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Living the Values of MLK Awards Recognize Government Employees, Community Leaders 1/18/19  01/18/19 10:33:21 AM Printer Friendly VersionPrinter Friendly Version

Living the Values of MLK
Awards Recognize Government Employees, Community Leaders

By Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

The vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the actions of those who put his vision into practice will be celebrated today with the presentation of four awards to employees and citizens of Douglas County and the City of Omaha at a joint city/county event.
The awards will honor employees SongQuenetta Neal of Douglas County’s Department of Corrections and Orentheian Everett of the City of Omaha’s Recreation Department as well as civic leaders Maria Garcia Vazquez of Metropolitan Community College and Omaha City Council President Ben Gray.
Selection of the recipients of the annual awards, organized by the city and county human resources departments, were made based on nominations by employees of both governments.
Karen Buche, director of the Douglas County Human Resources Department, said the recipients model their lives around the values espoused by Martin Luther King Jr.
“The goal of the program is to honor our employees who portray the ideals and values and beliefs of Martin Luther King Jr.,” Buche said.
Franklin Thompson, director of the Omaha Human Rights and Relations Department, said the awards typically recognize a city worker, a county worker and a community member, but this year there was a tie for the community member category so two selections were made.
“We try to find one person who just sticks out the most,” Thompson said. “
The awards will be presented during an MLK celebration today at noon at the Civic Center, 1819 Farnam St., in the legislative chambers. The agenda includes musical tributes from the Omaha Central High School Women’s Chamber Choir and inspirational speeches. The event is open to the public.
Here’s a look at each of the four honorees:
Neal Helped Children Living
On the Streets in Chicago

As an employee of the Douglas County Correction Center for the past two years, Neal brings a good attitude that helps uplift her co-workers and the inmates at the county jail.
“Every day she comes to work with a positive, can-do attitude,” her nominator wrote. “She inspires everyone else to treat each other with kindness and love that she radiates.”
Neal grew up in poverty and joined the U.S. Army, serving as a combat medic and eventually finding her way to the Chicago area, where she and her sister would help children whose parents were addicted to drugs. Some parents would be out of their homes for weeks at a time.
“A lot of the children would just be left there to fend for themwww selves,” she said. “We would clothe them, feed them, take them to school. We’d speak to their teachers. … (We’d bring) them to our homes until they could be placed in homes where they’d be taken care of regularly on a long-time basis.”
Neal said most of her co-workers wouldn’t know those stories, though. They would know her as their colleague who will take an extra shift for them so they can get home to their families or who will remind them how they keep the community safe after a long day in the corrections setting.
“I am a kind person,” she said. “I believe the kindnessis key to most things.”
Everett Guides Young Men
In a Positive Direction

The supervisor of the Adam Parks Community Center for the past decade, who is now the supervisorof Common Ground Community Center in Elkhorn, Everett was recognized for being a “positive light in the workplace,” according to his nomination.
“In both his work life and his personal life, Orentheian continues to advocate for kids to live up to their potential and overcome any adversity they face,” his nominator wrote.
Everett said he coaches young men in sports and mentors high school and college students, including those just getting started in their careers, in an informal manner.
“It was a great honor, to be honest, to be recognized for all the hard work and dedication I have done throughout the metro area for the last 13 years with the City of Omaha,” he said. “It will always be something that I hold highly and dear to my career and what I do.”
Everett said he tries to guide people in a positive direction, as King did in a broader context.
“It is an honor to be able to work in a capacity where you help other individuals or help them recognize their goals or their passions for where they want to be in life,” he said.
Garcia Vazquez Shows
Students How to Find Success

The vice president for student affairs at Metro Community College, Garcia Vazquez grew up in South Omaha and was the first Latina to serve on former Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey’s cabinet as the director of the Greater Omaha Workforce Development.
“Maria is passionate about working to ensure all students have access to higher education,” her nominator wrote. “She is determined to bring people in our community together through educational and philanthropic endeavors that embrace diversity.”
Garcia Vazquez said the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is a time to pause, reflect and take inventory on what is happening individually and collectively to move the needle toward continued progress on social justice and equity issues.
“I feel honored to be recognized this Friday,” she said. “Many people work in our community, and I certainly feel honored to be among many that have already received the award, but I also look forward to seeing others that I know and work with to be recognized also for their work in the future.”
Garcia Vazquez said it’s important for institutions to celebrate people’s contributions, but it’s really about celebrating the collective impact of the work because a successful person doesn’t accomplish their achievements alone.
“It is also the role-modeling for other people,” she said. “It is important for cities, for groups to celebrate each other and really infuse hope for our future – not just in the community but in this country.”
Gray Advocates for Reform,
Helps Those Less Fortunate

As an Omaha City Council member, Gray has served his community as “a passionate reformer who truly believes in government for the people, by the people,” Thompson said.
“The impact Ben Gray has had on this community spans all the way back to the 1970s when he was with KETV and had a popular community show called ‘Kaleidscope,’ which allowed people without a voice to have their voice heard,” Thompson said. “As a city councilman, he has championed affordable housing, landlord reform and business development.”
Gray said the work to make improvements in society has to continue, despite the current headwinds.
“I am very humbled by the honor,” he said. “But with that also comes great responsibility, and that responsibility is to continue the legacy of Dr. King and continuing to do the work on the City Council and in the community to make sure people who are less fortunate have an opportunity to participate in the society in the way that they ought to be able to participate.”
Gray said everything that can be done to recognize the work of King is important.
“The city and the county coming together for various recognitions and efforts to remember his legacy is, I think, a good thing,” he said.
 
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