December 2, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sandra Reding can recount many rewarding moments in her career as a fundraiser, but her current job helping parents find the right educational option for their children is one of the most rewarding.

As Executive Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund of Omaha, Reding, in essence, is helping parents access the right school for their kids—families who otherwise might not have that option.

“Every family has a story,” Reding says. “Every parent wants to make the best choice for their kids, and if the best for them is sending them to a private school, that’s why we’re here. One type of education doesn’t fit every child. If you are a low-income family and the right education is a private or parochial school, and you are a qualifying family, we are there to help.”

With the help of many of Omaha’s leading businesses and business leaders, CSF provides low-income families with the choice of where their child will attend K-8. Once a child receives a scholarship, the organization will continue to provide a scholarship until they graduate from 8th grade. It also provides the child’s siblings with the same level scholarship. There are three different scholarship levels based on income.

The organization has students in 80 schools across Omaha and northeast Nebraska and is destination neutral, meaning the family chooses the school and the scholarship follows the student.

Reding spoke recently of a family she met who had a little girl in kindergarten who was having an awful time in school. She’d cry every day and even had to repeat the grade. She’s now in a private school and is thriving.

What’s compelling, she says, is that the families are making their own financial contributions of $500 each year to receive a scholarship.

“Just getting to meet those families and hear those stories was incredible,” says Reding of a recent event where families and donors were brought together. “I would like for all the donors and potential donors to have that same opportunity and know that a small gift, a small investment, can have such a dramatic impact.”

The CSF is heavily funded by a number of local businesses and community leaders such as Gov. Pete Ricketts, Mutual of Omaha, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Performance Auto Group, Mutual of Omaha and the Omaha World-Herald. A number of local foundations, including the Lozier Foundation, have also been involved in the funding.

“The business community is becoming more and more involved in working to improve education outcomes, trying to improve the education landscape in Omaha,” Reding said. “In doing so, they are helping better prepare our workforce. The business community is extremely active in helping to shape the workforce of the future.”

Reding says the Scholarship Fund has been in Omaha 15 years, funding 27,000 scholarships and dispersing $25 million. Over the last three years, funding efforts have increased dramatically, but the need is ever growing. The group awarded $2.1 million this school year, an increase of about $400,000.

But the need is still great. Reding said the demand for scholarships continues to outpace the availability. This year CSF had more than 500 scholarships that went unfunded. There are so many parents who want more for their kids, she says.

“Every parent out there has a dream for their child and we are helping them find a path to fulfilling that dream,” Reding says. “It all starts with getting their child in the right learning environment. If you are a donor and looking for an organization where you can make a difference and want to empower families who are making the sacrifice, invest in a child and invest in a family doing everything they can to help a child get the right education. Take a chance on a child and a family.”

Reding says a lot of credit goes to the staff at CSF, whom she described as “very dedicated and amazing.”

“We have a really dedicated and generous board,” Reding adds. “Their commitment to our mission, their level of engagement, is allowing us to broaden our reach more than ever. I’ve had the chance to work with some great community leaders.”

Before becoming CSF’s first ever full-time executive director, Reding was the President of the Joslyn Art Museum Foundation. She has also served as Director of Development at Lauritzen Gardens and as Vice President for Institutional Advancement at College of Saint Mary.

Reding grew up in Granville, Iowa, and attended Granville Spalding Catholic High School. She is also a graduate of both Briar Cliff College in Sioux City, Iowa, and Iowa State University.

Reding says fundraising is a way of making a tangible impact in the lives of others.

“Everyone wants to find meaning in their work,” she says. “I’ve been fortunate enough to work for some great organizations. I’ve been really lucky.”

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