Step Up Omaha!

STEP-UP Omaha!
Youth Employment & Entrepreneurship Program

John Jackson will officially join the Empowerment Network team on Monday, December 20, 2021

John Jackson

The Empowerment Network is excited to announce John Jackson as the new Step-Up Omaha! Director.  Jackson comes to the Empowerment Network from his position as an educator at Omaha North High, Omaha Public Schools and associate professor with the University of Nebraska Omaha.  

“We have been fortunate and blessed to work with John for a number of years in various capacities,” said Willie Barney, CEO and founder of the Empowerment Network.  “His amazing work with students and his background in leadership and management will benefit all of our Step-Up interns, families and partners.”

In Omaha, Jackson is probably best known for his work to create, launch and grow the Black Student Leadership Council at North High.  It is a highly successful and well recognized model that has the potential to be expanded to students across the city.  Student leadership and youth voice are two of the most important components for Step-Up Omaha!

“The Empowerment Network Board of Directors could not be happier with the addition of John Jackson as Director of Step-Up Omaha! His previous professional experience and accomplishments give him the right perspective to keep Step-Up Omaha! moving forward,” said Timothy Christian, President of the Empowerment Network Board of Directors.

In addition to his recent work, John has led dynamic teams, implemented database and tracking systems, worked in the non-profit/social service sector, government, education and has experience with entrepreneurship.  His ability to collaborate with many organizations and businesses will also benefit Step-Up Omaha! 

“I count it as an honor and privilege to become a part of the Empowerment Network team as the new Director of Step-Up,” said Jackson.  “Over the last several years I have had several opportunities to participate in and observe several events sponsored by the Empowerment Network. Now the time has come to be an active participant of the sustained work and efforts of this great organization and I am excited to contribute to the edification of our young people, our community and the cities we will serve.”

Jackson is dedicated to life-long learning and is preparing to continue work on his doctorate degree in education.  His educational background includes a Bachelor’s Degree from Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis and a Masters of Education from Concordia University in St. Paul. 

As a teacher and professor, Jackson has taught in Omaha and Minneapolis at the high school and collegiate levels.  He also has a background in strategic planning, program and project management, policy and regulation.  His experience with budget oversight, grant writing and evaluation will also benefit the organization and growth of the program.

“John’s unique skill set, passion and expertise will allow us to build on the current work and expand into additional areas. He has developed great relationships with businesses, community organizations and schools.  He is an excellent fit for Step-Up Omaha and our expansion with Step-Up Council Bluffs,” added Barney.  “In addition, his previous experiences working with family and community engagement are perfect for where we are headed.”

Step-Up Omaha! is an initiative of The Empowerment Network in partnership with the City of Omaha and Charles E. Lakin Foundation in collaboration with:  Omaha Public Schools, Urban League of Nebraska, Hope Center for Kids, Girls Inc., Boys and Girls Club – North, South and West, PACE, Heartland Workforce Solutions, Metropolitan Community College and others. 

Step-Up Omaha! recruits, trains, prepares and places Omaha youth and young adults age 14 to 21, in mutually beneficial paid summer and year round jobs and work experience opportunities. Since 2008, the collective has connected 6,000 youth and young adults to career exploration, hands-on job training, internships, entrepreneurship, civic engagement and leadership.

Participants have gained experience working with hundreds of non-profits, small businesses, governmental agencies and Fortune 500 companies. The program includes participants from North, South and West Omaha.  With the valuable financial support of the City of Omaha, Charles E. Lakin Foundation, United Way of the Midlands, Office of Violence Prevention, Obama Foundation, Kiewit Foundation, Lozier Foundation, Holland Foundation, businesses, and community residents, Step-Up has expanded in measurable ways.

For more information, please call 402-502-5153 or go to or

The Step-Up Omaha Youth Employment Program is now a nationally recognized model partnering with the Obama Foundation/MBK Alliance and local major funders, City of Omaha, Charles E. Lakin Foundation, United Way, employers and foundations.

STEP-UP OMAHA! recruits, trains, and places prepared Omaha youth and young adults age 14 to 21, in mutually beneficial paid summer jobs and work experience opportunities.

STEP-UP OMAHA! builds on the Empowerment Network and community partners’ successes in hiring and placing over 6,000 participants over the past eleven years. Based on its commitment to building a highly competitive workforce of the future, the City of Omaha is prepared to make a significant investment in helping to expand the employment program.

In 2022, the Step-Up Omaha program will continue growing and expanding. With the City of Omaha, Charles E Lakin Foundation, United Way and other local funders supporting, the program is expected to connect 800 to 1,000 youth to career exploration, on the job training, internships and entrepreneurship opportunities.

With the support of the Charles E. Lakin Foundation, a pilot program, Step-Up Council Bluffs will be launched for the first time in 2022.



The vision of the Step-Up Omaha! program is collaborating to bridge the employment gap and invest in the workforce of the future by recruiting, training, and preparing career-minded youth and young adults in our community to make positive life choices, empowering them to fully maximize their personal potential through educational and career opportunities.


1. Education
2. Exploration
3. Employment
4. Entrepreneurship
5. Engagement

Step-Up Omaha! is an initiative of the Empowerment Network in collaboration with the City of Omaha. Community partners include: Boys & Girls Club of the Midlands, Heartland Workforce Solutions, Hope Center for Kids, Girls Inc., Metropolitan Community College, Omaha Public Schools, PACE,Urban League of Nebraska and the United Way of the Midlands.


   Interns with City of Omaha and Mayor’s Office 

As the Empowerment Network’s Step-Up Omaha! employment program moves into its 13th year, it continues to build on its successes, which included expanding its reach city-wide and working with both community and businesses partners to connect more than 6,000 youth and young adults, ages 14-21, with career exploration, job training, and internships. Hundreds of Step-Up Omaha alumni have graduated from high school, entered and completed college and gained part-time and full-time work.

Summer employment has been proven to be a vital component to engaging youth and putting them on the right path to long-term career success. Local and national research points to the importance of linking youth and young adults with job experiences to establish a positive relationship between education, work and generating income.

With the valuable financial support of the City of Omaha, United Way, businesses, foundations and community residents, Step-Up Omaha has expanded in measurable ways this year.

Participants ages 16-21 in the Step-Up Omaha Jobs, Careers, and Intern program gained valuable work experience at over 80 work sites, including American National Bank, UNMC, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, Woodmen, Omaha Public Schools, Omaha Police Department, Jimmy Johns, Arby’s and others. Interns worked in jobs and internship positions ranging from banking, information technology, and healthcare to landscaping, construction and child development.

Participants ages 19-21 in the Step-Up Omaha Connect program worked full time and part time in opportunities with the potential of long-term employment. Some participants made as much as $11 per hour for the summer and earned opportunities to stay on with their employer as they proved themselves to be valuable assets.

Participants ages 14-15 in the Step-Up Omaha Explore program participated in amazing career immersion experiences including:

    • Health Careers – CHI Health, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Charles Drew Health Center
    • Arts, Culture, History and Entertainment – Love’s Jazz and Arts Center & El Museo Latino
    • IT/STEM Careers – Metropolitan Community College PROTO Lab
    • Government – Mayor’s Office, City Council, County Commissioners, County Treasurer, Planning Department
    • Law Enforcement, Fire Safety and Criminal Justice – Omaha Police Department, Douglas County Jail and Douglas County Attorney’s Office, City Attorney’s Office, Omaha Fire Department, U.S. Probations Office
    • Sports, Events, and Hospitality – TD Ameritrade, CenturyLink Center and MECA
    • Agriculture and Food Production – No More Empty Pots, Permaculture
    • Entrepreneurship – SocialPreneur Lab,  Boys & Girls Club’s Career Launch Program
    • Business and Corporate Executive Leadership – WoodmenLife
    • Trades Construction, Culinary, Automotive,– OPS Career Center
    • College Visits – UNO, Metropolitan Community College, Bellevue University, Kaplan University

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