Learn About Us


Our Story

Nora, the namesake of this project, was born weighing one pound, underwent five surgeries before she turned two, and now, at four-years-old, she inspires with her silly giggle and tenacious determination. The Nora Project wants you to know all the Noras--children with disabilities whose stories matter and teach us the value of empathy and inclusion. Our award-winning school programming allows students to explore disability, adaptation, and friendship in exciting and innovative ways. Since its founding in 2016, The Nora Project has grown from one school to more than 50, with teachers challenging students to practice empathy, exercise moral courage, and recognize the fundamental truth that as human beings, we are all more alike than different.


Our Classroom Program

The Nora Project’s flagship program is an elementary-school curriculum that pairs children with disabilities (“Nora Friends”) with participating classrooms. Students in those classrooms learn all about their Nora Friends through a variety of resources, discussions, interviews, and classroom play dates. They capture photographs and video footage of their Nora Project experiences on iPads and, at the end of the year, they compile what they’ve captured to create a mini-documentary about their project experiences. The documentaries are debuted at a red-carpet film festival celebrating empathy, friendship, and a more inclusive future.

The Nora Project is proud to debut several new programs for the 2019-2020 school year, including (1) an empathy curriculum designed for early childhood and early elementary aged students (pre-K - 3rd grade), (2) an inclusive after school club for middle and high school students; and (3) a co-taught version of the Flagship Program for students of all abilities to learn about empathy and explore their similarities and differences side-by-side. For more on these new programs, click here.

The Nora Project program, training, and professional development are free to participating schools. The organization provides all participating classrooms with the resources they need to complete the project at no charge, and provides a Project Leader at each school a stipend to manage the administration of the project over the course of the year.

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Our Mission

The Nora Project's mission is to teach empathy by sparking friendships between students and their peers with disabilities. To achieve our mission, we focus on three fundamental goals:

(1) Teaching students the beliefs and behaviors underlying the practice of empathy;

(2) Creating fun, inclusive social experiences for students with disabilities; and

(3) Building communities of kindness and support for students of all abilities.


In The News

The Nora Project has gained wide recognition and media attention for its innovative and impactful programming.


Our Board


Naomi Shapiro, Chairperson

Naomi has been working with nonprofits for more than a decade, accruing a wide array of experience from fundraising to volunteer management to cultivating organizational partnerships and beyond. She is currently the Director of Institutional Advancement at Chicago Jewish Day School. Naomi is a wife and mother to two boys, one of whom has a rare genetic disorder. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and earned a master’s degree from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.


Steven Cirulis, Treasurer

Steve has over twenty years of experience in business and marketing strategy at leading global corporations and consulting firms. He is currently a Senior Vice President at Panera Bread and a member of the Board of Education of District 36 in Winnetka. Steve received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Northwestern University. He is a husband and father of three. Steve has cerebral palsy.


Brenda Kraber, Secretary

Brenda is a celebrated elementary school teacher and a recipient of the prestigious Golden Apple award for excellence in education. Brenda is considered a thought-leader on topics including the benefits of technology in the classroom, curriculum development, and teacher mentorship. She received her doctorate in education from DePaul University where she currently serves as an adjunct professor in the College of Education.


Peggy Bianco

Peggy is a travel industry veteran, having held senior business roles with many of the major  companies in the hotel space. She is currently Vice President, Head of Hotel Sourcing, for Travelport, a leading travel commerce platform. Peggy’s son, who has autism,  has participated in The Nora Project as a participating student and as a Nora Friend. Peggy has been involved in the program since its inception in 2015.


Ellie Foreman

Ellie is the Vice President of Community Relations at Mesirow Financial. In that capacity, she leads the organization’s human and financial philanthropic efforts. Ellie has been recognized by Crain’s Chicago Business for her superior efforts and reputation in corporate philanthropy. A mother of two, issues pertaining to children and education have always held a special place in her heart.


Michelle Greenberg

Michelle is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, with experience in both clinical and school settings. She incorporates mindfulness and self-compassion into her practice, and has brought this subject-matter expertise to The Nora Project. Michelle is part of The Nora Project’s teacher training and support team, and  currently oversees the project’s operations in Maryland, where she and her husband live with their two daughters.

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Ben Kobren

Ben is a former aide, communications director, and press secretary to Hillary Clinton. He has held various government posts, policy fellowships, and high profile government relations consultancies. He and his wife and son currently live in San Francisco where he works as the Head of Communications and Policy at Color Genomics. Ben graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Emory University and received his JD from The University of Michigan Law School.


Adam Levy

Adam Levy is Nora’s father. He is an avid volunteer and philanthropist, a retired commodities trader, and currently works as a personal trainer when he is not fulfilling his favorite role—daddy and care team manager. Adam has is degree in Business Administration from Emory University.


David Palmer

David is the leader of a major fuel and oil trading team at BP (British Petroleum). In addition to a rigorous professional schedule, David is a dedicated philanthropist, seeking opportunities to make a difference in the United States and abroad. Originally from England, David graduated from the University of Leeds. He currently lives in England with his wife and two daughters.


Our Leadership Council


Richard Price, Executive Chairman Mesirow Financial



Dr. Michele Borba, Author,
UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World



Geana Connelly, Key Leadership Team, Misericordia Heart of Mercy



Lois Gates, Executive Team, Misericordia Heart of Mercy


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Daniel Goodman, Crown Family Philanthropies


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Kathleen Henson, CEO Agency H5



Martin Nesbitt, Founder and CEO, The Vistria Group, LLC



Sarah Pang, President, On Chicago Fund



Amy Rule, Former First Lady of Chicago



Scott Shallenbarger, Director Theater Arts, Highland Park High School



Eve Tyree, Chair, James Tyree Foundation



Carl West, CEO, MG Media



Our Staff

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Lauren Schrero,
Executive Director

Lauren Schrero is Nora’s mother. She was in private practice as a litigator for seven years before clerking for the Honorable Judge Thomas M. Durkin at the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Her work as an inclusion advocate for children with disabilities was recently recognized by the Jewish United Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, which named her one Chicago’s “36 Under 36” in 2016. Lauren received her B.A. from Macalester College and J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School.


Katy Fattaleh,
Program Director

Katy has been an elementary school teacher, technology coach, and instructional coach for grades pre-k-8 during her time working in public education. She is also a curriculum writer, contributing to the Next Generation Storylines Project, and an educational consultant, specializing in identifying and growing the potential of teachers at all stages in their careers. Katy is well-versed in educational technology tools and the authentic integration of technology across the curriculum. As a former colleague of founder Amanda Martinsen, Katy has been connected to The Nora Project since its inception.  Katy graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University and has a Masters in Technology in Education from National Louis University.

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Courtney Adams,
Director of Alumni and Community Programming

Courtney was an elementary educator and high school coach in Wisconsin for six years prior to joining The Nora Project. She taught 8th grade math and science for two years, and served as a 5th grade teacher for a self-contained classroom for four years. Through her experience working with students and athletes, Courtney realized a passion for social emotional learning. One of her greatest missions was prioritizing the development of the whole child, and fostering the growth of kind and empathetic individuals. Courtney is a graduate of Tufts University, and also holds a Masters in Educational Leadership and Policy from Marquette University.


Aimee Halstuck,
Outreach Coordinator

Aimee Halstuck has been working with children of all abilities since 2001 and has worked in the fields of disability studies, inclusion, and child development since 2009.  Throughout her career she has supported students by creating and facilitating groups designed to help students develop friendships with their peers in a variety of settings.  In 2013, Aimee was invited to be the keynote speaker for the Pathways.org Center’s annual fundraising gala as a result of her extensive work with the organization. Aimee has cerebral palsy and is passionate about creating the same inclusive environment in which she was raised for children of all abilities.


Erin Kranz,
Inclusion Specialist

Erin Kranz is a special education teacher. She has been a classroom teacher for 18 years and recently moved into the position of special education instructional coach. She knew as a teenager that she wanted to be a teacher after working as a camp counselor with a child that had special needs. As a former colleague of founder Amanda Martinsen, Erin has enjoyed working with The Nora Project both personally and professionally. Erin completed her undergrad degree in Special Education at Illinois State University. She has a masters degree in Elementary Reading & Literacy from Walden University and a masters degree in Educational Leadership from Concordia University.


Rebecca Kuntz, Administrative Coordinator

Rebecca is mom to her daughter Ellie who is medically complex. She spent six years living in Ghana, West Africa running a non profit that aids children with disabilities. 

Rebecca received her BA from DePaul University in Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. 


Amanda Martinsen, Founder and Program Advisor

Amanda Martinsen is an elementary school teacher and the award-winning creator of The Nora Project, which she designed and implemented from the ground up at Glen Grove School in the 2015-2016 school year. When Amanda was presented with the Illinois Education Association’s Human and Civil Rights Award for her work on The Nora Project, the President of the IEA commended her for being “a first rate educator and an inspiration to us all,” noting that “her creation of The Nora Project has been life-changing for students.” Amanda graduated from the University of Iowa and has a Masters in Elementary Education from DePaul University.


Our Partners



4.0 Schools

4.0 Schools

Art of Compassion

Art of Compassion

Behind the Scenes Consulting

Behind the Scenes Consulting

Chicago Pediatric Therapy & Wellness Center

Chicago Pediatric Therapy & Wellness Center

Communities In Schools Chicago

Communities In Schools Chicago

Evaluation For Change Inc.

Evaluation For Change Inc.

Misericordia Heart of Mercy

Misericordia Heart of Mercy

Soulstice Group LLC

Soulstice Group LLC

North Suburban YMCA

North Suburban YMCA

YMCA of Metro Chicago

YMCA of Metro Chicago

Inclusive Schools Network

Inclusive Schools Network

Educating Outside The Lines

Educating Outside The Lines


Interested In Partnering With Us?



The Nora Project is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. We are proud to invest more than 85% of our expenditures in our mission--among the highest percentage for charities nationwide. You can be assured your gift will be used efficiently and effectively.



Our Newsletters


May 2019


December 2018

February 2019


March 2018