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Omaha Serves

Mayor Suttle Introduces New Service Plan for Omaha

Mayor Jim Suttle speaks about the Omaha Serves initiative
Omaha volunteers in action at Hanscom Park
Published on September 30, 2010 : 3 comments

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Imagine a city where abandoned lots are turned into community gardens, youth are paired with mentors that inspire them, and the hungry are fed not just during the holiday season, but year-round.

Imagine a place where a majority of the citizens are engaged in helping their communities, each using his or her unique talents to improve some small part of their neighborhoods.

O magical city of the future, what must we do to speed your arrival?

Volunteer.

Okay, so maybe that’s not the whole answer, but it is a big part of what Omaha must do to make life more enjoyable for all. Volunteer service improves our city (and our lives) in ways that business and government cannot. With this in mind, we sat down with Mayor Jim Suttle to interview him about the new Omaha Serves program, the far-reaching benefits of service, and his vision for a more progressive Omaha.

What is Omaha Serves?

VNA Power of Eating Right class - Chef Betty with a student at Morton MiddleVNA Power of Eating Right class - Chef Betty with a student at Morton MiddleOmaha Serves is a comprehensive plan to drive volunteerism right here in Omaha. Our city faces a number of challenges, for instance poverty, gangs, and graffiti, and one of the ways we can counteract some of these issues is to volunteer—whether that be as part of an organization, a church, or just on your own, service improves the quality-of-life for all citizens and is something I am strongly committed to. I’ve done it for years, it feels good, and it can even be a great way for people to network and discover job opportunities.

We are proud to have the support of the Rockefeller Foundation. They see our community’s potential, that we’ve got a strong base of volunteers committed to enhancing our city, and they stepped in with a generous grant to get us started. None of your city, state, or federal tax dollars go towards Omaha Serves. Omaha Serves will be supported by both public and private commitments. This is a communitywide effort involving grants, public-private partnerships, and volunteer service.

What is Cities of Service?

Cities of Service is a bipartisan coalition of mayors from across our nation who are working to leverage volunteer resources to meet the urgent needs of our cities. Founded by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and sixteen other mayors, Cities of Service seeks to fulfill the goals of Ted Kennedy’s Serve America Act. In January, Omaha got on board when we received our grant to hire a Chief Service Officer who would develop and implement a plan to increase service in our city where it is needed most. Using our two-year grant, we hired Kirsten Case-Penrod to go to work developing Omaha Serves, and now we’re ready to launch.

How does service fit into your vision for Omaha?

Assistance League provides a new sweatshirtAssistance League provides a new sweatshirtOne of the focus areas of my administration is public safety and violence reduction. Education, employment, and enforcement are the cornerstones of my vision to reduce violence in our city and ensure that all young people have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Education improves the quality-of-life for our citizens, reduces crime, and leads to better job opportunities. Employment ensures a healthy economy and reduces crime and poverty. Enforcement makes us a safer city.

However, government and the private sector can only do so much to alleviate the problems facing our community. If we want to achieve urban renewal and community improvement, we need citizens to volunteer. That is why I’m excited about the new Omaha Serves initiative. We are going to build upon our existing base of volunteers in Omaha, strengthen that base, and use service to improve aspects of our community that local government and the private sector can’t always reach.

What is the focus of Omaha Serves?

In our visual branding of Omaha Serves, we used three interlocking bands to symbolize our three priority areas, as well as the three aspects of our overall focus. Omaha Serves consists of a comprehensive service plan with measurable goals, but it is also a call-to-service that connects our citizens with volunteer opportunities that fit their lifestyles. Finally, Omaha Serves is a celebration of that fundamental spirit of service in our community.

What are the priority areas and how were they chosen?

Cleaning a jet at Freedom ParkCleaning a jet at Freedom ParkOmaha Serves has three priority areas: at-risk youth, neighborhood restoration, and recruiting skilled, long-term, diverse volunteers for our local service organizations. Our priorities were chosen based on the results of a survey sent to over 150 nonprofit organizations and 16 local government departments, as well as a focus group and one-on-one interviews with directors in the nonprofit community. Most importantly, we listened to the people of Omaha, and they’ve been telling us they want to live in safe neighborhoods and that they want to help our next generation succeed.

What values have you personally gained from service?

When I was in high school, I joined the Key Club, the Kiwanis youth club. My early experiences with volunteering taught me that if you’re going to do a job, do it right. When I started becoming successful as a businessman, I learned early on that giving back to your community was non-negotiable; it’s something you have to do. It’s not enough just to succeed in your career; you have to serve your fellow citizens, too. I’ve carried that philosophy with me through the years, and it has made me a better person.

Why will Omaha Serves work here?

Omaha Serves will work because we are a city that celebrates service. According to a study by volunteeringinamerica.gov, nearly one-third of our citizens volunteer for a total of $541.3 million service contributed. This ranks us 19th of 75 midsize cities. As Omaha Serves takes root in our community, even more of our citizens will selflessly donate their time and talent to making our city a better place to live, work, raise a family, and have fun. Omahans love to serve each other and our community, and it improves our quality of life.

About Omaha Serves

Omaha Serves logoOmaha Serves logoOmaha Serves offers a comprehensive community service plan to engage all citizens in addressing community needs through a wealth of initiatives designed to make Omaha a better place to live, work, and play. Funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, Omaha is one of the first 10 cities selected to participate in the Cities of Service program.

To learn more about how you can get involved, contact Kirsten Case-Penrod at 444-5034 or kcase-penrod [at] ci [dot] omaha [dot] ne [dot] us.

Do you have something to say to Mayor Suttle about the new Omaha Serves initiative or your experience serving in Omaha? Comment below!

ServeOmahaTom is a Communications Assistant at the Omaha Mayor's Office. He plays guitar for The Answer Team and co-edits the online poetry journal Strange Machine.

Comments

Bill Lee (not verified) says:

October 3, 2010 : 5 years 51 weeks ago

Bill Lee's picture

Omaha is very fortunate to have the Mayor, Kirsten, and many others working with our volunteers to allow people to be helped, to teach our young people the importance of helping others and the good feeling that comes from improving the way our city looks.
At Freedom Park, we have a history of how our country has been defended down through the years. We also, with our volunteers can educate the public about what it took and the sacrifices many in our community made to keep this country free. I hope that the Mayor’s program will serve to encourage many to work together to make Omaha an even better city to visit and to live in.
Let me invite any who might want to help to drop by the park and become one of our volunteers.

Kirsten (not verified) says:

October 15, 2010 : 5 years 49 weeks ago

Kirsten 's picture

Bill,
Thanks for the great comment! It really is great people like you who welcome volunteers of all ages and backgrounds. Together we make Omaha a great place to live, work and play. Cannot wait to come visit you soon!
 Kirsten

El Viejo says:

October 15, 2010 : 5 years 49 weeks ago

El Viejo's picture

Kirsten, I look forward to showing you around the park. I also want to learn from you about better ways to get more volunteers. Please drop me a note when you are home for a few days and we can find a time for you to tour the park that will work with your busy schedule. Bring along the family. They’ll love it also.
sub_ssn589 [at] yahoo [dot] com
Thanks,
 Bill