Building Young Leaders: Toni Kuhn

For 15 years, Toni Kuhn has been a familiar face to students at Omaha’s Sherman Elementary School, where Civic Nebraska runs the after-school Community Learning Center for more than 100 students every day.

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For 15 years, Toni Kuhn has been a familiar face to students at Omaha’s Sherman Elementary School, where Civic Nebraska runs the after-school Community Learning Center (CLC) for more than 100 students every day. In addition to running the school cafeteria, Toni is a member of the CLC. In that role, she provides youths an evening meal while also leading the Sherman CLC kindergarten team. In her years at Sherman, “Ms. Toni” has forged a cross-generational reputation for kindness, generosity, and straight talk.

Everything we do is for the kids. I could do a million other things besides cooking, but I do it for them. I’ve seen children go through these doors who grow up and head out to middle school, then high school, they graduate, they start their own families. They’ll come back with their kids and say “This is someone who took care of me when I went here.” You see generations of this community come through our doors.

We probably spend more time with the community and the neighborhood than we used to. Family Nights are a good example. Now that’s a popular event. It’s for the whole neighborhood. All the kids bring their uncles, their aunts, and everybody else. I love to see parents get involved here at the school. That’s what I see during Family Night.

Sometimes I go shopping at Goodwill and I might pick up a few things that I know the kids might like (points to a shelf with children’s shoes, LEGOs, puzzles and other items on it). If I see a kid who I think might need something or one who is having a bad day, I’ll take something down off the shelf and give it to them.

Some of them go through more stuff than some adults do in life. It takes special teachers and staff to relate to them. The staff here know what these kids’ lives are about. I know the kids look forward to coming to school and to the CLC.

There was one kid who was getting in trouble quite a bit. Getting yelled at, at home and having trouble at school. One day I asked him if he could take a look at some of these Lego sets I have. He’d take one, really work on it. Sometimes he’d take one home and bring it back all done. He started to gradually do better. He started to search me out to see if I needed any more “help” getting all of my Lego sets built. Sometimes it’s little things that can make a difference, I guess.

We’ve been invited to kids’ graduations, get visited by grownup students who have gone on to college. That’s community to me. That’s family.

This is my relaxation. I love my job. I look forward to coming every day. The kids are my family in a way. They know when I’m upset. They know when I’m happy. They can see right through me.

It’s so funny and so interesting to watch them grow up in front of your eyes. You never know what might turn out to be a life lesson for someone, or what someone might remember as an adult. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we’re making memories and lessons for everyone who we watch over here.

I never really thought about how long I’d be at Sherman. I had a friend say, “You need to retire, Toni.” I could’ve retired in October. I said, what am I going to do? Go home and sit around? No, I love my job. So I’m not going anywhere.

I hope people remember me for caring about them, and knowing that I was there for them, no matter what. That I was someone to talk to, someone who gave them a safe place.

 

For more about Civic Nebraska’s Youth Civic Leadership programs, click here.

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Kristine Campuzano
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Kristine Campuzano

Ms. Toni we love you and are proud to have you with our kids every day. You are the true meaning of Angel. Cause I know if it wasn’t for you my kids would have had a hard time but they always have you to talk to when they are having a bad day or even a good day. You are truly amazing and we appreciate everything you have and are doing.

Dianna
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Dianna

Love Ms Toni
She was there for my kids and granddaughter. She would spoil the kids like they are hers. She is a pure exam of type of people I love to have around my children and grandchildren

Carrie Schmidt
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Carrie Schmidt

Ms. Toni,
My girls still speak of you Jaemi graduated and Becca is in high school. Your the reason I & Jaemi had made a choice to work in the ops kitchens!! I love love love the kids I work with and see daily! May the lord bless you and all you do for the Sherman Kids!!

Roni
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Roni

Ms. Toni was at Sherman when I was little and now my children attend the same school. Ms. Toni has always been a great person to learn from and help you grow. She has also gave my daughter a couple of dresses and it has made my daughter so happy. Ms. Toni isn’t just apart of the Sherman school family. But some of us have known her for years. She is family and treats everyone amazing.

Kim Bivens
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Kim Bivens

What n awesome story and yes she is such a sweetheart it’s nice-to know that someone in our neighborhood finally actually gets some recognition for something positive get em girl ……

Vickie
Guest
Vickie

Toni is the most caring beautiful person inside and out.Not only at school but in the community if a child needs help see goes to bat for that child anyway she can. I’ve known Toni my entire life and she was like this as a child also, wish there were more people like her working with our kids and or with people in general. Thank you Toni!!!!!

Michaela Earlywine
Guest
Michaela Earlywine

congratulations Tony! You are family to them kids, you’ve done an excellent job for years, way to go!

Heather Coffman
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Heather Coffman

Thanks for taking care of all our kids! You’re awesome and we’re lucky to have you.
Love,
The Coffman Crew.

Patricia Stastny
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Patricia Stastny

I couldn’t agree more with all positive things people are posting about Ms. Toni. She is an absolutely amazing and wonderful person. She’s has helped both of my sons while in elementary school especially my youngest. He really struggled with wanting to be in school. Ms Toni quickly became his “best friend” and has helped him get through many difficult days. I’m so very appreciative of all the spectacular things Ms Toni does for all the kids of Sherman elementary. She is such a blessing for the school and community. My family and I are incredibly thankful to know her.… Read more »

suzanne
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suzanne

What an awesome story. I enjoyed reading it. I have worked with Toni during summer school. I always like talking to her. Thanks for all you do Toni !!

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