WCW: AUBREY MANCUSO, VOICES FOR CHILDREN

When I think of Voices for Children I think of my mother. The primary photographer for many of their early years my mother would tarry us from location to location shooting single mothers and their children on black and white film, in the late 80’s. She spoke of this place often, but I didn’t know what it was. Later, in adulthood, I was brought on to do some video work for their yearly gala fundraiser–and I learned quite a lot about the what it is Voices does for the children of Nebraska. And it was staggering. Now, as a mother, I truly understand the necessity of this work-and want to share it with as many people as I can reach.

Voices for Children in Nebraska

VFC becomes the voice for children on the legislative floor and across health, safety and educational policies, where the people who are most affected, go unheard. They are there, in Lincoln, holding court with our state’s decision makers to ensure that children in this state are heard, accounted for and taken care of. I couldn’t possibly list everything that is needed from Voices for Children, nor everything that they do. The list is long and hard to understand. In a nation as wealthy as ours and a state so robust with agriculture, why any child would go without, is an anomaly. But unfortunately, NOT uncommon.

Only a handful of women have headed this group since it’s inception in 1987 by Kathy Bigsby Moore.  And right now, leading the team is Aubrey Mancuso, Executive Director. Aubrey has this communicative style that is both forthright and accessible. She’s straight to the point, focused, but also quick to crack a smile. It’s that dichotomy unique to people who share both East Coast and Midwest sensibilities–something I relate to and enjoy. Aubrey has stepped into the role determined to continue the fight to have the voice of Nebraska’s most vulnerable, recognized and respected.

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Aubrey Mancuso, Voices for Children, Executive Director

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

I think the biggest thing is knowing that the work that were doing makes a difference for kids that’s my primary motivation.

What is your motto/mantra?

I like “Be Kind, Work Hard, Stay Humble.”

Who has been the biggest inspiration in your life when it comes to what you do?

My kids. I look at them and think of what I want for their lives and I think that all kids in Nebraska deserve every opportunity to succeed.

What are your personal core values?

Honesty and fairness.

Why do you do what you do?

I think I’m struck by the fact that  Nebraska is such a great place to be a kid and to grow up and have a career, but that’s not true for all of our kids.  We try to do the work we do to give kids a voice among policy makers so that their needs are given the attention they deserve and to level the playing field, so that kids who aren’t as fortunate in their birthrights succeed also. So thats why we do what we do.

3 Things you can’t live without.

Coffee, my family and vacation

What do you want people to know about your job?

We just hope that more people will find out about the work that we’re doing and share our collective responsibility for the next-generation of Nebraska kids. It’s up to adults to make the decisions that will have an impact on their future and we need to be consciousness about how we do that.

Who is your rock?

My husband.

Working at a Non-Profit in Omaha is:

Full of lots of opportunities and challenges.

What is the biggest unfairness in your world?

To me its that a child’s zip code or race has such an impact on their future. Kids can’t control the circumstances that they’re brought into and it shouldn’t control their future.

What is the biggest joy?

When we see a policy change that we’ve been working on for a long time and see that policy actually pass its an exciting moment.

Something you think but never say.

I probably say most of the things I’m generally thinking, but if I’m not saying what I’m thinking– I usually say “Thats interesting” which means I totally disagree with what you just said.

Quote that just “gets you.”

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

What is your theme song?

Hit me with your best shot by Pat Benatar.

How can people be involved in your organization and why is it so important?

New Jersey senator Cory Booker said “Our kids are our states greatest natural resources.”  There are lots of ways to be involved. Get our emails and like us on Facebook. Follow legislature and reach out to your own state senator. We have our gala every year and we ask people to join us at that!

Children don’t work on political campaigns, rarely talk to the media or testify in the judicial or legislative process and often can’t keep themselves safe, nurtured and healthy. Many children don’t even have a significant adult in their life capable of meeting their daily needs, much less speaking out for them. Voices for Children in Nebraska gathers information about those areas of need and disseminates that information to people who can make a difference in the lives of all Nebraska children.

– Kathy Bigsby Moore, Founder

If you are interested in some of the policies that Voices for Children have been a part of here is a list! 

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Small thoughts on empathy

Life is precious and wonderful and fleeting.

And when there is terror happening across the world in waves I’ve never known before it illuminates just how fragile it truly is. How it can be so easily disregarded by some who have chosen to abandon it’s value.

I’ve spoken before about how becoming a mother had made me so much more anxious and vulnerable. And it has. I’m going to admit something so embarrassing right now. But maybe I share this with others. When bad things happen, when there are high profile terrorist attacks or shootings–I google the victims. I Facebook them and hold on dear to them as a constant reminder that WE are ONE. The only thing that separates me from them is time and place. That’s the only thing that separates any of us. And that thought is an utter brick in my chest, but also, it’s a blessing.

I want to have that empathy. I want to have the realization that I am not invincible. There is no “that couldn’t be me” about it. Because it gives me hope that others are thinking that same way, shrouding themselves in the kind of empathy that is born of fear and uncertainty. Hoping that the culmination of all of our prayers for peace and for others somehow lift us into a better, safer place-as a planet.

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I don’t like the way it makes me feel…doing that. I feel nervous to leave my house, anxious and edgy. And so much sadness. But beneath that, I feel so intrinsically grateful for every night I get to go to sleep with my family and every morning I wake up to them-days that I can fill with purpose. That gratitude is really what keeps me moving forward some days–getting out of bed despite taking the weight of the world on my shoulders. My husband sometimes has to remind me not to do that. Watch certain things, read certain things–because they become a part of my personality and I can’t shake them off very easily. This dichotomy of grief and gratitude is where I’ve found my drive. My momentum to do…anything and everything I can. NOW.

I let go of faith in a religious way, a long time ago.

I DO believe in higher power, in vibrations, in this mysterious universe with all of it’s unanswered questions. But I REALLY believe in people. I believe in communication, in helping others and truly, in empathy. Even when I have been the MOST PISSED EVER, I was still considering the other persons perspective. And if there is some kind of faith I can build from THAT and gratitude and connection, that would be the one for me.

When I connect with someone that was lost in a tragic way-I feel as though I take a small part of them with me. I want to live MY dreams, because they lost theirs. I want to hug my child tighter, where they can no longer hug theirs. I want to honor their lives by LIVING and never forgetting that WE are ONE. And always, always remembering that they matter.

-Beaufield

WCW: Nancy Williams-No More Empty Pots

Woo Hoo! My first Woman Crush Wednesday is finally here!

I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by powerful, hard-working, talented and entrepreneurial women my entire life. And many of those women have found their passion in Non-Profit roles throughout Omaha. I wanted to ask not only about their chosen professions but also about themselves. The woman behind the magic. What makes them get out of bed and make helping the people of their city a priority. Life in a Non-Profit is challenging, sobering and extremely rewarding–

Honestly, I’m getting goosebumps. So here is my first profile: Nancy Williams, who has graced my life with her presence since I was a child. Please read to learn how she is leading healthy food initiatives across the city and hungry for more. Enjoy! Every Wednesday!

NANCY WILLIAMS, NO MORE EMPTY POTS

Nancy-Williams

Org mission:
No More Empty Pots (NMEP) connects people to local food. We are a grassroots non-profit with a mission to improve self-sufficiency, regional food security and economic resilience in urban and rural communities. We value education, stewardship and sustainability. NMEP serves as a catalyst for identifying individuals and groups to address challenges to improve self-sufficiency in urban and rural communities.

No More Empty Cups: No More Empty Cups is a not-for-profit coffee shop and cafe dedicated to connecting community through good food, great drinks and amazing people. BUILD COMMUNITY: We build community by connecting local farms with local business. TRAIN ENTREPRENEURS: Our mentorship program will connect entrepreneurs with resources to develop and test a viable business plan. The goal is to increase the number of small businesses that flourish. SUSTAINABILITY: We serve sustainably produced coffee and locally produced baked goods.
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What gets you out of bed in the morning?
The chance to do something different. To experience discovery. Challenge status quo. Witness the impossible and unexpected. Live the life that I have been given. To leave wherever I am better than when I arrived. Whenever I can to help others live a life following their passion and making the most of each opportunity.

Right now our big project is the food hub. Here is a link to that page and what it is about: http://www.nmepomaha.org/foodhub

What is your motto/mantra?
There are many women who have come before me who have done more with less. Let’s get it!
AND
It is what it is.

 Who has been the biggest inspiration in your life when it comes to what you do?
My mother, grandmothers, women who believe in me and trust me, my kids – the folks I randomly see in everyday life who make something out of seemingly nothing, who summon whatever it takes to keep reaching and trying to make things better.

What are your personal core values?
I am not sure if I have personal core values but if I do they might trust and respect.My values might be summed up in a quote by Maya Angelou, “Just do right.”

 Why do you do what you do?
I like challenges, puzzles, problem solving, AHA moments, and witnessing extraordinary outcomes.

3 Things you can’t live without.
good food, my family, music/art/laughter

What do you want people to know about your job?
I want people to know that my job is about people and possibility. I want people to know that we are a community organization that believes in the power of community and what can be accomplished when we work together. I want people to know that we believe that everyone has something unique and powerful to contribute.

Who is your rock?
I depend on a lot of people for different things. There are people at work and people in my personal life. I get support from family, friends, mentors and mentees. But if I had to pick one person, it would be my mom. She can get to the heart of anything and once she “pleads the blood covenant of Jesus on it”, forget about it; it’s done.

Working at a Non-Profit in Omaha is:
Exhilarating and frightening, depending on the stage of growth and your role in the organization

What is the biggest unfairness in your world?
I don’t know if there is a biggest unfairness but equity is a huge issue everywhere. The lack of basic humanity is surprising sometimes. We sometimes see each other through different lenses instead of just human beings.

 What is the biggest joy?
When I get to witness someone realizing their passion and purpose. When other people get what we are trying to accomplish with this work.

Something you think but never say.
I am nearly 50 years old. I rarely experience thinking something without verbalizing it. And many times, I think that I am saying it to myself but realize that I have spoken it aloud when someone responds to it.

I probably don’t tell people how much I care about them or admire them enough. I am supposed to be working on that.

Quote that just “gets you.”
If I understand this correctly, it would be, “Just do right,” by Maya Angelou. It is succinct and to the point. It encompasses character values and how to treat people all at once.

 What is your theme song?
I keep adding songs to my Spotify playlists so it is hard to have one theme song. I will tell you though that the songs that I love always have a tight bass line and/or kick ass drums. The rhythm section has to be right.

How can people be involved in your organization and why is it so important?
There are so many ways for people to be involved in our organization. It is important because most of us want to belong to something greater than ourselves and have something meaningful to contribute. We are creating a space for continuous learning, acceptance and engagement where the sum of all of us is greater than any of us alone. When our passions and strengths align, the results are overwhelmingly powerful. Following is a short list of how people can get involved:

•Volunteer: gardens, cooking demos, special events, advisory teams, board of directors
•Provide technical support: evaluation, processes, data collection
•Share our story with others that might value what we do
•Collaborate on projects and programs
•Engage in marketing campaigns
•Contribute financially
•Be creative and share feedback

Parting words:
There is a convergence of initiatives that favor the engagement of women. I believe that when women employ our collective strengths, really good stuff happens.

Finding purpose at Target

When do you get involved?

I was gallivanting through my local target store, decked out in a Southern Belle costume, including a wide brimmed straw hat, lace fan and short gloves. There are two ways you can travel when dressed like that.

A gallivant and a stroll. And I was running too late to stroll.

A man stopped his friend and pointed at me and said, “Now, that’s class.” I logged it in my memory forever–it was hilarious.

I only had two items, the lanes were full, I spot one down the way that seemed to be moving faster and then I hear, in a furious male voice.

“You don’t FUCKING listen. You don’t EVER fucking listen.”

And my heart skipped a beat-I look down the lane i was just passing by and a man has a young boy (around 12) by the neck, face down on the counter top. I stopped–and then consciously plant myself behind them. He does it again. The kid behind the counter is shaken but trying not to get involved, answering this guys questions about his cartwheel app. Very nonchalantly for someone who is also manhandling a human being. He was an expert.

I saw Target employees looking–pretending to busy themselves nearby, their eyes shifted in his direction. Have you ever been in the presence of something so intense, it feels like no one breathing?

This boy was autistic. He was also calm. He wasn’t throwing a fit. He was reaching for M&Ms-like my 1 year old does. The only word he said was ‘fuck’ with his face pushed into a conveyor belt. I watched the dads hands grip into his skin through his t-shirt. Even when he was perfectly still the dad had an iron clad grip on him-digging through his clothes to reach his skin. THEN, he has the audacity to look at me and say:

“Sorry for the wait.”

My face twisted in disgust. I know I can’t hide my feelings-so it was clear how I felt.

THEN, he did it AGAIN. At the top of his bleeding lungs.

“MICHAEL, YOU DON’T FUCKING LISTEN!” And twisted his fingers into his back.

“Is he okay,” I asked. I couldn’t take it anymore.

“He’s fine, he doesn’t fucking listen.”

“You’re leaving red marks all over his body,” I pointed to all the red splotches on his neck and arms. “It’s making everyone–me, it’s making me so uncomfortable.”

And this guy lost it. He is looking at me dead in the eye, red faced and again as loud as his voice could get:

“GET IN LINE LADY. HALF OF AMERICA THINKS I’M A SHITTY DAD! THE OTHER HALF THINK I ABUSE MY SON. HE’S GETTING KICKED OUT OF SCHOOL BECAUSE HE DOESN FUCKING LISTEN.”

His frustration was palpable. He was shaking. I was shaking. No, I can’t imagine the daily patience needed by parents of children with learning disabilities. But, I can imagine how you wouldn’t deal with it.

“When you do this in public, you make it everyone’s concern,” I eked out. He took of with his son and I could barely count my money out. The teller asked ME, if I was okay. Yeah dude, I’m fine.

I have a history of domestic violence. I can absolutely NOT watch someone be publicly humiliated and walk by like they’re not a human being themselves. I mean, should any of us? Turn a blind eye? We don’t know people’s situations-does that mean we shouldn’t question the bad things we see?

That morning I spent time at the Open Door Mission where I learned that 50 percent of women and children placed there are escaping Domestic Violence. It was a morning full of tragic fact and wonderful hearts and hope.

That night at my fundraiser, I saw a man I sent to jail over domestic violence 8 years ago. A man who violated me, while some people stood by silently and others came to my aid.

What is this theme? I believe in things being put in front of you for a reason. If it is part of your purpose in life, to take it on and make a change. Even when you would prefer to choose another cause.

My husband reminded me that he wasn’t there to protect me. He asked what if that guy had turned around and hit me or worse. I didn’t consider that in the moment.  He said that “these things happen around you and you soak them all in, you can’t take on everyone’s problems baby.” He’s right. And I get that. But if it happens in front of me, is it still not my problem? I have no definitive. Just questions, unresolved.

On the flip side, I wondered if I made it worse for the boy. If now, out of his own humiliation, the Dad would take it out on him. Take me, out on him. And the cycle continues.

So, I’d love some insight. The truth is in hindsight, the day was so full of dichotomy, coincidence, reality-it was sobering. (Despite the fundraisers free beer)

It felt like purpose.

Off thinking and praying,

Beaufield.