Stepping into halls of the National Press Club in Washington D.C. last November was not only humbling and exciting, it was profound for Omaha Public Schools Foundation (OPSF) Executive Director, Toba Cohen-Dunning. Having lived and worked in our nation’s capital in her earlier career, she knew that a great many people have walked these halls and given speeches within these walls. But her reason for being there was not about her, it was all about the kids in the Omaha Public School (OPS) district.
Late this past summer, Toba received word that OPSF was selected by Partners for Livable Communities (PLC), a nonprofit organization based in Washington D.C., to be recognized with the Investor in America Award for the creative entrepreneurship and philanthropic work it does to make Omaha a more livable community.
As she learned more about PLC and the award, Toba was able to reflect on the past 34 years of the foundation’s history and the magnitude of the projects that they have supported in that time. Starting in 1984 with a $1,555.71 gift from OPS teachers, the foundation’s leadership has increased the funds to over $150 million dollars. Every cent from these funds goes into programs, field trips, facilities, and equipment that reach the 53,000 student in the OPS district. Changing the lives of that many students is no small feat, but that is what OPSF strives to do for the children in the district throughout their preschool to graduation years.
PLC selected OPSF because of their ability to leverage their parent-paid programs, Kids Club and Early Childhood Education, while providing educational experiences and opportunities for K-12 students. These programs were created to help minimize the number of latch-key kids during before and afterschool hours and to help get preschoolers into their elementary schools so they were prepared for Kindergarten. Both of these affordable programs in turn fund the grants and scholarships OPSF distribute right back to the schools and students.
Meeting PLC honoree Jane Chu, former Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, left a great impression that there is a lot of great work going on in Omaha’s arts community. Toba shared that Chu was familiar with Omaha and the impact that the arts is having in community.
Toba said, “To be included in a 40 year legacy of this caliber is humbling. By funding our philanthropic efforts with two needed entrepreneurial services, we show our youth and our community that making positive change is doable with creative resources, careful planning, and a lot of heart. We make sure these our funds always go back to the students in the district. We’re in it for the kids, because they are the leaders, the workforce, the change makers of the future.”
To be back in the nation’s capital where Toba once worked in the political arena was nostalgic and full of adventures with the eclectic group for the November 12th luncheon. Accompanying Toba in Washington was:
- OPS Superintendent, Dr. Cheryl Logan
- Nebraska State Senator and Former OPS Student, Sara Howard
- OPSF Board President, Steve Kinkead
- Director of Education Initiatives for The Sherwood Foundation, Jerry Bexten
- OPSF Associate Executive Director, Joseph Lecci
- Former OPSF Executive Director, Luanne Nelson
- OPSF Creative Collaborators, Joe Craig and Esther Mejia
About Omaha Public Schools Foundation
Omaha Public Schools Foundation (OPSF) is a public school foundation that serves the largest school district inNebraska. It has ranked in the top ten pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade foundations in the nation by the Caruthers Institute for the past four years. Kids Club, the OPSF’s before and after school care program, is also the largest childcare provider in the city of Omaha and provides programs within the student’s elementary school.
The Investor in America Award acknowledges groups and individuals that use enterprise, vision and creative public/private partnerships to bring new civic assets to our nation’s cities. Past recipients include Parris Glendening, Governor of Maryland; John Snow, Secretary of the US Treasury and Jaime Lerner, former mayor of the city of Curitiba, Brazil.