“I started at EPIC about a year ago and I didn’t think we’d be here, but I was proved wrong,” said Kim Thomas, executive director of EPIC for Girls, as she welcomed a sold-out crowd.
Nearly 600 individuals supported EPIC at its inaugural fundraiser, An EPIC Day, at the College of Saint Mary’s Fieldhouse. The event featured Dawn Staley, one of the most celebrated women in women’s basketball.
A quick look at Staley’s bio includes achievements like three Olympic gold medals as a player and one as a coach, the first person in USA Basketball history to have earned the USA Basketball National Coach of the Year and Basketball Athlete of the Year, Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and so much more.
To say the least, Staley embodies EPIC’s belief that when girls receive equal opportunities to play sports, they excel.
“It’s interesting to see how many women who have played sports become executives in companies,” said Terri Campbell, vice president of alumnae & donor relations at the College of Saint Mary. “It teaches them to be a team player, and how to be confident. It was incredibly important that CSM support this event.”
Just hours before Staley took the stage, EPIC Board President Dalhia Llyod would unknowingly preface Staley’s advice.
“This event is important because it highlights the need for us as a community to support girls of color and it shows girls of color that they have a community around them,” Lloyd said.
“It truly takes a village, and EPIC is creating that village.”
During the fireside chat, Staley spoke about several individuals’ impact on her career, from her mother to the boys she grew up playing to her coaches.
“You have to surround yourself with people that can only help you,” she said. “You have to be really selfish about that. If those people aren’t driving you toward your passions, they should not be part of your life because they’re going to derail you.”
Individuals like Rachelle Tucker and Monica Bosiljevac, who were named Advocates of the Year during the awards ceremony.
Tucker has been a coach for Nebraska Hoops Elite for eight years, a leading figure in Lady Express United & Team Nebraska Express basketball programs, and is the founder of Engage Insight Foundation.
Bosiljevac is the executive director of Football for the World-USA, an organization that is focused on providing youth, specifically individuals of color, with opportunities to play football (soccer). The organization has reached youth in 30 countries and locally has supported 700 youth through programming in 2022.
Dominique Kelley-Jackson was named Coach of the Year. Kelley-Jackson is a teacher and the head coach for the girl’s basketball team at Lincoln High. In the past five years, she has led her teams to 89 wins. For reference, before Kelley-Jackson The Links had won 76 games in 15 years. Her efforts were recognized by Girls and Women in Sports and Fitness with the 2021 Dr. Barbara Hibner Mentor of the Year in Lincoln Award, and the 2023 Ralph Beechner Coach of the Year Award.
Dariuna “Stretch” Lewis was named College Athlete of the Year. A native of North Omaha, Lewis is a role model for the girls in her community. Lewis has received two college degrees and numerous awards for excelling in her collegiate basketball career. During breaks in college, she would return home to facilitate free basketball camps for young girls in hopes of encouraging them to pursue their dreams.
EPIC High School Athlete of the Year went to Omaha Central High School senior Inia (Nia) Jones. Jones currently plays for Nebraska Hoops Elite and has received 10 full-ride division one scholarship offers.
For more information on EPIC for Girls, including partner teams and donation opportunities,