Network Site Visits in the Beautiful State of Nebraska

We were honored to pay a visit to Nebraska last weekend, home to four of our amazing Network Members, to carry out site visits and conduct filming for an upcoming storytelling project in partnership with Starbucks.

Our first stop was with Kelly Ross, Founder & Executive Director of ECHO Collective in Lincoln. Here we got to witness their outstanding and innovative Afghan Maker’s Circle program, wherein local Afghan women gather on a weekly basis to learn English, sewing, and a slew of other useful skills to make their own clothing. ECHO also provides entrepreneurial training to refugee and immigrant women in the community, and has already played a critical role in establishing over 15 businesses owned and operated by these women.

Next we visited James Knywahtoo, Executive Director of the Karen Society of Nebraska in Lincoln. We were astonished by the powerful and united community James has helped to build in Lincoln. Serving hundreds of refugees and immigrants each week, KSN’s programming addresses a wide variety of challenges in their community. This includes youth programming, cultural orientation resources, advocacy, social and emotional support, housing support and much more.

Following our time in Lincoln, we were thrilled to drop in on Osuman Issaka, President & CEO of the Simple Foundation in Omaha. The Simple Foundation’s community consists of a large and diverse number of refugees and immigrants; their programming covers a significant breadth of local community needs — especially among young people — including summer camps, academic excellence training, girls programming, family advocacy and resources, sports activities and much more. We got to witness their youngest soccer team (9-year-olds and under) play a fantastic game against another local team; their speed, teamwork, and technical skill at such a young age blew us away!

Finally, we visited Jamil Bah-Traore, Founder & Executive Director of Eat N Talk Africa in Omaha. Jamil’s work is truly on the cutting edge of culinary training support for new neighbors and reframing the entire narrative around cultural food across the state of Nebraska and beyond. He prepared an unbelievably delicious 4-course meal of Afro-fusion dishes during our visit, welcoming several members of his family, board chair, and other local leaders share meaningful discussions with the Network. Jamil also introduced us to No More Empty Pots, an organization in Omaha empowering community members to both learn more about cooking/entrepreneurship and to incubate talented chefs growing new businesses around their own culturally diverse foods.

We express our deepest gratitude to all of the Nebraska-based Network members who enthusiastically welcomed us into their community and provided us a glimpse into the impactful grassroots welcoming efforts they are leading. These visits were filled with so many meaningful and unforgettable experiences; we can’t wait to visit with more of our Network Members and their communities soon.

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Dustin Butoryak

National Membership Coordinator with the Hello Neighbor Network (Pittsburgh, PA)