Red Cross Heroes of the Heartland: Willie Barney

The American Red Cross is honoring Willie Barney with a Heroes of the Heartland Award next week.

"We couldn't take it anymore," said Willie Barney, who in 2007, had had enough. "What does it take for us to move forward as a community -- realizing one person or one church or one business was not going to accomplish what needed to be done."

A face-to-face meeting here turned into a small group there -- and over time, his vision developed into what we see today.

The Empowerment Network identified current strengths -- and formed new organizations to fill any gaps in Omaha's urban centers.

There are seven categories under the umbrella -- housing, education, faith and hope, health, arts and culture, jobs and violence prevention.

"If you add it up -- there were 850 people working last summer versus 30 when we first started," said Barney. "We're not where we want to be but we're seeing graduation rates go up, gun assaults go down."

Communities in Schools helps coordinate all the spokes already out there to help children.

Impact One consistently works with high risk youth to get them to come up with another solution besides violence.

For Willie Barney though -- the Red Cross award goes to everyone working with him for measurable change. "Those are the people who should be celebrated -- the ones on the block looking out not only for their children -- but the children next door or volunteering, mentoring and going to the school. Not only talking about the issues but offering solutions."

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