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Omaha Magazine

With Loving Intent

Oct 22, 2023 02:03AM ● By Chris Wolfgang

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

In December of 2019, Sasha Berscheid was holding her daughter, Kyan, in her nursery. Kyan was 18 months old and not yet diagnosed with stage three autism. Sasha had delivered her son, Drako, just three months earlier.

“I was postpartum and hormonal,” Berscheid confessed. “Andrew walks in and asks me, ‘What do you want for Christmas?’ And in that moment, I was just hit with a wave of how do single moms do this? Especially single moms with children with special needs, how?”

Berscheid is quick to acknowledge the resources she had at the time—a nanny, a mom, and sisters ready to help; a job with good benefits. 

“I am fortunate and blessed, and I was still struggling,” she said.

That holiday season, she told her husband she wanted to adopt another mom. Four years later, Project Intentional, Inc. is poised to support 1,500 caregivers in Omaha at its annual Winter Wonderland Holiday Emporium event, potentially impacting 6,000 children from newborn to age 18.

The event has certainly evolved from the Facebook post Berscheid posted in 2019, rallying her friends to adopt local moms in need. In 2020, Project Intentional became an official 501(c)(3), with its first donation event held online. December 2021 saw the addition of a board of like-minded volunteers.

“We met in person for the first time in 2021 at a coffee shop,” said Becca Starks, vice president of Project Intentional. She and Berscheid worked together professionally but had only ever communicated online due to COVID lockdowns. During their first face-to-face conversation, Berscheid slid the keys to Project Intentional’s storage units across the table to Starks.

“I was not prepared at all,” Starks recalled with a laugh. “But she has the vision, and now I’m the integrator. You just know she was like, ‘this is gonna happen, of course she’s gonna take the keys.’”

The vision must be catching on. In December of 2022, Berscheid was on The Kelly Clarkson Show talking about Project Intentional to a nationwide audience.

Despite its rapidly growing scope, Project Intentional is a hobby for everyone on the board, including Berscheid. 

“We keep all of our funds strictly for the nonprofit,” she said firmly. “We’re a bunch of moms who want to love the city. I don’t care if you celebrate Kwanzaa or Hanukkah or Christmas or you don’t celebrate at all. This is just a place for us to say, ‘Hey, I love you, you matter, I see you—it’s okay.’”

December 10 at Baxter Arena, Project Intentional is set to host the event it prepares for all year. For one day, the Winter Wonderland Holiday Emporium is a festive place for Omaha caregivers to “shop” for their kids…and maybe change their own lives.

On November 11, Project Intentional’s social media will announce the release of 1,500 free tickets to the Winter Wonderland Holiday Emporium. Ticket holders register how many children they’re shopping for, and the appropriate number of toys, socks, underwear, and hygiene products will be ready for them to select from the carefully decorated holiday pop-up shop.

Before attendees can dive into the shopping, they must visit a bingo card’s worth of resource booths set up at the event. This year, over 50 nonprofits will have a presence at the Winter Wonderland Holiday Emporium.

“It’s one thing to be able to give out toys, it’s another thing to equip people with resources in Omaha,” Berscheid noted. “We’ll have LinkedIn coaches there to help people create a profile. We’ll have companies who will conduct on-the-spot interviews. Omaha Underground Railroad will be there, we’ll have youth emergency services there.”

“This is not an event where nothing happens afterward,” Starks affirmed. “We link arms with the other nonprofits in town for this.”

“It’s free for all booths to attend,” Berscheid continued. “I do not want money to be an issue for the nonprofit, I don’t want it to be an issue for the shoppers.”

In addition to the Winter Wonderland Holiday Emporium, Project Intentional also organizes a year-round project: a series of ‘hygiene banks’ placed throughout Omaha.

“We call them Hope Lockers,” Berscheid said. “Right now, they’re primarily in coffee shops—Zen, Karma, Pause, Myrtle & Cypress. Our mission statement is intentionally restoring dignity in women and families one project at a time. If we can help you with your hygiene items and keep them in a place you actually want to go to, I feel like we’re doing that.”

Berscheid hopes to have a total of 20 hygiene banks throughout Omaha by the end of 2023. In fact, she’d like to have one in every high school and middle school in Omaha.

Berscheid says she’d love to partner with someone with a bigger voice than hers. 

“I need a partner who could help us purchase in bulk. Right now I’m doing everything online; taking things to my home, to my storage unit. I’d love to see if we could get a warehouse. It’s all very mom-and-pop,” she said. “If you see a $40 toy on our shelf, I’ve been bartering with the Walmart manager for months to help me knock it down to $10 so I can buy all of them.”

“I’d say it’s at least one to two hours a day for Project Intentional work,” Starks estimated. “It’s about multitasking and efficiency. As I’m out and about, I’m popping into this nonprofit to make a connection or invite them to the holiday event. You make time for what you’re passionate about.”

True to her word, Starks intends to take up the mantle as president of Project Intentional in 2024, while Berscheid focuses on maximizing their purchasing efficiency.

“I hear ‘Mom, that’s a lot of boxes’ all the time,” Berscheid said with a laugh. “And it is a lot of boxes, and it’s a lot of time, and there has to be a better way. I wish I could get good toys at scale. I’d love to see us offer coats and pajamas [at the event], but we can’t afford it yet. 

“We’re all human. That’s why I want to create a party.” 

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This article originally appeared in the November/December  2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, 
click here to subscribe.  

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.


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