Couple sees their children and giving as the glue to their marriage

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Rodrigo and Mary Lopez of Omaha have built a life together as a couple around their common interest in philanthropy – and helping to build better lives for others.

Their favorite areas include their hands-on work for Habitat for Humanity, the United Way (Rodrigo is board chairman and Mary chairs the Women’s Leadership Council), Children’s Hospital and UNO, an educational institution to which they both have close ties.

Mary, retired from UNO, served as a public housing commissioner in Omaha years ago. Rodrigo is president and CEO of AmeriSphere Multifamily Finance, a multifamily rental housing lender.

Their goal for their philanthropy is simple: to make a difference in someone’s life.

“We’ve been lucky and blessed,” Mary says. “That gives us the opportunity to help others, and although we often see positive change, the need is always there.”

From a conversation with the Lopezes:

Somebody said to us one time, “What do you think has been the glue in your marriage?” Mary replied that, obviously, our children are the glue. But long before they came along, we had already started volunteering together in the community. We didn’t have much money. We just gave what we could. Philanthropy and volunteering has been our journey together as a couple.

So it’s also been the glue.

Housing is really important to us. We’ve supported Habitat for Humanity for years. We feel housing is really at the heart of helping people to get out of poverty. We like what Habitat does because it is not a handout but a hand up, with the homeowners working right alongside us. Both of us led a team in Haiti two years ago. It had been several years since the earthquake and yet many people were still living in tent camps. One day, a young woman walked into her new home and saw her very simple bedroom door for the first time. Mind you, these homes were smaller than a one-car garage. We will never forget the look of excitement on her face when she realized that she would have a bedroom door of her own, and one that locked, something we often take for granted.

She said, “This is my door. This is my beautiful door.”

That really hit us strongly, and it was a reality check to us to always take account of how blessed we are and to give back whenever possible.

Wherever people travel around the world, it’s an eye opener. That’s why we are working with the NU Foundation to create a global engagement initiative at UNO. We are convinced that students who have the opportunity to study abroad strongly benefit. It makes a much richer educational experience for them. The friends they make and experiences they have can impact their lives forever.

For example, Rodrigo came to this country from Colombia when he was 17. He came on an exchange program and went to school in Superior – a very small town in south-central Nebraska. Although his original plan was to learn English and return to Colombia, 42 years later he is pleased to say he is a U.S. citizen, married with two wonderful children and a daughter-in-law and a business owner.

Although born in the U.S., Mary’s background also includes living in a small town, Avoca, Iowa. We credit our Midwestern experience with providing us role models for people and communities that care for each other when the need arises.

In addition to Habitat – Children’s Hospital, UNO and United Way are very dear to us, too – and sometimes due to firsthand experience. We had a family member who was very ill and really treated well at Children’s. Before retiring, Mary was career services director in the School of Public Administration. Our first fund to the university was a fellowship for professional development in the School of Public Administration, to encourage students to engage in professional activities beyond the classroom that will put them in a better position to become successfully employed.

We feel that if you keep your heart and mind open and are willing to be involved in the community, you start to see that not everyone has had the same opportunities or blessings, and you start to see ways you can help – and whether it is large or small, the important thing is to do something.

Student Support and Global Engagement are two priorities of the Campaign for Nebraska, now in its final year. If you, like the Lopezes, would like help UNO reach its goals in those areas, please consider giving online or contact the foundation at 800-436-3216.

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