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24th Annual Tribute to Women

Women Making a Difference

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Honoree - Stephanie Ahlschwede

As a mentor to dozens of women from all walks of life, her guiding principle is that “women must support, trust and help develop other women as leaders so we can change the world together.” As Executive Director of United Methodist Ministries– Missouri River District, Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede provides oversight and direct management of numerous outreach programs addressing such issues as poverty, hunger and racism.

Rev. Ahlschwede has advised several congregation-based nonprofits, including two she founded: the “Blue Flamingo Thrift Store” and “The Big Garden” community garden program. The latter has created 32 community gardens in east Omaha to provide nutritious fruits and vegetables to lowincome families while teaching neighborhood women and youth about health nutrition, horticulture, responsibility, patience and persistence. Under the leadership of Rev. Ahlschwede, “The Big Garden” program is collaborating with other agencies in metropolitan Omaha working on hungerrelated programs. A second initiative, “The Big Rural Garden,” extends the project throughout Southeast Nebraska.

Through United Methodist Ministries and its Volunteers in Mission program, Rev. Ahlschwede encouraged over 1000 youth and adults from throughout the state to volunteer in East Omaha last year. Through hands-on service projects and in-depth discussions, participants become educated about race, gender and poverty with a result of creating advocates for the dismantling of racism, sexism and poverty.

Rev. Ahlschwede has been actively involved as a board member of several local human service agencies and initiatives including the Metropolitan Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless and Methodist Federation for Social Action. For four years, she also served on the Justice for Our Neighbors immigration legal clinic board. She has also served as the Interim Executive Director of both Together, Inc. and Wesley House Community Center.

Under her leadership, UMM has initiated four annual Days of Service in the metro, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service , Stand Up Against Poverty, and Global Youth Service Day. Rev. Ahlschwede is the Nebraska representative for the United Methodist Church South Central Jurisdiction Women’s Leadership Team and the Clergywomen Convener for the United Methodist Church in Nebraska, which coordinates formal and informal networking opportunities for women.

Among her many awards and honors, Rev. Ahlschwede was given the Omaha by Design Neighborhood Leaf award for her work with community gardens. With every hat she wears, Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede has the unique ability to meet people “where they are in life” offering nurturing and challenging environments that provide mentees with unique opportunities to grow and develop.


Honoree - Mary A. Balluff, M.S., R.D, L.M.N.T.

Her dedication to improving the well-being of women and children in the community is extraordinary. Through her work as Chief of Community Health and Nutrition Services with the Douglas County Health Department, Mary Balluff has become a recognized leader with exceptional skills to bring diverse stakeholders together to improve the health of Omaha families.

Balluff has successfully trained professionals, built public health capacity, engaged the public to dialogue and collaborate, created public/private partnerships and attracted significant funding to the community to improve the health of the community. Balluff is one of the founders of Activate Omaha and has been instrumental in securing grants to promote active lifestyles. Her leadership in Live Well Omaha Kids has funded interventions that prevent childhood obesity.

Balluff secured 5.7 million dollars over a two-year period from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-Communities Putting Prevention to Work. Balluff has consistently given her time and talents to improve and empower the lives of women and children in Omaha. For several years, she has been involved in the national maternal and child health organization (CityMATCH) as a board member and leader. The organization’s mission is to improve the health and wellbeing of urban women, children and families.

Balluff has dedicated time to organizing Baby Blossoms Coalition (BBC) that aims to reduce feto-infant mortality. BBC engages physicians, nurses, social workers, childcare providers, interested citizens and medical examiners to share their observations and make recommendations to improve local health systems and resources for women, infants and families. Mary was instrumental in developing the first Fetal Infant Mortality Review program in the state if Nebraska. In 2010, Balluff was presented with the Jill Dills Award for Distinguished Public Health Service, from the Public Health Association of Nebraska.

In 2011 Mary received the University of Nebraska Medical Centers, College of Public Health Robert Sparks Award in Public Health and Preventive Medicine that recognizes an individual who demonstrates excellence, creativity and distinguished collaboration in advancing effective approaches to prevent disease and promote health through public health education and practice. The world is run by those who show up. Balluff is a community partner and leader who not only shows up, but is willing to roll up her sleeves to get things done.



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