The Holland Foundation has given the University of Nebraska $2 million for the Buffett Early Childhood Institute.
The annual investment income from the permanently endowed fund will go toward a public outreach effort by the institute to inform the public of the institute’s mission and gain additional money to improve child care and early childhood education, especially for low-income kids.
The gift also came with the provision that Samuel Meisels, head of the institute, would hold the Richard D. Holland Presidential Chair at NU. The title is honorary and doesn’t come with additional compensation for Meisels. NU spokeswoman Melissa Lee said only about a half-dozen faculty members hold presidential chairs, which celebrate excellence.
The institute, which began its work in 2013, seeks to close achievement gaps among young children and improve the workforce serving those children. Although it’s based in Omaha, it’s an NU-wide program.
Meisels, 71, was recruited to the institute from the Erikson Institute in Chicago. The Erikson Institute is a graduate school in child development. Before that he was a faculty member and scientist at the University of Michigan.
Richard “Dick” Holland, who died last year at 95, was a native Omahan who contributed to the Child Saving Institute, among many other organizations.
The primary mission of the Holland Foundation is to support efforts that aid children and families in need, support the arts and back public education.
Meisels said he and Holland became friends, bonding over the commitment to children and social justice.
Holland’s daughter, Mary Ann Holland, said through a press release that her father “identified early child development and education as critical to achieving a successful, happy life. He loved Dr. Meisels and the Buffett Early Childhood Institute.”
Meisels said public outreach and strategic communication are vital in informing people how important the early years are in a person’s development.
Children in poverty receive lower-quality child care and early education, he said.
The institute needs to inform the public of what the science shows “and also try to get them to act on it,” Meisels said Thursday.
He said people are listening and want to hear more.
“Can we move that needle?” he asked. “Can we seek other sources of funding here?”
He said he believes the institute can.