News

Lifelong Education Advocate to be Honored with Bear2Bear Impact Award

Nancy Opalack ’71, an Ursinus College trustee who was founder and executive director of Educational Support Systems, Inc. (ESS), has been selected to receive the annual Bear2Bear Impact Award for Leadership and Service.

The award recognizes distinguished individuals or organizations who have had an extraordinary impact on their local, national or global community through exemplary leadership and service and have been unparalleled supporters of Ursinus College and its mission. Opalack will be honored during the third annual Bear2Bear Benefit & Bash on Thursday, April 15, 2021.

She formed ESS—a Washington, D.C.-based organization specializing in school advocacy services for at-risk youth—in 1983 and led it until 2019. Under her guidance, it grew to become the largest educational advocacy firm in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, serving well over 1,000 families.

“Nancy Opalack embodies the mission of Ursinus College and of the educational experience as a whole. Her longstanding leadership in her field, along with her entrepreneurial vision and service to her community, make Nancy a perfect choice for this high honor,” Ursinus President Brock Blomberg said. “She captures the very spirit of Ursinus and of the Bear2Bear Student Emergency Fund.”

The Bear2Bear Benefit & Bash raises funds to support the Bear2Bear Student Emergency Fund, which provides special grants of up to $5,000 to students who are facing temporary financial hardship as a result of an emergency or crisis situation.

An industry expert in operational modeling, Opalack’s knowledge helped with the start-up and implementation of charter schools in Washington, D.C., New York City, New Orleans, Chicago, and Baltimore, and she even developed and co-directed the Louisiana Special Education Cooperative (LA COOP).

In 2017, Opalack took on a second, concurrent role as president and chief executive officer of the Harold C. Smith Foundation to Promote Christianity, an organization that invests in churches and nonprofit organization that effectively extol the values of the Christian faith. She helped to develop the operational infrastructure and processes for the then fledgling entity, which was created after the passing of longtime Ursinus board member and alumnus Harold C. Smith ’55.

In 2020, Opalack refocused her energies and efforts toward volunteering in support of Christian organizations in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region as well as multi-stakeholder community and women’s empowerment projects in Africa. She is working to help connect these entities with U.S.-based donors and grant-making organizations.

Opalack has previously been honored by Ursinus with its Henry P. and M. Page Laughlin Educator Award, awarded annually to an individual who has made outstanding contributions in the field of education.

The first two recipients of the Bear2Bear Impact Award were Will Abele ’61 and Joe DeSimone ’86, respectively.