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Jay Wilkinson


For Jay Wilkinson, it’s pretty normal to get quoted in nonprofit circles, retweeted by marketing gurus and interviewed on local or national TV…all in one day.

Back in college he started four businesses. Yes, four. One of which went-big and prompted a move to New York City post-graduation.

In 1992, he sold the company that took him to the big city and came back to his home-state of Nebraska.

Upon his return, Jay bought a printing franchise that he eventually turned into Cornerstone Printing and Marketing, which has since become Firespring.

Those big steps, and the little ones in between, are all important milestones in Jay’s story. He’s a well-known entrepreneur, nonprofit activist, community builder and webinar facilitator in Lincoln, but he admittedly has spent a big chunk of his life trying to be someone he’s not – his father.

“He’s my vision of what it’s like to live a life rather than have life happen to you,” Jay said.

Now, it’s not wrong to want to be like your parent, but Jay put a lot of pressure on himself to not only be like his dad, but to be his dad. And much of Jay’s striving to be his father has shaped his own story.

Gilbert (Gil) Wilkinson is a scrappy hustler with a strong work-ethic, a present mindset and a wise spirit. Gil showed up and participated. He was at every practice and football game and he led Jay’s Boy Scout troop, guiding eight boys to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout.

Having a parent like this is amazing, Jay said, but it’s also extremely frustrating. Jay was constantly working to measure up to this incredible man, but nothing he did ever seemed like enough.

This pressure was 100 percent self-inflicted. Jay said his dad never compared their careers, work ethic or abilities. He’d probably hate that Jay has spent so much of his life feeling like he’d come up short. But it’s all part of Jay’s story.

As he grew older and more successful, Jay decided that saving his money and using it to build a massive homage to his father could be his way of paying back his dad for every example and bit of wisdom he’d sewn into Jay’s character.

But if you’re looking for a hospital wing or collegiate library named after Gilbert Wilkinson, you won’t find one. A few years ago, Jay realized that dedicating a building to his father wasn’t where he should be investing his energy.

Jay pulled a piece of off-white paper out of a folder and handed it to me. It’s a quote that he took from an impactful leadership training he attended as a 16-year-old.

“I’ve carried it with me ever since,” Jay said, going on to read the quote.

“ ‘I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.’ ”

Jay said he’s read this Stephan Grellet quote over and over again, but a few years ago the words ‘do it now’ jumped off the page.

Do it now.

Jay realized that in his constant striving to be his dad or pay him back, he’d been waiting to live out the quote that he’d theoretically structured his life around.

He realized he would never be his dad, and that was ok. He also realized he needed to stop waiting.

So that’s what Jay did.

He changed Firespring’s mission statement to reflect his decision do good in the present, not just the future.

In 2014 Firespring became the first and only certified B-Corp in the state, holding to a high-level of third-party accountability and transparency. It’s a label that requires a company to hold up to its promised giving, not bend to the whims of a good or bad fiscal year.

Jay said this is usually the part in his story where people tend to nod off. After all, everyone has heard about companies ‘giving back’ or incentivising their employees to volunteer and donate. Blah, blah, blah. Right?

But Jay is actually doing this. He’s living up to the bold letters and almost cheesy sayings that are painted on the walls at Firespring.  He’s giving, empowering, motivating and teaching as an outpouring of his personal beliefs, not because of the way it looks.

A few years back, Jay probably would have said he was doing all this good for his dad, which would have been okay, but now, he’s doing it because he thinks it’s what matters.

It’s part of his story and his legacy.

Jay can’t be his dad, and that doesn’t bother him anymore.

Heidi Little


We’ll be honest, it’s hard to know where to start with Heidi Little’s story.

We could start with the fact that she’s the child of an Air Force doctor, and served her own 11-year stint in the Air Force.

Or we could mention that fact that she had a long stretch of time when she was confused and somewhat disillusioned about what to do…so she delivered Domino’s pizza.

And then there’s the part where she got her nursing degree and worked the weekend shift as a critical care nurse for nine years.

But, the latest part of Heidi’s story is about her relationship with Everett Elementary School.

It was Friday afternoon and kids in coats spilled out of Everett Elementary School, celebrating the joy of another weekend. Heidi walked up the cement steps to the school holding boxes of goodies that fulfilled a few of the teachers’ wish lists.

For the past few years, Heidi has asked all the teachers to send her a short list of things they’d like for their classroom. Some write down items like headphones or a pencil machine, others want incentives like cereal and peanut butter. It’s a small thing, but to the teachers and kids, it’s a big deal.

She gets stopped in the hallways by teachers who are curious about what she has and who she’s delivering it to – playdough for the kindergarteners and sentence strips for the fifth graders. A number of people also stop and ask her about an event or project that she has in the works and her go-to response is some derivative of, “Yes! I’m excited about that!” or “No, I haven’t forgotten, but I’m working on it.”

Everyone at Everett knows Heidi.

But that wasn’t always the case. When her oldest son, Jesse, was ready to start school, Heidi and her husband sent him to a school across town instead of Everett, their neighboring school.

She was protective of Jesse and wanted to make sure he was at an academically strong school, a reputation Everett didn’t have. But by winter break, she was questioning her decision and it prompted a trip to Everett. Heidi wandered the halls and was given an impromptu tour. At the end, she knew Jesse needed to be at Everett.

As we walked around the school and Heidi doled out her gifts, she kept talking about what a good school Everett is and how she’s proud it’s where her kids go. She loves the caring teachers and attentive administrators who give everything to their students, oftentimes giving out of their own pockets, a pattern Heidi noticed.

Everett severely lacks parental involvement and the PTO-type funding that often pays for field trips and classroom ‘extras’ that other schools typically enjoy. Heidi found herself funneling any extra money or fundraising opportunity she had to Everett, and then thought, ‘Why not start a nonprofit?’ So in 2012 Heidi created the Everett Community Nonprofit Organization.

Heidi is one of Everett’s biggest champions, hosting superhero fun runs, gong shows, publishing a goofy calendar with her coworkers from Bryan Health and all sorts of events to get the community involved. She name drops the nonprofit to anyone she meets, joking that people duck when they see her because they know she’ll ask them for money.

All of the money raised has gone to send Everett students on field trips and buy items like new dictionaries, calculators and tissues – a long list of seemingly little things that make a school more than just a building with classrooms.

Last year, Roland Temme, owner of the neighboring business TMCO, wrote a $20,000 check to build Everett a walking track. It was a surprise neither Heidi or the school imagined, and it came at a time when Heidi was losing momentum.

It’s hard not to get discouraged when what you hoped or dreamed isn’t the reality, she said, but getting that big check from Mr. Temme and the continual support of her friends and family has kept Heidi focused on doing more for Everett.

These days, she’s dreaming of green grass and a shiny new playground for the school. Her youngest child is just a year away from going to middle school, but that doesn’t matter. Heidi said she’ll probably always be involved at Everett. It’s blocks from her house, it’s where her kids learned and it’s part of her story.

What we love about Heidi’s story is that it wasn’t planned. She didn’t set out to start a nonprofit. Heidi delivered pizza, worked weekends, took care of her kids and when she found out about Everett she did something.

Her story is about stepping up and stepping in to her community, because that matters.

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