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Willard Community Center expands preschool to serve more

In a century-old former school building in southwest Lincoln, Willard Community Center quietly serves thousands of families in the neighborhood. Thanks to a recent remodel and the momentum created through Prosper Lincoln, Willard Community Center has expanded and improved its ability to provide high quality, early childhood education to the families it serves.

While improvements were made in many areas, the early childhood services received a lot of attention during planning for the remodel. “We decided to focus on preschool and pre-kindergarten to make the most impact and serve the most children,” said Janelle Soderling, Executive Director of Willard Community Center.

“We had been planning to make improvements to our building and expand our programs but when Prosper Lincoln announced that early childhood was a priority for the community, it really helped build support for our project,” said Soderling.

Willard Community Center offers state-licensed full and part-time preschool programs for 3 and 4-year olds, in the newly remodeled building. The curriculum focuses on age appropriate physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development. Children enjoy learning centers incorporated into the daily schedule introducing math, science and language.  

This program currently has 12 openings for children. The capacity is 24.

Willard also offers a pre-kindergarten program in a separate location near Lakeview Elementary School for 4 and 5-year olds who will go to Kindergarten in the fall. Currently, the program with a capacity of 20 still has 6 available openings.

Both programs accept Title XX and overall costs are designed to be accommodating for working families.

Affordability and quality are both important. “We have really great teachers who are have exceeded training requirements and have been with us for a long time,” said Soderling. The organization continues to strive for improvement by partnering with United Way to work through the State of Nebraska’s Step Up to Quality program.

Willard also manages before and after school programs at Roper Elementary School and the Community Learning Center at Lakeview. Families interested in exploring early childhood education or CLC programming with Willard can learn more at

Quotes From Our Supporters

Prosper Lincoln is one of the most exciting community engagement and community-building efforts happening in the country.  It’s a real model!

Dan Cramer, Co-founder, Grassroots Solutions, St. Paul, MN

Prosper Lincoln will not only benefit all of your kids and your community; it is also a model for similar efforts around the country, thanks to the leadership of LCF.

Richard Ober, President & CEO, New Hampshire Charitable Foundation; Founder Community Foundation Opportunity Network; Concord, NH

Communities across the US are searching for innovative initiatives to improve economic opportunity and mobility.  We can all learn from the amazing work of Prosper Lincoln!

Brian Collier, Executive Vice President, Foundation for the Carolinas

Prosper Lincoln is breaking new ground in economic revitalization without displacement.

Ellen Shepard, CEO, Allies, Chicago, IL

To see an entire community come together to ensure all Lincoln residents are successful is very inspirational.  Congratulations!

Nancy Van Milligen, President/CEO, Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, Dubuque, IA

In my regional and national work in community development this is one of the most unique and exciting strategies for true change I have seen!

Del Gines, Senior Community Development Advisor, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Omaha, NE

Bringing together a multi-sector group of committed Lincoln residents will support prosperity for all.  Congratulations on this excellent collaboration.

Holly C. Sampson, President, Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, Duluth, MN

Diverse voices from across Lincoln came together so that current and future generations can thrive. This is no small feat, and it’s inspiring to see that collective vision inch closer to fruition. You can consider yourselves a model for other communities starting to embark on this work.

Megan Powers, International Program Officer, The McKnight Foundation Minneapolis, MN

There is no better example of the power of convening than Prosper Lincoln! Bringing together members of the community from all walks of life to enrich the City is inspiring.

Regine Webster, Vice President Center for Disaster Philanthropy, Washington, DC

Prosper Lincoln is creating a national model for building vibrant, equitable and resilient communities.  Systems thinking + the right resources!

Sandy Wiggins, Chair, Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) Washington, DC

Prosper Lincoln is an important approach to solving community problems. By bringing together local businesses, nonprofits, neighborhoods, government and faith organizations, they are bridging divides, building connections, and sparking opportunities in way that shows true community engagement.

Vikki Spruill, President and CEO, Council on Foundations

This is one of the most impressive community focus efforts I have seen. You are making considerable progress!

Cynthia Hardin Milligan, Trustee and former Chair of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Battle Creek, MI

Lincoln is one of a few cities across America where citizens and leaders from across different sectors have come together to tackle their community’s most complex challenges. Your ability to already show results and persevere is inspiring.

Ben Hecht, President and CEO of Living Cities, Washington, DC

Solving tough national problems like the opportunity gap begins locally, and Prosper Lincoln is leading the way.

Robert D. Putnam, Professor of Public Policy and author, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

There is nothing more powerful in securing a community’s long-term health than evolving a shared vision through community engagement. Congratulations!

Rip Rapson, President, The Kresge Foundation, Detroit, MI