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Meet the 2016 Omaha Fellows
Joe DiCostanzo, Teacher, Omaha Public Schools
Born and raised in Columbus, Nebraska, the son of a small business owner and a social service worker who cared for the developmentally disabled, Joe was raised on the values of hard work and caring for others. While attending college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he worked for various campaigns and had the privilege to work at the Nebraska Unicameral. He graduated from the UNL with a Bachelor of Science in Education and Human Sciences in 2008 and moved to Omaha to begin a career in teaching. Joe is currently a resident of Benson, located in the heart of Omaha. He teaches social studies and works on developing family and community partnerships for Benson High School. Over the past seven years at Benson, Joe has worked as a teacher, administrator and advocate with a wide range of families, businesses, non-profits, and other government agencies to provide a high quality experience for the students of the school. In 2012, while working to complete his graduate degree in educational leadership from Doane College, DiCostanzo developed the My Empowerment Network for Success (MENS) Program. This program identifies academically average performing male students who self- reported not having a consistent positive male model in their lives. With a combination of academic strategies, expanded social opportunities and college and career exploration, the young men in the program have turned around their academic performance, discipline record, and created a new hope for their lives. In February of 2015, Joe and the youngsters of the MENS Program were selected by the Harvard Graduate School of Education to present at their annual Alumni of Color Conference in Cambridge, MA. In addition to working with students of the community in the classroom and on the fields of competition, DiCostanzo serves on the board of the Benson Neighborhood Association as the Vice President. He also is a board member of the Benson Theatre and sits as a working group member of Operation Youth Success, a collective impact effort that looks for ways to reform the juvenile justice system in Douglas County.
JaKeen Fox, Associate Manager, COACH Village Pointe
JaKeen is currently the Associate Manager at COACH Village Pointe and the President of the Urban League of Nebraska Young Professionals. He has worked extensively in the field of retail management for 8 years. During his first year at COACH, JaKeen alone brought in $250,000 in sales which was a quarter of the store's business. This contribution made his store the most profitable in the company that year. Working in luxury retail at companies like COACH and Saks Fifth Avenue has equipped him with the knowledge to engage with people from all walks of life. It would be safe to say that his work in retail was a key component in launching his career in community advocacy. Being the son of an Air Force Master Sergeant, JaKeen has been able to see the world and interact with it from a young age. Born in Birkenfeld, Germany he has developed a love for a multitude of cultures, but is most passionate about his work with people of color; with an emphasis on issues affecting the black community in Omaha. During 2015, JaKeen was the volunteer committee chair for the Urban League of Nebraska. There, he developed partnerships with Inclusive Communities, the Heart Ministry Center, the Union for Contemporary Art, and Omaha North High School. JaKeen proposed and executed a young professionals of color career day that the school has asked to make an annual event. His hopes for his time with NLC are that it will further prepare him to speak to and on behalf of Omaha’s oldest community. JaKeen also hopes to assist Omaha in delving into what it means to acknowledge and support an intersectional black community that is filled with nuance. JaKeen is most excited about the possibility of building new relationships within Omaha and its surrounding areas and taking steps to make Omaha a safe space for all people, everyday.
Christine Geistkemper, Reproductive Health Coordinator, Charles Drew Health Center, Inc.
An Omaha, Nebraska native, Christine is all too familiar with Nebraska's crazy weather, "Husker-mania" and the traffic disaster known as Dodge Street during rush hour. Christine graduated in 2009 from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with a Bachelors of Arts in Sociology with a minor in Psychology and Religious Studies. She is finishing her master’s degree in Public Health with a concentration in Health Promotion from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. As part of her graduate Capstone project, Christine developed a social engagement program for adults diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer's disease for the Nebraska chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. In addition to her research in the field of aging, Christine was on a research team that studied the influence of clinician referral on decision-to-abortion time. She recently co-presented the findings at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is also a co-author of a published article that was recently published in the academic journal, Contraception. As a result of her work in various Nebraskan clinics, her next step is to pursue a combined doctorate in Clinical Psychology and master’s degree in Criminal Justice to best serve survivors of sexual and/or domestic violence. In the meantime, she is proud to have the opportunity to serve Omaha’s youth and adults at Charles Drew Health Center, Inc. In her role as the Reproductive Health Coordinator, Christine educates patients on available contraception methods, helps patients develop strategies for reducing risk and/or exposure to sexually transmitted infections (STI) and helps patients navigate the STI testing and treatment process. Committed to supporting the reproductive rights of all, she hopes to make inclusivity a health priority in Omaha, Ne.
Kasey Hesse, Sales Manager, Q.A. Technologies
Kasey Hesse is a champion for women’s rights, mental and sexual health issues, and environmental causes. An Elkhorn native, Hesse is a sales manager with Q.A. Technologies, an enterprise technology firm that supports federal, state, and private entities. Hesse’s career in technology started at PayPal where she helped expand the site to over 200 countries and territories as a user acceptance test engineer. While at PayPal Hesse received a patent for Publishers Checkout – a mobile payment solution. She also served as the leader of the employee Green Team and innovated the ‘corporate community garden’ concept. Other environmental causes included converting the 1,400 employee campus to reusable dishware and supporting bike commuting efforts. Hesse is president of Omaha Friends of Planned Parenthood, serves on the mental health Community Investment Review Team for United Way, is a member of the education committee for Kent Bellows Art Mentoring Program, served on the Omaha Women’s Fund Circles Steering Committee, and is a member of Leadership Omaha Class 34. Hesse is a supporter of Omaha’s vibrant arts community including Blue Barn Theatre, Opera Omaha, and Joslyn’s Young Art Patrons. Along with her husband Josh, Hesse is often cheering and volunteering for the College World Series, Creighton Basketball, Husker Baseball, and Ironman Triathlon. Hesse received her Bachelors in International Studies from UNL and her Masters in Counseling from UNO.
Kim Howe, Partner, CoCreative Labs
Kim Howe is a partner at CoCreative Labs, providing group facilitation and consulting in collaborative decision-making and authentic stakeholder engagement. Clients include public, private, and nonprofit organizations, as well as neighborhood and community groups. She is passionate about walking alongside individuals, organizations, and communities to collaboratively and creatively investigate needs, develop strategy, and activate their unique assets and strengths to take action. Kim has over 15 years experience in adult education and community development efforts in diverse multilingual, multicultural, and economically varied contexts. She has previously worked as an English teacher and community organizer in immigrant and refugee communities in Chicago, doing small business development with victims of sex trafficking in Romania, and documenting stories of indigenous leaders in central Australia. She also previously worked in nonprofit human resources, concentrating on training and development, teambuilding, and employee engagement. Kim holds a BA in Applied Linguistics and Teaching of English as a Second Language and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at Creighton University. She teaches intercultural communication courses and participatory methods for language instructors within UNO’s International Studies Department and previously taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Chicago City Colleges. She currently serves on the board of inCOMMON Community Development. Kim also loves treasure hunts, living room dance parties, and playing dress up, and tries to maneuver those into her work as often as possible.
Shaun Ilahi, General Counsel, Habitat for Humanity
Shaun joined Habitat for Humanity of Omaha, Inc. in 2014 as General Counsel. In addition to advising Habitat with legal compliance issues, Shaun manages Habitat’s property portfolio and is involved in creating property strategic acquisition plans. He is responsible for clearing all title issues related to a potential property acquisition. Shaun also manages and facilitates Habitat’s legal pro bono workshop in resolving legal issues that may arise during Habitat’s day to day operation. Prior to joining Habitat, Shaun worked as an in-house counsel for a national corporation and then opened up his own practice that catered to the underserved. Shaun completed his undergraduate degree at Columbia University and his law degree at Creighton University.
David Kerr, Owner, DHK Enterprises, LLC
David Kerr is small business owner based in Omaha, Nebraska. He grew up in the west of Scotland in the rainy city of Glasgow. He attended Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen where he earned his Bachelor of Arts. David paid his way through university by working in restaurants and bars and soon developed a passion for hospitality, along with his skills as a manager. After graduation he relocated to London and worked the next several years as a graphic designer for the flagship hospital of Bupa, an international private healthcare company with a presence in 190 countries. When life brought him to the U.S. in 2013, David decided to combine his creative skills as a marketer with his love for hospitality and follow his dream to become an entrepreneur. He started his own LLC and purchased the Old Market Tavern in the heart of downtown Omaha. After three months of ownership he redesigned and rebranded the space for a fresher, more contemporary feel. As well as an aesthetic update, he also strengthened the brand concept, product offering and service levels. David now manages a strong team of seven currently employed at the busy establishment. David also likes to strengthen his skills while giving to worthy causes. He worked extensively with The Albert Kennedy Trust in London, a non-profit that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender homeless young people in crisis. Since being in the U.S. his business has been involved in fundraising efforts for a number of charities including United Cerebral Palsy of Nebraska, Heartland Family Services and the Nebraska Aids Project. He is also very excited to be working in conjunction with TAGG (Together a Greater Good), an innovative app which enables customers to donate a percentage of their spend to the charity of their choice.
Itzel Lopez, Community Engagement Officer, AIM Institute
Itzel Lopez serves as the Community Engagement Office at the AIM Institute, a non profit organization that promotes technology to empower people, enhance organizations & creates brilliant communities through training, youth programs & events. She holds a B.S. in Business Administration with a minor in Communication Arts and an Emphasis in Marketing from Bellevue University. Itzel has years of experience in management, sales, talent acquisition, marketing and the non profit sector. She is an active member of the community and is involved in the planning of the Cinco de Mayo Omaha festivities. In her spare time she manages the catering operations for her family business, Maria Bonita Mexican Cuisine & Catering. She's part of the TeamMates mentoring program and enjoys shopping, networking, going to concerts, volunteering and spending time with her beautiful family. Her other interests include traveling and zumba.
Brittany Mascio, Content Strategist, Just Jump Film / Nebraska Loves Public Schools
Brittany Mascio is the marketing lead for Nebraska Loves Public Schools, a Sherwood Foundation-funded documentary film project that showcases the good things happening in public schools. In her role she researches, writes and creates companion pieces for feature-length films, including the project's social media activity, blog and new minidoc series. Previous to this position, she was the Event Director of Big Omaha, where she led the comprehensive strategy behind the event and helped grow it into what it is today. Brittany graduated from Creighton University summa cum laude and she is an active Teammate mentor.
Ruth Marimo, Owner, Ruth's Cleaning Services
Ruth Marimo is a 35 year old single mother of two who lives in Papillion Nebraska. She has authored two books, a memoir titled ‘Outsider: Crossing Borders, Breaking Rules, Gaining pride’, which chronicles her immigration journey from her country of origin, Zimbabwe, as well as the complexities of being a multiple minority and a work of fiction titled ‘Indelicate Things’. Marimo was a TEDX Omaha speaker for 2015 and has a residential and commercial cleaning business. When she is not busy raising her two kids, she speaks and fights for many causes including racial inequality, immigration reform and LGBTQ equality. She is especially interested in working on changing the mindsets of vulnerable populations through education, talking about the issues that are considered taboo but are cancers to societies. Issues like how African Americans are disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic even at a time other vulnerable groups are seeing a significant decrease in infection rates. The importance of comprehensive sex education in schools, the importance of early reading among children of minorities and immigrants. Through her worldly experiences Marimo works hard to impart some of the knowledge she has gained with her peers that are back in Africa, and uses the values she learnt in Africa to give people here a different perspective. Ruth Marimo also enjoys the challenges that come with being a small business owner and being able to give other people an income while providing a much needed service. Her number one job is that of raising her two children who are aged 9 and 11, who excel in both sports and academics. Being a voice for the marginalized is something Marimo is deeply passionate about.
Erin McArthur, Director of Operations, Women's Fund of Omaha
Erin McArthur is the Director of Operations at the Women’s Fund of Omaha, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of Omaha-area women and girls. To do this, the Women’s Fund identities critical issues thought research, funds innovative solutions through grants and influences dynamic change through advocacy to ensure that every woman and girls has the opportunity and ability to reach her full potential. Erin is an Omaha native. After moving to Virginia and South Carolina for a few years for school she returned to her Midwest roots and has never looked back. She is currently working to finish her Bachelor’s degree in nonprofit management and plans to follow that up with a Master in Public Affairs.
Molly McCleery, Staff Attorny, Nebraska Appleseed
Molly McCleery is the Staff Attorney for the Health Care Access Program at Nebraska Appleseed in Lincoln. She represents clients in class action and impact litigation and engages in legislative and administrative advocacy on issues related to Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, and public assistance programs. Molly is passionate about ensuring that all Nebraskans have access to quality, affordable health care. Prior to working at Appleseed, Molly had a judicial clerkship in northwest Iowa, where she worked with judges on both civil and criminal cases. Originally from central Iowa, Molly graduated with a B.A. from Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri and received her law degree from Creighton University School of Law. Outside of work, Molly enjoys live music, reading, traveling, knitting, and playing fetch with her dog, Estes.
Vernon Miller, Tribal Chairman, Omaha Tribe of Nebraska
Chairman Vernon Miller, is a member of the Thunder Clan from the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, was elected to the Omaha Tribal Council on November 5, 2013. Miller was then elected as Chairman in November, 2014, where he also serves on the Tribal Government Committee, Tribal Resources Committee, and Health, Education, & Welfare Committee for the Omaha Tribe. He has been appointed to the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs. As a member of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association and Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Health Board, Miller serves on the Tribal Interior Budget Council for the U.S. Department of Interior, and on the U.S. SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) Tribal Technical Advisory Council. He is the former High School Business Teacher, and was recently appointed to serve as Secretary of the Board of Education at Omaha Nation Public Schools on the Omaha Tribal Reservation in Macy, Nebraska. Chairman Miller further currently serves on the Board for the National Congress of American Indians as the Great Plains Vice President-Alternate. From 2011-2014, he served on the Board of Directors for the Nebraska State Education Association. He is also a 2010/2011 Ambassador with the Americans for Indian Opportunity. Miller was named Teacher of the Year by the National Indian Education Association in 2010, and was recognized in 2012 as Indian Country's 40 under 40 by the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. Chairman Miller is also a National Racial Equity & Healing Community Leadership Network Fellow with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. He is a 2006 graduate of the College of Education and Human Sciences, at the University of Nebraska.
Juliana E. Muchinyi, Fourth Year Medical Student, Creighton University School of Medicine
The daughter of an engineer and a registered nurse, Juliana Muchinyi immigrated to the United States from Kenya when she was 19 years old. She attended La Sierra University in Riverside CA where she enrolled in the University Honors program, made frequent appearances on the School of Business and College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s List, graduated cum laude with a degree in Business Management and was the recipient of the President’s Award to Outstanding University Undergraduate Student during her graduation commencement ceremony. Upon graduation, she worked as an academic coach in the Center for Student Academic Success at La Sierra University while studying for the MCAT exam and applying to medical schools. She is currently a fourth year medical student at Creighton University School of Medicine applying for general surgery residencies. She is also interested in health care policy as evidenced in her Honors Senior Thesis Project, and was recently accepted to be a field intern with Nebraska Appleseed Health Care Access Program. During her free time, Juliana enjoys participating in extreme sports/adventures, watching independent films at Film Streams, attending local Omaha music and craft festivals, in addition to traveling, both nationally and internationally.
Danny O'Byrne, Communication Specialist, Bryan Health
Danny is a communication specialist at Bryan Health in Lincoln, Neb., where he helps manage communication to the organization's more than 4,000 employees. He works with various departments and the senior leader team on communication planning, manages the organization's intranet site, organizes quarterly town-hall-style forums for employees and works to improve internal communication based on annual employee engagement survey feedback. He also works with Bryan's public relations and advancement teams to coordinate internal and external communication. Previously, Danny worked in corporate communication at Kiewit Corporation in Omaha. He also spent five years as a co-host and online media manager of Bluejay Banter, a local sports talk radio program in Omaha that airs weekly and after every Creighton men's basketball game. Additionally, he recently completed a two-year term as deputy communications director for Young Democrats of America. Danny was born and raised in Omaha. A writer by trade with a journalism degree, he's developed an interest in progressive politics and, lately, health care policy, and he's volunteered for a handful of political campaigns over the past few years based on those interests. In his free time, he loves to read, write, watch the Chicago Cubs and travel with his girlfriend, Mary.
Dené Oglesby, Secondary French Teacher, Ralston Public Schools
Born and raised in Omaha, Dené Oglesby, currently teaches Secondary French at Ralston Public Schools. Her international experiences and advocacy for workplace, labor, and social justice greatly informs her teaching and her passion to make a difference. After studying abroad in Mexico and France, Dené earned her bachelor's degree in French and Spanish from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2008. She taught English for two years in Paris at the Université de Marne-la-Vallée and the École Nationale de Ponts et Chaussées. In 2010, she returned to Lincoln to complete her master's degree in French Language and Literatures, specializing in 19th century literature, Spanish, and translation. After a short year managing the Lincoln Yoga Center and earning her 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher certification, Dené returned to Omaha to begin teaching for Ralston Public Schools in 2013. The Nebraska International Languages Association recently recognized Dené as the New World Language Educator of the Year for her commitment and excellence to the profession. She has lead three student group tours to France and is an AP French UNO Dual Enrollment Teacher. Though she is in her third year in the district, it is her eight in education. Living as an ex-pat in France for over three years gave Dené insight to a culture with more progressive labor and educational values which inspires much of her work in her local teacher's association. Dené currently serves on the Ralston Education Association's Negotiations Team to improve working conditions for 250 teachers in the district. She also serves on the Metro Board for the Nebraska State Education Association, collaborating with other teachers in the metro-area on promoting teacher and student-friendly legislative policies and programs. Dené has been actively involved in establishing the relationship between the non-profit Inclusive Communities and Ralston. After securing a $9,000 grant from the Ralston Board of Education in January 2014, Dené regularly recruits and chaperones students to the four-day residential camp, IncluCity, to teach youth leadership skills and social justice awareness. Dené also organizes and recruits for other social justice programs and events for staff and students alike while serving as Ralston High School's diversity club sponsor. Recognized as a community-builder and feminist, Dené has been invited to speak on women's issues, volunteered with the Lincoln Literacy Council and Planned Parenthood. In her spare time, she enjoys jogging, teaching community yoga classes, and staying up-to-date with national politics and sustainable development/environment trends.
Scott Packer is a native and life-long resident of Omaha. Scott graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2010 with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science with a History Minor. Scott would go on to attend Creighton University School of Law, where he would obtain his law degree, and is now a licensed attorney. While in law school, Scott joined the Creighton Law Review, and wrote an article on immigrant rights in Nebraska which was chosen for publication. Scott further developed his interest in immigration law by clerking with the Omaha Immigration Court. Scott’s volunteer experience includes time with the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, as well as with the Immigration Attorneys at Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska.
Jarrod Reece, Partner, Likes Meyerson Hatch LLC
Jarrod Reece is a partner at Likes Meyerson Hatch LLC, a full-service business law firm in Omaha. He focuses his practice primarily on business disputes and employment matters. Jarrod earned a bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish from Creighton University, where he was president of the College of Arts and Sciences Student Senate. He also holds a law degree from Washington University in St. Louis, where he served as Chief Commentaries Editor of the Law Review. During college, Jarrod served on the staff of Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey, working predominatenly in the area of grant administration. Immediately following graduation for law school, he served as a law clerk to the Honorable Kenneth F. Ripple of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Jarrod and his wife live in Omaha and are expecting their first child in April 2016.
Amelia Rosser, Housing and Economic Coordinator, Catholic Charities Phoenix House
Amelia Rosser is a non-profit management professional with a personal mission to effect positive change in the way that people in the Omaha Metropolitan area experience poverty. Amelia has over eight years of proven experience in communications, program development, resource management, grant writing, community outreach, and public speaking. A passionate leader and problem solver with experience working with first time homeowners, refugees, homeless population, and victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Currently Amelia is the Housing and Economic Coordinator at Catholic Charities Phoenix House. She is developing the housing program by tapping into her past experience in refugee resettlement and homeless services to increase self-sufficiency and housing stability. Amelia relocated to Omaha in 2009 following graduation from North Central College. She has a Bachelors in Marketing and Speech Communications and is currently pursuing her Masters in Public Administration from University of Nebraska at Omaha. Amelia serves as secretary on the Hanscom Park Neighborhood Association and is Co-chair of the Young Non-Profit Network of Greater Omaha Communications Committee. She is a lover of old homes, back yard gatherings around a fire pit, and family. She has ran five marathons and the founder of the Midtown Running Group. Amelia is a highly focused and driven individual with ambitious personal and professional goals.
Shane Strong, Associate Attorney, Kutak Rock LLP
I am an Offutt transplant to Omaha. I was born in Berlin, Germany to two US Service Members. I grew up in Frederick, Maryland at the foothills of the Appalachians. After 9/11, I enlisted in the US Air Force as an Arabic linguist. The Air Force brought us to Omaha and after we served four years, my wife and I decided to make Omaha our home. I attended Creighton law school and graduated in 2013. I worked as a federal judicial clerk for two years and then I began working at Kutak Rock as an Employee Benefits associate attorney.