Jannette Taylor has been spending a lot of time in the hospital lately at the bedside of a gunshot victim. For the Executive Director of Impact One, north Omaha’s non-profit devoted to gang intervention and prevention, hospitals, drive-by shootings and funeral arrangements have been part of the routine of creative challenges she faces almost every day for the past three years deeply involved in Omaha’s worst violence. But, this gunshot victim is different because he’s her cousin, and at 35 years old, he’s only one year younger than Taylor herself. This time, the violence hits her family.
“If I have learned anything in this three years of constant crisis, it is that you should never take time for granted because you can never get it back and you’re not promised time,” Taylor said while eating a fruit smoothie at a corner shop while waiting for her 18-year old daughter to return from errands. Her delivery is matter-of-fact. If she feels down, she knows how to hide it.
Which is probably why nobody uses the word vulnerable when describing Taylor. People speak about her as though she is capable of anything. “She’s a rock star in every sense of the world,” Scott Hazelrigg said. He is the president of the NorthStar foundation, a partner with ImpactOne to bring Outward Bound experiences to at-risk youth in Omaha. Anne Meysenburg of the Kent Bellows Studio worked with Taylor to create a mural on a North 24th Street building this August using a world-renowned urban artist and Impact One youth. “She gives kids hope which is a really a hard thing to do. Especially the kids she works with. She takes them all one by one and that’s something that is extremely valuable when you are trying to save youth. She’s just amazing. She inspires me. Barack Obama got elected because people needed to be inspired and feel hope. Jannette has that same ability,” Meysenburg said.
Tim Carmody agrees. He worked with Taylor in his capacity as precinct captain for the Omaha Police in north Omaha. “One of the things I appreciate most about what Jannette is doing is that kids in that environment have a tendency to not have hope. So, without hope, what’s your reason for going on? Why shouldn’t I make easy money? What she provides for them -- enables them to see for themselves -- are the strengths they have. She creates a vision of hope that helps them see their potential,” Carmody said.
With an annual budget of $500,000, staff of six and 800 youth to serve, perhaps she connects so well with them because her own career had humble beginnings. “I did everything backward,” she confesses. “I had a baby at 18. I worked at places like First Data, Alegent Health, Sitel. I started taking courses at Metro while my mother watched the baby. It was easier after my daughter started school.” One day there was an employment fair at her office. A representative from the College of Saint Mary told her she could get a business degree in 60 Saturdays. “So I did it,” she said.
After that, Taylor earned a Masters degree at St. Mary’s in organizational leadership and a degree in dispute resolution and negotiation from Creighton’s Werner Institute. Recently, she began taking law courses at Creighton. “I always wanted to be involved in some type of community type work,” she explains. “But, I thought I’d be a civil rights lawyer, change the world.”
Instead, she wound up working with youth through the Boy Scouts and after a brief tenure in the Mayor’s Weed and Seed program, she helped found Impact One in the summer of 2009 through support from the Empowerment Network. The mission is to assist “those who too often become the forgotten members of society. We provide gang intervention and prevention, employability training, job placement, re-entry assistance and referral services. We have ongoing relationships with our clients and we strive to provide constant support. We offer a hand up, not a hand out,” states her online message at impactonecc.org.
They started with a summer jobs program for 150 youth, which has since grown to 500 jobs this past year. “My vision when I started was to have an organization that would address social needs with young people and their families, to be a wrap-around agency that would really help people,” she said.
Impact One has a long list of community collaborators, stitching together a comprehensive service network, but it’s also adept at capturing its audience’s attention. Cultural programming has been effective helping to nurture positive communication in youth, keeping them focused on better choices, including continuing with their education to find better economic opportunities.
Willie Barney, president of the Empowerment Network, has been Taylor’s partner through the blossoming of her vision. “Jannette is one of the few that has been able to connect with the street and the suite -- the corporate suite. She has been able to balance connecting gang members, former gang members, and people who have experienced great loss in their lives. And then she can walk into a board room with these elected officials and express the assets of the people she represents. Our kids are gifted and very creative and what Jannette has done is provide multiple outlets for them to immerse themselves in artistic expression which allows them to discover their own talents,” Barney said.
Sometimes, Taylor find ways for her clients to be both artistic and to learn skills that can lead to careers. Impact One youth helped build two Habitat for Humanity houses which were made available to refugees from Sudan. According to Taylor, “We had kids from different gangs working in different neighborhoods but they had respect for each other because they were doing something for the community.” Impact One youth are currently working with the Bemis foundation on renovation of the historic Carver Savings and Loan building near 24th and Lake. The building will an artist-in-residence, exhibition and performance space, opening this fall. Impact One also collaborated with City Sprouts, placing workers in their community garden at 40th and Seward.
“Everything we do is qualitative,” Taylor explains. “We help people address barriers in their lives -- to transform their lives and do something better. Sometimes that means sitting down with a kid who just tried to rob them or a kid who shot at their son. At the end of the day, what were we put here to do? It’s our work. The work speaks for itself.”