Julie Smith Is One With ONE Omaha 1/3/17 01/03/17 11:21:17 AM
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Julie Smith is organizing others to make a better society and a better Omaha.
Julie Smith Is One With ONE Omaha
By Julien R. Fielding
The Daily Record
From a young age, Julie Smith felt “compelled to better society.”
“I was always eager and focused on helping the community and taking responsibility for making the society we live in better,” she said. “From elementary to high school, I went to Brownell Talbot. They expose you to different community service opportunities. I was also on student council and the National Honor Society.”
After high school, she went to the University of Nebraska at Omaha, to earn her B.G.S. in Non-Profit/Public/Organizational Management. Immediately afterward, she earned her Master of Science in Urban Studies from UNO.
While working on her university degrees, she was the Service Day Coordinator and Volunteer Coordinator at UNO and in this position she trained and developed volunteer staff, helped students to find a good nonprofit fit, produced promotional materials, gathered data and developed and managed grants.
It was starting to look like organizing was in her blood.
A few years before she went to UNO, she had started the Love Fest in the Midwest, which began as a one-day “revolutionary peace rally” intended to be a “conference of good thoughts,” and has since turned into a major three-day music and camping festival that draws over a thousand people every summer.
As she explains it, she started the music festival in 2008 when George W. Bush was president. She wasn’t happy with his policies, so she decided to organize some free protest events in the city parks. She got her first-ever tax return – of $500 – and used it to launch the Woodstockesque event. “I thought we needed a show of solidarity and what better way to get people to come out than to offer a free day-long concert,” she said.
And since Smith knows musicians and loves music, her choice was a no-brainer. She launched Love Fest. “I learned so much from doing Love Fest. It was the biggest professional development experience of my life. I learned a lot from doing and failing. I love trying out things I’m unfamiliar with.”
She’s currently trying to transition Love Fest to a professional company, but that doesn’t mean she is finished organizing events. “I want to have a street festival downtown that’s one giant dance party,” she said.
Some of these plans might have to wait a bit, though. Her newish position keeps her very busy. In 2015, she was hired as the program manager for ONE Omaha, a “city sponsored and community driven initiative to increase and strengthen neighborhood engagement in Omaha.”
“ONE Omaha officially started when I got hired,” she said. “We are helping broaden the base of neighborhood volunteers and increasing the general public’s understanding of what critical work associations do. I work with existing groups and help individuals, from students to senior citizens. If the road in front of your house needs to be fixed, you need to initiate a phone call. People aren’t just driving around the city, looking for problems.”
She explains that “no one in the city has a magic wand” to fix problems, so if someone has a concern, and he or she wants to affect change, he or she has to get involved. “It makes me sad that people always feel hopeless about making progressive change; that they think society’s issues are too big to tackle,” she said. “I’m upbeat and optimistic. I tell people to ‘empower yourself and get to a neighborhood meeting; get involved in advocacy about this issue you care about.’ You have to get involved on a local level. I’m such an idealist. I don’t think any problems are too big to tackle, and I can’t procrastinate when I see something is wrong. I would like a lot more people to get engaged on a local level.”
When she isn’t working, Smith keeps busy with her family. She has a 7-year-old son and a niece and nephew. And she’s active in her community. She’s currently a member of her son’s PTA, and on the board of her neighborhood association. In the past, she has given her time to the Nebraska Children’s Home Society and the YMCA.
Anyone who wants to know how to affect change needs only to pick up the phone and call Smith. “We work with hundreds of volunteers who enhance our city,” she said. “I have learned a ton from neighborhood leaders. Most of them have been advocates longer than I have been alive.”
With nearly a decade of experience in affecting change and organizing, it seems that politics could be in Smith’s future. “Things always change,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing now. It all still surprises me that I’ve been so successful. I really like what I’m doing. And being a parent would make a political career difficult. One day I’d like to help other people get into office – with campaigning, but we will see where my path takes me.”
ONE Omaha, which has three staff members, including Michael Van Sant and Mike McGuire, receives funding from the Mayor’s office and private philanthropists, and operates out of the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center on UNO’s campus, at 6001 Dodge St.
Things are slower at the office until February, she said, when things pick up and continue being busy until August. In the fall, they help coordinate a neighborhood conference.
For more information, go to oneomaha.org. Smith can be reached at Julie.firstname.lastname@example.org or 402-547-7473.