by Annette van de Kamp-Wright
Jewish Press Editor
Toba Cohen Dunning is married to Eric Dunning; they are members of Beth Israel and the parents of Eleanor and Teddy. She is someone who takes giving back seriously, whether it is during her free time, or in her career. She has been working with the Omaha Schools Foundation for ten years, and is passionate about its mission and the students it serves. For more information about the Omaha Schools Foundation, please visit https://www.omahaschoolsfoundation.org/.
Can you tell us a little about what OSF does?
The Omaha Schools Foundation is the 501(c)3 of the Omaha Public Schools. Our mission supports the mission of the District as we raise funds for projects and programs which cannot be funded by tax dollars. In September of 2015, OSF was named the 4th largest K-12 education foundation in the United States out of the top 200 largest districts. That is a tremendous honor and we don’t take it lightly.
What are the main issues your organization deals with?
The Omaha Public Schools serves over 52,000 children in the Omaha metro area. The Foundation operates the parent-pay before/after school childcare program entitled Kids Club in 41 OPS elementary schools serving approximately 5000 children per year. We operate six parent-pay early childhood classrooms in five OPS elementary schools for 4-5 year olds to prepare them for kindergarten. We provide scholarships for graduating OPS seniors, approximately $400,000 each year. We provide innovation classroom grants for OPS teachers.
Do you think it is important for Jews to not only care about our own community, but look beyond it?
I’m Jewish and care very, very deeply for the Jewish community and the larger community. I just finished my term on the Board of Directors of the Omaha Home for Boys, a very important resource for male and female At-Risk youth that provides a safe, nurturing, guided path toward independence. I sit on the Board of Fontenelle Forest, one of the most glorious nature preserves in the Midwest and an incredible place for kids to experience the beauty of the outdoors and learn about our environment. I am soon to be finishing my tenure on the Board of the Jewish Federation of Omaha. I sit on the Board of Jewish Social Services. I also chair the Jewish Federation’s Planning and Engagement Committee. Lastly, I am President of Beth Israel Synagogue.
In the last few years, OSF has been involved in renovating fields and stadiums that not only benefit students of OPS, but also the larger community. 26 JROTC cadets from Benson High School represented the State of Nebraska in Normandy, France two years ago upon the 75th anniversary of D-day thanks to private donations. Students from all over the District participate in the IHE’s Week of Understanding each year, and we help provide transportation so students may hear Holocaust survivors and relatives tell their story around Yom HaShoah. One of my absolute favorite donor funds here at the Foundation ensures that every OPS student can take a field trip to the Joslyn Art Museum. Bryan High School is working on raising funds to support their Urban Ag/Trucking Distribution/Logistics Career Academies and are soon to have a state-of-the-art facility! South High is doing the same to build a Visual and Performing Arts addition to their school!
What makes our Omaha community so wonderful is our welcoming attitude and our sense of duty to ensure that children receive an exceptional education, incredible out-of-school experiences, resources in times of need, a path toward a successful career or scholarships to gain a post-secondary education. This happens in every corner of this great city, and I love working with my counterparts at the various foundations that make up the Learning Community.
What does a typical day look like for you?
There is no typical day! I am constantly writing grants, working with donors, providing assistance, working with scholarship recipients, being the fiduciary agent for and ensuring that projects are completed, working with our fabulous OPS administrators/principals, supervising our large staff and making sure that we always provide a safe/fun environment for our childcare and PreK participants. As parents of a 2nd grader and an 8th grader within OPS, Eric and I could not be more in awe of their incredible educational experiences. I don’t just work for the Foundation that supports OPS, I believe in it to the depths of my core. I don’t just volunteer for the Jewish community; I believe in it to the depths of my core.
I simply believe that you can do both!