Neighboring Friends

Neighboring Friends

Our mission is to promote inclusion and communication with students who are nonverbal through purposeful and interactive activities with JP Lord School and partnering neighborhood organizations.

Our vision is to build a community of reciprocity which promotes inclusion, provides peer models, and sparks new learning so that all participants grow and bloom to their potential. 

A gathering Place

A Great Gathering Place

JP Lord School is the first school building in North America built specifically for children with severe physical and cognitive delays. It has a fully accessible gym, cafeteria, and stage. There is also a sensory room, and therapy pool for students to enjoy. JP Lord School is in the process of developing a sensory playground and community garden. The sensory rich school, playground, and garden is the perfect tapestry for community involvement, and will allow JP Lord students and neighboring friends to discover together, the unique benefits of an outreach program whose curriculum promotes inclusion and communication with non-verbal students.

Neighboring Friends


JP Lord students have severe cognitive and physical disabilities and need a self-contained school so specialized staff can focus on meeting the needs of each individual child. Creating opportunities for role models who are non-disabled to participate in the program, would build diversity into the school and be more representative of the inclusive school setting the district promotes.

Many people do not know how to appropriately communicate with people who are non verbal. A program at school that encourages community involvement will provide unique opportunities for people to connect and interact with non-verbal students in a purposeful and meaningful way and can have a far-reaching impact in our community.

JP Lord School Student Leadership

The community needs JP Lord. Bringing the community into JP Lord provides the unique opportunity for leadership and communication for students with an ambassador program with teachers modeling communication for community friends.Neighboring Friends also provides opportunities to address the lack of programs for special needs adults. Previous students can participate in activities which will give the community opportunities to engage with disabled people of all ages.

A donation to Neighboring Friends will support visits from community performers in music, theatre, and dance ; storytelling, literature and book projects; visual arts projects led by artists in painting, clay, collage and more; gardening projects; appreciation for the staff…and so much more.

Please consider a donation to Neighboring Friends!

Click on an image below to enlarge the view.

Coming to the Table for Equitable Public Education-A National Conversation

Coming to the Table for Equitable Public Education
A National Conversation

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  Nelson Mandela’s profound words are not only impactful, but they also get to the heart of Toba Cohen-Dunning’s passion in life – education.

Toba has led the Omaha Public Schools Foundation (OPSF) as its Executive Director for over a decade, but her dedication to ensuring that all children have access to equitable public education has been part of her life’s work, and it goes beyond the city of Omaha.

As the first National Schools Foundation Association (NSFA) board president from Nebraska, Toba understands that, to create equity in public education, it is imperative for people from all corners of the country to work together, talk to each other and collaborate for the sake of our children.

“Education, specifically public education, is not just a district issue, city issue or state issue; it’s a national issue,” Toba said. “It impacts every child in every socioeconomic, race, religion, gender identity, age, sexual identity, ethnicity, immigrant, citizen, refugee and language population across our country.”

At the state level, Toba represents OPSF as a member of the Nebraska Association of Public Schools Foundation (NAPSF). This membership allows Toba to collaborate with her colleagues from around the state and to advocate for districts, funders, teachers, administrators and, most importantly, the students. Each member of NAPSF is focused on ensuring the success of public private partnerships that help fund public school districts by broadening learning experiences and educational opportunities.

“Sometimes, as involved citizens, we have to engage with people whose views and beliefs aren’t the same as ours in order to be the voice for these children, to bring about understanding, to create change that levels the playing field for the next generation,” Toba said. We don’t get all the work done in one sitting or one conversation, but it can be a great first step. How can you create change without coming to the table, without starting a conversation?”

So why, you ask, is all the statewide and national work that public school foundations, like OPSF, do so important? Why does it matter?

Toba says, “It’s for the kids. The work that the NAPSF and the NSFA are doing brings us together to share and create best practices so that we come back to our respective districts prepared to be stewards of our superintendents’ goals. We also take part in training and development opportunities to ensure that we adhere to high ethical standards, which are extremely important with the fiscal responsibilities we have. When we are all working together, supporting each other with a common goal in sight, the kids are more prepared to achieve success.”

At the NSFA national conference in Philadelphia last week, Toba and The National Principles and Proven Practices Task Force presented the first document on guiding principles for K-12 education foundations, the result of a three-year-long project through the collaboration of industry leaders around the U.S.  All foundations operate upon a continuum in the “pursuit of public excellence.” These principles and practices are intended to serve as a guide to help foundation boards, executive directors, foundation staff, school boards and superintendents inform decisions at every stage of their journey that will enable them to grow.

 “Ultimately, I know that I am part of a village that is preparing the youngest of learners to high school seniors for their journeys and successes in life,” Toba said. “Public education is a huge factor in their lives. If we, as adults, legislators, contributors, decision-makers, parents and neighbors, choose to invest in quality public education so that every child has access to equitable public schools, we are investing in them–the kids, the next generation of professionals, skilled workers and leaders.”

A New Social Experience – College Application Parties

Central graduates, Maggie Winton and Clara Wolcott, with diploma in hand.

Central graduates, Maggie Winton and Clara Wolcott, with diploma in hand.

OPSF Building Communities

There’s no better way to make completing college scholarships fun than grabbing your closest friends, a ton of junk food and a bunch of caffeinated drinks to hold your own college scholarship application party!

That’s what Wagner College student and Central High School alum, Maggie Winton, recommends to 2018-2019 Omaha Public School (OPS) seniors. With many scholarships out there, it is easy to let the process consume you, but working in some social time with friends not only makes it fun, it is a great way to support each other with tips and advice on those essays!

With encouragement from her friends, counselor, teachers and her parents, Maggie applied for several scholarships including those specific to the OPS schools she attended: Washington Elementary, Lewis and Clark Middle School and Central High School. She also applied for the Superintendent’s Super 13 Scholarship, which is funded through the Omaha Public Schools Foundation (OPSF). Maggie received the Super 13 Scholarship through OPSF among other scholarships she applied for to help with college expenses.

Keith and Lisa Winton on campus at Wagner College with Maggie.

“Earning the scholarships definitely helped me pay for part of my college tuition. College is so expensive these days, and any amount of scholarship money helps,” says Maggie. Even if a scholarship only covers a small amount, those funds can be used to pay for textbooks, placed in savings account or can partially cover a semester’s tuition cost. “My piece of advice is to apply for as many scholarships as possible.  If there are multiple scholarships that you are eligible for, apply for as many of them as you can,” said Maggie.

Now’s the time! OPS high school seniors should be talking with their counselors, teachers and parents about which scholarships they qualify for and start applying. Maggie said, “I know at Central, they hand out a giant booklet of scholarships, both OPSF and non-OPSF, and I went through and highlighted the ones I was eligible for. While you might not get all the scholarships you apply for, applying for multiple scholarships increases your chances immensely.”

OPSF Executive Director, Toba Cohen-Dunning encourages all OPS seniors to speak with their high school counselors about their post-graduation plans. “OPSF is proud to support those OPS students who are moving on to college and university. We have a broad range of scholarships available which is why it is SO important for students to talk to their counselors now. You might be surprised about how many scholarships you qualify for and we definitely want to make sure you have the opportunity to earn as many of our scholarships as possible,” said Toba.

“Many of our scholarships honor the memory of a student, teacher or administrator. Some are based on the OPS schools you attended or the area of study you plan to enter. All of our scholarships are funded through donations and contributions with zero administrative fees so that the recipient gets every dollar allocated to the scholarship,” said Joe Lecci, Associate Executive Director.

Proud Mom Moment, Lisa Winton with Maggie just after graduation.

Proud Mom Moment, Lisa Winton with Maggie just after graduation.

Maggie advises to not let the process overwhelm you, but be vigilant. She said to be careful to complete all the questions and constantly review the information you provide so that you include everything necessary.

Maggie said that completing the scholarship applications gave her an opportunity “to reflect upon my time as an OPS student. All of the OPS-based scholarships required essay questions wherein I had to discuss my experience as an OPS student. Completing these helped me recognize how lucky I was to have such a wonderful public school education experience, and made me incredibly grateful for all those who work at OPS.”

The scholarships that OPSF administers all help OPS student experience broader learning opportunities into higher education, which is one reason that Partners for Livable Communities, a national nonprofit in Washington, D.C, recognized OPSF this November with the Investor in America Award.

About Omaha Public Schools Foundation

Partners Logo_Boiler Plate

Omaha Public Schools Foundation (OPSF) received the 2018 Investors in America award from Partners for Livable Communities, a Washington-based nonprofit. 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. This award was presented at the National Press Club in Washington DC on November 12 for OPSF’s philanthropic and entrepreneurial work to support the students and teachers in the Omaha Public Schools district, the largest school district in Nebraska.

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.