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5.1.15 Issue

by Claudia Sherman, Friedel Jewish Academy

This spring’s Plant and Flower Sale, sponsored by Friedel Jewish Academy’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), is scheduled for Thursday, May 7 and Friday, May 8 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the main entrance of the Jewish Community Center. The plant sale, along with the Hanukkah Latke Lunch, are among the largest fundraisers for the school. They’re “also our most labor intensive and high profile events,” explained Gabby Blair, who co-chairs the PTO with Danni Christensen.

PTO “fulfills a variety of roles at the school,” Gabby pointed out. “We coordinate the sales of school spirit wear  which, just this year, went to an online ordering system by a local vendor who is also part of the Jewish community.” (The selection can be viewed at, click on “stores” and select “Friedel.”) “PTO is also responsible for supporting school-wide holiday celebrations by providing funds or securing donors for food and other supplies the teachers request, within reason,” she added. “Thanks to the generosity of donors, like Jack and Helene, and Michael and Melissa Shrago, who have been among  the most ardent supporters of PTO events over the years, we are able to continue to provide this service to the school. PTO also provides yearly teacher grants to help offset a portion of out-of-pocket expenses related to classroom materials that our wonderful and dedicated educators may incur over the course of the school year in addition to quarterly staff appreciation gifts.

“We also do the majority of shopping, setup, cleanup, and volunteer coordination for school events, in addition to planning and orchestrating occasional book fairs and fundraisers,” said Gabby.

“PTO plays such an important role at Friedel in helping to provide a great environment for our students to thrive in and in creating opportunities to our parents to be involved,” said Beth Cohen, Friedel’s new head of school. “The extra support they provide to our teachers is very much appreciated.”

PTO wants to make sure all of the fun events and celebrations are available to the kids. “The teachers also benefit from an extra set of hands here and there,” Danni said.

Both Danni and Gabby have been PTO co-chairs for the past two school years. So far this year, “The events have all gone off without a hitch, so I would say that is a good indicator of success,” said Gabby. “I think this year has also been successful, because Danni and I have a great working relationship.”

Ben Shapiro chaired the December Latke Lunch which was a sizzling success with more than 1,000 latkes prepared by “dedicated volunteers who worked until the wee hours of the morning,” noted Gabby.

Susan Witkowski is chairing the plant sale with Gabby whose college studies include geology and soil science. She also ran the University of Kansas Soils Laboratory and worked as an environmental educator at Fontenelle Forest. “Obviously, I like to play outside in the dirt a lot” which makes Gabby a natural for one of the most requested events that the PTO coordinates. Working with Blooms Organic and Estate Landscape Nursery, the PTO knows “People rely on the quality of our vegetables and herbs and the unique, often heirloom, varieties that are hard to find in Omaha.”

“A lot of work goes into this event,” added Danni, “and it would never be as successful if not for Gabby and Susan. Those ladies know their plants and always make the event so much fun.”

Gabby and her husband Jason have two children currently attending Friedel. Noah is in fourth grade and Moe in second grade. In addition to volunteering, Gabby serves as the art teacher at Friedel.

Danni and her husband Michael have a third grader, Doniven, at Friedel. When they arrived in Omaha three years ago, the Christensens toured Friedel. “It felt like the perfect place to be. There was such a passion for learning coupled with the kids’ blossoming Jewish identity. It was a gift to find,” she remarked.

Gabby added that the Friedel PTO “loves to help and provide a valuable resource to the school.” By buying your plants and flowers at the annual sale, you’ll be helping the PTO continue the support it provides to the school.