The standing ovation erupted before Skip Oppenheimer even walked on stage or began speaking.
On Wednesday, 300 education and business leaders honored Oppenheimer as this year’s Idaho Voices for Children’s Champion.
The award recognizes individuals for a lifetime of commitment to children, their families and education.
Oppenheimer, president of Oppenheimer Development Corp., and CEO of Oppenheimer Companies, was recognized for his work with Idaho Business for Education, St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital’s Campaign for Kids, the Boy Scouts of America, the Community College Yes Campaign, Book it Forward! Idaho and various other initiatives and nonprofits.
Jim Everett, President and CEO of the Treasure Valley YMCA (himself a past winner of the award), joked it would be quicker to list the few children’s causes that Oppenheimer and his wife, Esther, had not supported across Idaho.
“We might want to call it the Idaho Voices for Children’s Skip Oppenheimer Children’s Champion Award,” Everett said as he introduced Oppenheimer.
Oppenheimer, whose business career is dedicated to real estate development, urged the audience to support children’s education from the earliest stages because of the connection to success in higher education and the job market.
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He also called on business leaders and education stakeholders to back the 20 recommendations issued last year by Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education.
“(The recommendations) not only seem to be a potential blueprint, unlike so many blue-ribbon committees and task forces, it has an implementation piece that is moving forward,” Oppenheimer said. “This can be, potentially, Idaho’s plan for transforming our schools.”
Oppenheimer also made a strong pitch to establish an Idaho pilot pre-K program so the results could be studied and delivered to skeptical policymakers. He tipped his cap to state Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, who spearheaded a bipartisan effort to create a small pre-K pilot program. The initiative stalled in the House during the 2014 session.
“Too few of our state leaders are talking about how important early learning is to setting up children for success in school and in life,” he said. “(Kloc’s pilot proposal) is a modest, very modest, investment just to see what we can learn and see if we can’t gain something from the process.”
A who’s who of business, political and education leaders attended the luncheon, including Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Boise State University President Bob Kustra, the mayors of Garden City, Eagle, Star and Caldwell, astronaut and educator Barbara Morgan, West Ada School District Superintendent Linda Clark and state legislators Kloc, Michelle Stennett, Donna Pence, Grant Burgoyne, Janie Ward-Engelking, Cherie Buckner-Webb, Pat McDonald and Ilana Rubel.
Past award winners include Everett, Morgan, Wasden, U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, Olympic Gold Medalist Kristin Armstrong and, most recently, former Gov. Cecil Andrus.
Idaho Voices for Children is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that seeks to influence policy to improve children’s health, safety, education and family economic security. It is supported primarily through individual donations, and Wednesday’s luncheon served as one of the organization’s largest fundraising events of the year.