Start Early. Start well.

June 20, 2023

Buffett Institute Receives $3 Million Pledge From the Holland Foundation

Deb Love, Samuel Meisels, Jessie Rasmussen, Ted Carter, Dannette Smith, Kristi Reinch, and Walter Gilliam cut the Buffett Institute's 10-year birthday cake.Cutting the Buffett Institute's 10-year birthday cake, from left, are Deb Love, president of the Holland Foundation; Samuel Meisels, founding executive director of the Institute; Jessie Rasmussen, president of the Buffett Early Childhood Fund; University of Nebraska President Ted Carter; Dannette Smith, CEO of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services; Kristi Reinsch, principal of Pinewood Elementary School; and Walter Gilliam, executive director of the Institute.

Celebrates 10-Year Anniversary and Welcomes New Executive Director 

Omaha, Neb. – The Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska received a $3 million gift commitment from the Holland Foundation as part of Only in Nebraska: A Campaign for Our University’s Future. The funding will support the Institute’s continued public outreach and education efforts to engage Nebraskans on the importance of early childhood education and the crucial role that early childhood educators play in the lives of young children and their families. Program initiatives include the We Care for Kids/Por todos los niños campaign, the Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Leadership Cadre, and work around understanding the funding of the early childhood system in Nebraska. 

“Dick Holland was a constant support for young children, and the Buffett Institute embodies Dick’s vision to ensure that all children have an equal shot at life,” said Deb Love, president of the Holland Foundation. “We’re excited to continue supporting this work in Dick’s memory.” 

The gift comes at a pivotal time for the Institute, as it celebrates its 10-year anniversary this month and welcomes its new executive director, Walter S. Gilliam. The milestone was commemorated with a celebration on Monday, June 12, at the Scott Conference Center. The event featured early childhood champions from across the state and across sectors and representatives from all University of Nebraska System campuses.  

“The need for access to quality early childhood education for all Nebraska families is evident now more than ever,” said University of Nebraska System President Ted Carter at the event. “It impacts our families, our children, our businesses, our communities, and our great state. ... There is so much to be proud of that we have already accomplished—and even more to look forward to in the months and years ahead.”  

Deb Love and Walter GilliamDeb Love and Walter Gilliam

Over the past 10 years, the Buffett Institute has established itself as a state voice and national leader in early childhood and created a bold vision—that Nebraska will become the best place in the nation to be a baby. The Institute built a strong mission to transform the lives of young children by improving their learning and development; raised awareness and understanding about the importance of early childhood education and educators; promoted university faculty and graduate student research; nurtured trusting relationships, partnerships, and collaborations across all sectors of the early childhood system in communities across Nebraska; and inspired and helped lead a growing movement to ensure that all children have access to quality early childhood education.  

Gilliam, an expert in the education, health, and mental health of young children, was introduced at the event as the new executive director for the Buffett Institute. Gilliam joined the Institute on March 1, following the retirement of Founding Executive Director Samuel J. Meisels.   

“The need has never been more pressing in this country—and in Nebraska—than it is today,” said Gilliam. “And yet I am so hopeful, so excited, because even in my short time here, it has become clear to me: Nebraskans value young children and want to see them do well. Nebraskans value doing the right thing. Nebraskans get things done.”  

The Holland Foundation’s gift is being made through the University of Nebraska Foundation as part of the Only in Nebraska campaign, a historic effort to encourage at least 150,000 benefactors to give $3 billion to support University of Nebraska students, faculty, academic and clinical programs, and research to address the needs of the state.  

“The Buffett Early Childhood Institute is proud to be a partner in the Only in Nebraska campaign. This gift will help address the pressing needs of communities across the state that are looking to increase access to child care and early education opportunities for their youngest residents,” said Gilliam.  


About the University of Nebraska Foundation
The University of Nebraska Foundation grows relationships and resources that enable the University of Nebraska to change lives and save lives. During the most recent fiscal year, a record 60,571 donors gave $300.6 million to the foundation to aid UNK, UNO, UNL, UNMC and its clinical partner, Nebraska Medicine, and NCTA. The foundation raises more than $7 for every $1 spent. Only in Nebraska: A Campaign for Our University’s Future is its current campaign with a goal to raise $3 billion from 150,000 unique benefactors to support the University of Nebraska. More information is at

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