Connect, Inspire, Grow: Monika PhilpSep 29, 2022 03:22PM ● By Sara Locke
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
A pageant-worthy smile and the poise of royalty may not conjure the image of a picked-on child in a new country, but a former Mrs. Nebraska is here to remind folks that every part of their story matters. From a brave kid helping feed her family, to a mother creating tech opportunities for underserved communities, Monika Philp knows that real beauty is rendered by inspired action.
“My family and I came (to Chicago) from Poland on the diversity lottery program in 1993,” Philp recalled. “It didn’t initially feel like I’d won the lottery. I didn’t speak English, the lunches my mom made me smelled funny to the other kids, and I was bullied relentlessly. We were living in poverty and nearing starvation. We nearly lost our home. I never wanted to feel that hopeless again.”
At 14, Philp landed a job at a coffee shop. She worked 40 hours a week while attending school and helping her mother at home.
“I was so grateful for the work. Even if it wasn’t ‘big,’ it was making a difference to my family,” she recalled. “I loved seeing I could make life easier and wanted to keep finding ways to make that happen for us and for others.”
Philp remained in Chicago with her family for 20 years before finding love and moving with her husband to California, then to Omaha to follow a position he was offered as an executive chef.
“When we first arrived, I wasn’t sure where to begin networking and making friends. I wanted to start engaging with some organizations and joined 1 Million Cups (an entreprenuer support group),” she said. “That gave me an opportunity to learn about what was going on in the community, and to use my event planning skills for a good cause. My philosophy has always been ‘Connect, Inspire, Grow’. Working with 1 Million Cups really helped me engage and do something helpful.”
Philp continued her pursuit of meaningful work, volunteer opportunities, and relationships, eventually landing herself a position at the AIM Institute. Today, Philp’s enthusiasm and drive are on display as the director of leadership and member development at AIM.
“I love my work. My role is to understand and connect the needs of the community with those who can support them. I keep our board members engaged and share events and leadership academies to ensure that everyone knows that there is an opportunity for them [in technology],” she explained. “Tech is so much more than IT. Explaining to a class of young people that they can do anything, from project management to flying drones, really shows them that there is a place for everyone in tech.”
Philp was recognized as one of Ten Outstanding Young Omahans by the Greater Omaha Chamber in 2022 for her contributions to the community.
One of Philp’s biggest fans is her AIM co-worker (and American Ninja Warrior competitor) Maggi Thorne, whom she befriended at a Wednesday night bible study.
“Monika is incredibly brilliant...she’s a connector,” Thorne beamed about her friend. “We’re alike. We aren’t the corner pieces of the puzzle, we’re not the big picture. We’re the pieces that connect.”
Philp returned the compliment: “Maggi is so mission-driven and inspiring, and just such a kind person. She was a Mrs. International, and she really encouraged me to go for the Mrs. Nebraska title. It’s a platform-based pageant, so you’re running on your desire to positively impact your community.”
With Thorne’s coaching (and access to her closet), Philp won the 2020 Mrs. Nebraska title.
“We all have a uniform we wear in life,” Thorne continued. “For police, it’s a badge. For doctors, it’s a lab coat. For Monika, she has that crown, and she uses it to it’s full potential to create opportunities and awareness everywhere she goes.”
Philp spends most of her effervescent energy teaching others to overcome their intimidation, to live curiously, and to pursue any opportunity that can make the community a little more beautiful, inside and out.
This article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of B2B Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.