This week, Around and About offers another installment in its occasional series on longtime community volunteers.
Karen Nelsen has been a volunteer in the Omaha community since 1990, when she joined the Junior League of Omaha.
Nelsen, a vice president-relationship manager in the commercial lending group at U.S. Bank, eventually served as president of Junior League and of its foundation.
As a member of the Aksarben Women's Ball Committee, her current assignments include chairing the Royal Court welcome and Royal Court supper.
Her volunteer service also includes work with the boards of Omaha Performing Arts' The Presenters, the Durham Museum's On Track Guild and the Joslyn Art Museum Association.
In addition, she serves on the audit committee for the Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska and as a team leader for the annual Henry Doorly Zoo membership drive.
Along with her husband, Larry Nelsen, she volunteers weekly in the children's ministry at King of Kings Lutheran Church. The couple live in Omaha and have two adult children, Michael and Molly.
This question-and-answer exchange with Karen Nelsen focused on her commitment to volunteerism, from how she got involved to her advice to others interested in community service.
Q: How would you say your upbringing influenced your career path?
A: My father, Charles Hohenstein, was a naval officer, and we moved every two or three years. I had the fantastic opportunity to live in Japan and England and several other states in this country. My mother, Patty Hohenstein, was an elementary school teacher from Hastings, Nebraska. My family moved to Hastings when I was in high school. We were already somewhat familiar with Nebraska, having spent summers in Hastings and an extended time with my grandparents while my dad served in Vietnam. I moved to Omaha shortly after graduating from Drake University. My dad sent me a classified ad from The World-Herald and suggested that I apply for the job. About 90 days later, I was working as a collector at the Omaha National Bank (now U.S. Bank). I am so fortunate to have worked there ever since. Over the years, I have held several positions in the lending area.
Q: What prompted you to volunteer with community organizations?
A: I joined the Junior League of Omaha at the urging of two ladies I met at a sorority alumnae meeting. Looking back on this now, I realize how important mentors are to you in your career -– either a professional career or a volunteer career. Mentors are a support system, a knowledge base, a place to vet ideas, and someone to point you in a new direction.
Q: What would you say is the biggest societal benefit from the work of volunteers?
A: Volunteers donate time and resources and serve as advocates for the agencies. They can also recruit their friends to join guilds or to work on current projects. This brings new faces to the agencies and new ideas, resources and leadership. Volunteers can lend a helping hand, expertise and a welcome touch in so many ways. Experienced volunteers can play an integral part in an agency's fundraising efforts.
Q: How do you decide where to get involved?
A: I try to focus my volunteer efforts toward causes or agencies I believe in and support. I strongly support agencies that provide leadership training and scholarships for youth. It is so important for our community to support efforts to provide education, job training and leadership opportunities for future leaders in our area. My family and I also share an interest in the arts.
Q: What would you say was your favorite volunteer project?
A: Without a doubt, my favorite project was the 2014 Broadway Ball, a fundraiser for Omaha Performing Arts when I was president of The Presenters. We had an amazing leadership team, and with focused efforts raised record funds for the organization. The event -– a collaborative effort on many levels -– was a very rewarding experience.
Q: How has the type of volunteer work you've done changed through the years?
A: I would say that, early on, the tasks and projects were more hands-on, such as completing shifts, teaching classes and volunteering at my children's school. Over time, I was afforded the opportunity to serve in more strategic functions such as governing boards, committee work and leadership positions.
Q: How has your feeling about volunteer work changed over the years?
A: When I moved to Omaha, I knew only a few people, so I wanted to get involved to meet new people and learn more about the city. I was very deliberate in my volunteer jobs since I was working full time and either attending graduate school or raising a family. The volunteer assignments needed to fit into my schedule and be worthwhile, which sometimes was a difficult balance. For many years, volunteering was a family effort. I often volunteered my husband and children so we could spend more time together and expose our children to volunteering.
Q: What suggestions do you have for those who are interested in helping others?
A: Find a mentor to help guide you in the process. This can be an existing volunteer or a friend who has a shared experience. Don't be afraid to engage a mentor from a different generation. Experienced volunteers are the best teachers and can share a wealth of knowledge.
Be passionate about the causes you support. A terrific volunteer will be willing to support the cause with time, talent and resources and be a positive advocate in the community.
Move on to new volunteer adventures when you have outgrown your current volunteer jobs. Leave behind a great notebook, share your knowledge with those who follow you, and continue to support and advocate for the new leaders.
"Be passionate about the causes you support. A terriic volunteer will be willing to support the cause with time, talent and resources and be a positive advocate in the community."