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Ira Combs is being honored as a Champion of Change for helping Americans live healthier lives, reduce disease and contribute to lowering health care costs by focusing communities on public health and prevention.
It seems that everywhere I go, when I tell people that I work in Omaha, Nebraska, their initial reaction is: “I didn’t know there were any black people in Nebraska.” This response is indicative of why it feels so good to be selected as a Public Health Champion for Change: we need people who believe in active and audacious community and public health work wherever it is needed.
I have been a community nurse for more than two decades and currently serve as Community Liaison Nurse Coordinator at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
I also am the founding director of North Omaha Area Health (NOAH), an agency that addresses the needs of the underserved in North Omaha. With a handful of dedicated community volunteers and grassroots programs, we have worked hard to meet the public health needs of our community.
My work has an emphasis on inspiring young African-Americans to become involved in public health. This includes the creation of a youth mentoring program called “CPR-N-Da-Hood,” which teaches young people CPR, then allows them to teach others through a peer education component I also created Youth Expressions of Health (YEOH), a program that has reached hundreds of young people in the past 12 years. 10 years ago, we also started a Youth Summer Internship Employment Program that has assisted more than 45 minority and underserved young people prepare for and start college with a focus on entering a health care field.
I am also the founding publisher and editor of the NOAH health newsletter, started 15 years ago, which provides health information and educational services to the underserved in Omaha. NOAH sponsors and maintains websites and social media networks that provide information about healthy living and health screening clinics. We also created a local show revolving around a character called Dr. Jesse and his friend, Prevention Man -- both aimed at teaching healthy practices and tips to children and teens.
The quote from the Bible, “For everyone to whom much is given, from them much will be required” is how I live my life and apply my skill set, helping those who need help the most. In that same vein I tell youth and families alike, when you have information, a skill, a talent it’s incumbent upon you to share it with the community because many times, unless we help those in our community the help may never come.
Ira Combs, serves as Community Liaison Nurse Coordinator at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and is the founding director of North Omaha Area Health (NOAH), an agency that addresses the needs of the underserved in Omaha, Nebraska.