In 1990, a small group of visionary women leaders in Omaha recognized that women’s issues and programs were not receiving sufficient funding.
They established the Women’s Fund within the Omaha Community Foundation through a grant from the Ford/MacArthur Foundation. Their goal was to empower women to achieve full partnership in the Omaha community, with opportunities for growth.
While great progress has been made over the decades, the Women’s Fund remains committed to utilizing current research and funding solutions that create change where it is needed most.
The year began with a fight to advocate for abortion access and ended with abortion remaining legal in our state! During the 2022 Nebraska Legislative Session, we helped stop three extreme anti-abortion bills. And when our constitutional right to control our own bodies was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, we joined thousands of Nebraskans to rally, protest and demand our state officials reject political interference in our health care. Because of this collective effort, the promised special session disappeared, and abortion remains legal in Nebraska.
Our additional advocacy included passing two bills—a survivor anonymity bill to protect the identity of survivors once they report an incident to law enforcement; and a bill to establish the state’s first ever Domestic Violence Death Review Team to find gaps within the system and work to prevent additional domestic-abuse related deaths. We also worked as part of a coalition to raise the minimum wage through a successful ballot initiative. To continue our efforts of sexual violence prevention and sexual health education, we developed and released a Sexual Violence Prevention Educator’s Guide in June.
In October for our annual Lead the Change event, we welcomed lawyer, author and equality advocate Anita Hill to Omaha as keynote speaker. Grants totaling nearly $6 million were announced and local organizations working to create communities that are free from gender-based violence and expanding access to sexual and reproductive health services were celebrated.
Our organization was honored to receive the Community Partner Equal Justice Award from Legal Aid of Nebraska and the Roger Baldwin Civil Libertarian of the Year Award from ACLU of Nebraska—recognition of our continued bold advocacy efforts across the state. We also partnered with Raise the Wage Nebraska to successfully pass ballot initiative 433 to raise the minimum wage in Nebraska!
Other highlights of the year include recognition of I Be Black Girl’s achievement of receiving their 501©3 nonprofit status, a record number of applications for Circles Class 11 and successfully offboarding our Contraceptive Access Project to Nebraska Family Planning.
Throughout the year, we continued our focus on making bold impacts to center gender and racial equity in our communities. This included advocacy around effective health education, including comprehensive sex education, in alignment with our values and work to create communities that are free from gender-based violence. Joined by 41 community organizations, supported by the medical community and rooted in research, we advocated for the adoption of Nebraska’s Health Education Standards that would provide all Nebraska students age-appropriate, complete and honest health education. The process was paused in September to the detriment to young people in our state.
Additionally, we advocated for effective public policy during the Nebraska Legislative Session and celebrated some big wins, including strengthened food security, expanded eviction protections for domestic violence survivors, increased access to reparations for survivors of sexual violence, bans on natural hair discrimination in the workplace, increases in affordable child care and more. In 2022, we will continue to advocate for additional bills that were introduced in 2021 and will carry into the next session. These bills will extend the duration of protection orders, provide paid family and medical leave, ban salary histories and reduce barriers to birth control.
In October, we hosted Tarana Burke, activist, author and founder of the ‘me too.’ Movement, as our keynote speaker for our annual Lead the Change event. During the event, we announced our investment of $10 million in grants to local organizations working to improve the lives of anyone who experiences gender-based oppression. In total, since we were founded, we have invested more than $50 million in local women and girls.
We continued to live out our values of intersectionality by speaking out against AAPI Hate, solidifying our support for Black lives and advocating for inclusive support of LGBTQ+ youth.
Jo Giles became our new Executive Director in May!
The Women’s Fund started the year with two full months of policy advocacy action, an event with writer/speaker/pleasure activist Jaclyn Friedman and the largest statewide training ever hosted by the Women’s Fund and including a cross-section of grantees. Then, our team went fully remote and remained that way for the remainder of 2020 as the community and entire nation were impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic. Even so, the organization re-focused advocacy efforts to address the most critical issues impacting women, especially women of color, during this pandemic. Funding extensions totaling $4.6 million were made to grantees and online trainings, including the launch of a radical leadership series, Replenish, allowed our work and impact in the community to continue.
Along with community partners, we launched an online resource for sexual assault survivors, SexualAssaultHelp.org, and celebrated the passage of Measure 428 to end predatory payday lending in Nebraska. Of the bills we supported during the 2020 legislative session, four bills will become law. Our Adolescent Health Project team, grantee and community partners re-launched the project, now Access Granted, with a renewed focus on youth-centered access and a continued commitment to decreasing barriers to sexual health resources for young people in our communities.
To celebrate our 30th Anniversary—and to continue to move our work forward—we launched 30 Days of Action in October to challenge others to join us in making a collective impact. And at the end of the year, Michelle Zych departed as executive director after eight years of service to the organization.
The Women’s Fund invested more than $10 million in grants to local organizations working to improve the lives of women and girls. Testimony was provided on 35 legislative bills with two of our top priority bills passing unanimously by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor.
In collaboration with criminal justice and victim service providers, the Women’s Fund released a new research report, State of Domestic Violence in Douglas County, in March. This report highlights data trends over a three-year period and helps the community to better understand the scope of abuse locally and how to best intervene to keep victims safe and hold offenders accountable. These efforts included partnering with allies in the journalism industry to shift the way they report on violence against women. Journalists have the ability to shape public perception, so we developed Changing the Narrative of Violence Against Women: A Media Resource to assist in that work.
On April 30, Brenda Council retired as Adolescent Health Project Manager but continues to remain connected to the Women’s Fund as a consultant. In June, the Women’s Fund was awarded “Organization of the Year” by the Heartland Pride Board of Directors for continuing to advocate for barrier-free access to sexual and reproductive health services for all adolescents. The 8th class of Circles included 32 new members. Melanie Morrisey Clark completed her second term as board chair.
The Women’s Fund provided the community with $10.5 million in grants, including the launch of grants for the first community of practice on trafficking in the metro. A commitment was made to serve as the fiscal sponsor for I Be Black Girl Giving Circle, IBBG Gives, the first Giving Circle to support Black women and girls in Omaha.
In addition to engaging a more diverse and representative electorate through our first Get Out the Vote campaign efforts, the Women’s Fund successfully advocated for the passage of LB 1132, which allows trafficking survivors to come forward and have convictions, for crimes they were forced to commit, set aside and public records sealed. The Domestic/Sexual Violence and the Workplace: An Employee Toolkit was released to provide local employees with resources on what domestic and sexual violence looks like and how to stay safe in the workplace.
Additional work through the Adolescent Health Project led to a decrease in the rate of chlamydia for the first time in nearly a decade. Another milestone of the project was reached with the distribution of more than 1 million condoms.
We welcomed 27 new circles members and developed a Diversity and Inclusion Committee for Circles with the goal of updating the application and selection matrix to remove barriers and biases.
Advocated and passed LB 289 creating harsher penalties for sex traffickers and buyers. Continued to advocate for effective policies, including payday lending reform, paid family leave and equal pay.
Collaborated with the Omaha Police Department to train more than 1,000 law enforcement officials on domestic violence response and trauma.
STD testing across the metro increased by 42.6% and free birth control was made available throughout the state.
We tackled Douglas County’s alarmingly high rate of STDs through our Adolescent Health Project. We conducted research and published a report on Human Trafficking in Nebraska.
Stories from local sex trafficking survivors were presented in Nothing About Us Without Us. Funding was provided to support the Coalition on Human Trafficking’s hotel/motel training. The Domestic Violence Council merged into the Women’s Fund.
STD testing across the Omaha metro increased by 29% due to the collective community efforts of the Adolescent Health Project.
An update to the Women in Leadership report was published. Investments of $250,000 were awarded to 14 local nonprofits.
The Women’s Fund team moved to 1111 N. 13th Street; and Today’s Omaha Magazine celebrated its 20th year of publication.
Grants totaling $200,000 in grants were presented to 17 local nonprofits for programs benefiting local women and girls.
The Adolescent Health Project (AHP) was launched. This initiative seeks to create sustainable community-wide changes through a research-based, results-focused, comprehensive approach that will: (1) increase the sexual knowledge and health of youth and, thereby, (2) decrease the number of youth engaging in risky sexual behavior and the rates of STDs and teen pregnancy.
We also completed research on the Cliff Effect and Women’s Voices and the U-VISA.
Forty women participated in our Ready to Run sessions. Women’s Fund Circles group offered opportunities to 62 young professional women to network and learn about philanthropy.
Our report How Are Women Doing in Omaha? examined the economic status of women in the local area.
Sex trafficking was the topic of a panel discussion and film screening as the Women’s Fund partnered with Film Streams to show “Sex + Money.”
Ready to Run Trivia Night tested participants’ knowledge of local politics, and a second class joined inaugural members of Women’s Fund Circles, bringing the total membership to 50.
Grants totaling $149,500 were awarded at the annual luncheon in front of an audience of nearly 800 people.
A sold-out crowd of 200 took part in a Ready to Run Rally promoting the importance of electing women to office.
Twenty-five young women were part of the inaugural class of Women’s Fund Circles.
The Leadership Conversations report, based on candid interviews with 47 female executives, was published.
Ellie Archer retired after 11 years as executive director, and Michelle Zych was named the new executive director.
Grants totaling $133,000 and a Recycled Rides mini-van also were presented at the annual luncheon. The Women and Leadership in Omaha update expanded to include women on corporate boards and in senior management positions at Omaha’s largest employers. The Women’s Fund Circles group was launched to introduce young women leaders to the Women’s Fund’s work, as well as provide opportunities to network, interact with established professional women and learn about philanthropy.
The cumulative amount invested in local initiatives exceeded $2.5 million as the Women’s Fund celebrated its 20th anniversary. Grants totaling $125,000 were awarded, and the first Recycled Rides mini-van was presented to a College of Saint Mary nursing student. The Intimate Partner Violence in Omaha research study looked at survivors’ needs and available services in the community.
With $125,000 in community grants, the total awarded by the Women’s Fund since its inception exceeded $1 million. Nearly 200 participants attended the inaugural Ready To Serve board training developed to foster women’s leadership. A survey of non-profit service providers led to the launch of Talk of the Town gatherings to promote networking between agencies. Twelve graduates of the Ready to Run candidate school won office in this year’s elections.
The Women & Leadership in Omaha findings continued to have an impact as local organizations implemented report recommendations. The Ready2ServeOmaha website matching volunteers with nonprofit leadership opportunities was launched in collaboration with the Greater Omaha Chamber Young Professionals. A grant from an anonymous donor raised the total investment in the Women’s Fund STD awareness campaign to $406,000. $138,000 was awarded in community grants. The Women’s Fund relocated to larger offices at 7602 Pacific St.
The Women & Leadership in Omaha report was released, comparing data with research from a decade earlier. The Ready to Run workshop informed 40 women on the fundamentals of running for political office. $25,000 was granted to G.I.R.L. for a summer workshop on media literacy for teens. The Women’s Fund received a $47,500 continuation grant from Alegent for the STD campaign. Community organizations were awarded $122,500 in grants.
The second G.I.R.L. Summit featured the G.I.R.L. Report, the product of two years of research about girls in Omaha. Another successful Ready to Run was held. The Women’s Fund was awarded an Alegent Community Benefit Trust grant in the amount of $127,250 to expand the STD education campaign, and a $10,000 match from the Women’s Fund supported two public health educators. More than $135, 000 was awarded in grants.
50 hopefuls attended the first Ready to Run Candidate school held in partnership with the Lincoln Lancaster Women’s Commission. The WomanSpirit award honored Mary Heng-Braun. Another edition of Celebration of Women was published. $110,000 was awarded in grants.
The Women’s Fund raised money for and produced an $85,000 multi-media campaign to combat the epidemic of STDs in the community by encouraging testing of young people. The first annual G.I.R.L Summit was held.
The fifth WomanSpirit award was presented to Mimi Waldbaum. A five-year, $20,000 pledge to the Latina Resource Center was completed. The first giving circle training was held.
The Women’s Fund moved to 7642 Pierce Street. A follow-up research report was published entitled “What Women Want at Work.”
The Women’s Fund became an independent charitable organization with new office facilities at 1004 Farnam. WomanSpirit awards were presented to Dianne Seeman Lozier and Marian Ivers. An important research report, “What Women Want,” was published. The first annual fall luncheon was held featuring Joan Peters.
The third edition of A Celebration of Women was published. The Workforce Leadership Taskforce undertook the updating of the “Women & Leadership” research study.
The premier issue of the Women’s Fund newsletter debuted and the Women’s Fund launched its website. The second WomanSpirit award was presented to Margre Durham, and the second edition of A Celebration of Women was published.
The magazine, Today’s Omaha Woman, published its premier issue. The Domestic Violence Coordinating Council began to operate as a separate organization. The first WomanSpirit Award was presented to Gail Walling Yanney.
The first edition of A Celebration for Women was published. A third research report, “Women & Leadership,” was produced. The Fund reached its initial endowment goal of $1.5 million.
“Can We Stop the Violence?,” the second research report produced by the Women’s Fund, laid the groundwork for the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council. The Leadership Talent Bank was initiated to create a databank of female candidates for area board positions.
Domestic violence and leadership were added to Women’s Fund priorities. The first research report, “How Are Women Doing in Omaha?,” was produced.
The Women’s Fund recognized the need for quality child care as a major issue in our community. In response, the Outstanding Child Care Provider Awards were initiated and continued for five years.
A group of visionary women leaders established a Women’s Fund within the Omaha Community Foundation through a grant from the Ford/MacArthur Foundation.