Philanthropy comes full circle for UNL student thanks to Strive to Thrive

Naree Philavanh
“When you make a gift to Strive to Thrive, it supports nonprofit organizations, the people they serve and the students who participate in the class. It’s an investment in the future.”

Naree Philavanh knows firsthand the life-changing impact philanthropy can have on a person’s life.

Philavanh, a Lincoln native, grew up with dreams of attending college in her hometown. Her parents, both immigrants from Laos, had already established roots of their own within the city. They owned a business in Lincoln — a local store named Jung’s Oriental Food that catered toward immigrants in the city for the last two decades.

“I knew I always wanted to come here because it was the Huskers,” she said. “My dad loved the university, and it was just the perfect match for me.”

Growing up, the expectation was for Philavanh to pursue higher education, and the University of Nebraska–Lincoln was always at the front of her mind. However, those plans derailed during her freshman year of high school.

That year, Philavanh’s mother was seriously injured in a four-car accident. The accident left lifelong injuries and prevented her mother from continuing to work at the family business. Between the sudden transition to a single-income household, along with medical and legal expenses, Philavanh’s family was forced to sell their business and file for bankruptcy.

Philavanh’s dreams of attending UNL suddenly seemed out of reach as she entered her final two years of high school.

“That’s when college, which seemed within reach growing up, didn’t seem possible because of my circumstances,” she said.

Thanks to her hard work as a student at Lincoln East High School, Philavanh was awarded the Susan T. Buffett scholarship as well as a scholarship through the Inclusive Business Leaders program through UNL’s College of Business.

Thanks to these scholarships, Philavanh was able to make her dream of attending UNL a reality. Now, she is a junior business marketing and management double major who is already making a positive impact in the Lincoln community.

 This spring, Philavanh participated in the Strive to Thrive Lincoln project offered through the College of Business’ Philanthropy and Leadership course. Strive to Thrive Lincoln provides students with a firsthand look into the nonprofit world and grant-awarding process.

Philavanh, who currently serves on the board of directors for the nonprofit organization Leadership Lincoln, said she was able to take the information from the course and project and directly apply it to her work.

“It wasn’t until Strive to Thrive that I actually learned how a 501(c)(3) is formed. There’s just so many things that Strive to Thrive teaches you.”

“It wasn’t until Strive to Thrive that I actually learned how a 501(c)(3) is formed,” she said. “There’s just so many things that Strive to Thrive teaches you.”

The project culminated in an award ceremony in May where two nonprofits — Camp Kesem at the University of Nebraska and Mourning Hope Grief Center — each received a $5,000 grant.

“I saw how passionate everybody was for all of these organizations, especially Camp Kesem and Mourning Hope,” Philavanh said. “It was kind of like a full circle moment for me.”

Camp Kesem’s UNL chapter provides free summer camps and resources for youth and adolescents with parents battling cancer. Mourning Hope of Lincoln provides children, adults and families who have experienced death or serious illness with grief support.

“To be able to propel these programs forward and help give back to them was really meaningful to me,” Philavanh said. “It all hit things within my heart.”

Gifts made to the Strive to Thrive Lincoln Excellence Fund directly fund each semester’s grant award. Additionally, these gifts serve as a hands-on teaching tool that provides valuable service and leadership experience for students.

“Every donation to Strive to Thrive Lincoln is a gift to students like me,” Philavanh said. “When you make a gift, it supports nonprofit organizations, the people they serve and the students who participate in the class. It’s an investment in the future.”

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Strive to Thrive Lincoln Excellence Fund

Support the Strive to Thrive program, its students and Lincoln nonprofits who benefit from the project by making a contribution to the Strive to Thrive Lincoln Excellence Fund. 

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