorsey’s been its most public face through the networking and training she does.

“I started offering free workshops through the Omaha Public Library. It proved a great way to get Interface’s name out there and help people get exposed to web development and all the opportunities available. Since then I’ve transitioned to teaching at small startups almost every weekend. We’re starting to offer workshops outside Omaha.”

She says when Interface announced its bootcamp approach, some skeptics questioned its effectiveness.

“Our average reported starting salary is $51,000 after training with us. We’ve had students make $20,000 a year more in a new position. That’s a pretty incredible return on investment. So, the outcomes are real and what students are able to do is real and their jobs are real.”

For Dorsey, having a hand in making people tech savvy and empowered is a heady thing.

“I really do enjoy it so much and I love what we’re able to do in terms of the life changes we help facilitate and get to witness. I could not ask for a better job.”

Visit https://interfaceschool.com/.

 

Omaha couple unofficial ambassadors for Ghana, West Africa

October 13, 2015 1 comment

image-6

sam and martine ghana independence 2015

Omaha couple unofficial ambassadors for Ghana, West Africa

©by Leo Adam Biga

Now appearing in the Omaha Star

Omaha couple Martine and Sam Quartey’s passion for Ghana finds them promoting aspects of that West African nation through various cultural, commercial and charitable activities. One of their activities is an every-other-year group trip they lead to Ghana, where Sam was born and raised. They organize the trip via their own S&M Tours. The next tour is scheduled December 20-31. Reservations are closed.

They call their tours Back to Our Roots – A Journey to the Motherland. This time around the couple will take a travel party of eight to see various sights in and around the capital city of Accra and the country’s next largest city Kumasi. Among the historical spots they will visit are some of Ghana’s coastal slave castles where thousands of Africans were detained against their will bound for slave trade ships making The Passage to the Americas and the Caribbean.

Sam Quartey, who works as an automotive mechanic, said it’s not unusual to see visitors cry upon touring the slave castles. “It’s a big story and very emotional,” he said.

Martine Quartey said she found herself “overwhelmed” by the experience.

With its southern border situated on the Atlantic Ocean, Ghana today is a tourist magnet with stunning beachside resorts and history-laden landscapes. Rich in mineral deposits and in cocoa production, the country is more developed than many first time visitors expect.

The December tour will be the fourth the couple’s led to Ghana. They enjoy introducing travelers to a continent and a nation they feel has much more to offer than many realize.

“There’s a lot to see – the beautiful scenery, the vivid colors and bold patterns of the clothing, the entrepreneurial spirit of the people, the bustling markets, the highly developed cities,” Martine said. “There’s also the painful history of slavery and colonization and the successful bid for independence.

“We invite people to take the journey with us, to cross those bridges and cultural boundaries to experience something they don’t expect to find.”

 
accra beach - sam and martine

Ghana, like all of Africa, is known for the warm hospitality of its people. Americans are well-received, Martine said, but for African-Americans it truly is a heritage homecoming with deep currents.

“Because we are of our ancestors, we are returning in a sense and Ghanians greets us by saying, ‘Welcome back my sister, welcome back my brother.’ It’s so beautiful to hear that because finally you feel like you’re at home.”

Ever since she met Sam she has been fascinated with his homeland and she has developed an appreciation for its food and fashion, among other things. She and Sam often dress in Ghana attire and he cooks many traditional dishes. He is president of the Ghana Friendship Association of Nebraska (http://www.ghanafan.org/). The organization holds events that keep alive traditional culture for Ghanians living here, it helps new arrivals from Ghana adjust to American life and it supports schools and clinics in Ghana.

Martine made her first trip to Ghana in 2011, a year after the couple married. Whenever the couple go they bring back authentic garments and accessories as well as natural bath and beauty products because they and Omaha’s resident African community crave such hard to find items here. There is also high demand by local African-Americans for Ghana-ware and incidentals.

Requests for these goods got so frequent the Quarteys saw a business opportunity. Thus, they opened their S&M African Boutique in August. The small store at 6058 Ames Ave. features a surprisingly large array of fashion, bags, jewelry, art, fragrances, oils and shea butter products.

“The boutique is kind of birthed out of feedback we were getting from friends and family” to have these things year-round,” Martine said.

S&M African Boutique is open only on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit https://www.facebook.com/SandMAfricanBoutique.

The Quarteys have also formed the Pokuase Promise Project Initiative to support a school they adopted in the village of Pokuase. Sam’s grandfather settled the village. Sam’s father and uncle followed as village leaders. In a spirit of giving back, the couple collect donated supplies (books, computers, markers) they variously ship or personally deliver to the school serviing elementary through senior high students.

To consolidate their school assistance efforts, the couple are building an International Headquarters house in nearby Accra. It will have ground floor storage bays for supplies and a second story private residence. When in Ghana the Quarteys will stay and operate the Pokuase Project from there. They hope to have someone run the Project in country when they are back in the States.

The International House also represents Sam fulfilling a commitment he made to his late mother. The family owns the land the house is being constructed on and Sam’s mother made him promise to do something of substance on it.

“I told my wife about it and she said, ‘Yeah, let’s honor her wishes,’ so we started the project,” Sam said.
His dream is to build a library for the school and dedicate it to the man responsible for him coming to America, the late Bishop William Henry Foeman, who was a much revered and recognized foreign missionary. Sam and his oldest son lived for a time with Foeman, who came to Omaha to pastor Mount Calvary Community Church, where Sam is still a member today.

Working with the school is meaningful to Martine, an education professional. She is an administrative assistant in the Omaha Public Schools’ superintendent’s office and a part-time adult education instructor at Metropolitan Community College.

The Quarteys’ Ghana work is borne of a love that keeps expanding.

“It’s a beautiful thing because it’s blossomed,” Martine said, “and it’s all connected. We have our trips, we have our boutique and we have the school.”

There is also the blog she writes, “Follow My Braids, I Love Ghana, West Africa” at https://followmybraids.wordpress.com/.

The couple are available to speak about Ghana to media and groups.

They will soon be taking reservations for a late fall 2017 trip to Ghana.

For more information, call 402-972-0557.

144
Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park & Mausoleum (1st president of Ghana)
046
   Independence Square (contains monuments such as the arch, Black Star Gate, and the Liberation Day Monument)
047   Independence Arch (a part of the Independence Square – represents Ghana’s struggle for independence from Great Britain)
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,679 other followers

%d bloggers like this: