2017 Nora Project Film Festival [Gigi’s Joy Photography: Wisconsin Special Needs Photographer]

The 2017 Nora Project Film Festival was an evening filled with enthusiastic hugs, laughter, and a few tears. The Nora Project began as a very personal undertaking of teacher Amanda Martinsen. Her cousin Lauren had just given birth to a little girl named Nora who had special needs. Lauren’s plea to Amanda was to educate her students in kindness and empathy so that the world would be a more gentle place for Nora and other children with special needs. And so, The Nora Project began.


Lauren and Adam Levy (top right) Teachers (l to r): Amy Bloom, Amanda Martinsen, Michelle Reynolds, and Marla Garfield

The Film Festival is actually a celebration of a year-long project for students and teachers. The work begins back in the fall when the concept is introduced to the children and the classroom groups are matched with a “Nora Friend” – a child from the community with special needs. The goals of The Nora Project focus on teaching kindness, empathy, and inclusion. These can be abstract concepts, but with curriculum written to adhere to many Common Core standards, the teachers work to open the hearts and minds of their students by doing research, interviewing doctors and therapists, and having playdates with their new friend.

2017-08-11_0013And on this beautiful evening in June, the documentaries were finally viewed at the 2017 Nora Project Film Festival. Upon arrival, Nora Friends, community members, and students were warmly greeted and ushered inside.

2017-08-11_0014What I wish I could have captured was the little flurry of excitement that happened each time a Nora Friend entered the building. Several times I saw the middle school students with their faces pressed up to the glass, watching for their personal Nora Friend to arrive. Once they were spotted, other classmates and parents were summoned to greet them at the door.



Flash Magnets was a company that took pictures of all the guests and had complimentary magnets available to take home afterward.

2017-08-11_0028An incredible buffet was available for all,

2017-08-11_0016and the walls were covered with pictures and loving messages.

2017-08-11_0018A sensory room was set up, along with an art room for the Nora Friends to do craft projects with the students. 2017-08-11_0017I spotted local celebrity Mary Cate and though I didn’t get to see much of Owen, a TV monitor was set up showing his Nora Project documentary from last year.

2017-08-11_00212017-08-11_0031Mike Cho was capturing footage of the event and recording interviews about The Nora Project experience.


2017-08-11_0029Eventually everyone made it into the main auditorium where The Nora Project was introduced and special thanks were given.

2017-08-11_0024Jose’s family and teacher travelled from Georgia to participate. His documentary was watched by the entire group with a mixture of thoughtful silence, laughs, and teary eyes.

2017-08-11_0025Additional documentaries were then screened in several classrooms. I was able to watch Asher’s and it was so neat to see the pride from the students as well as the families.

2017-08-11_0030I only caught the very end of Tinley’s documentary, but was happy to see her gather with all of her new friends. Any friendship takes a commitment of time, listening ears, and a bit of fun. These Nora Friend relationships are no different.

2017-08-11_0023At the end of the evening, goodbyes were said and hugs were given, 2017-08-11_0027but these new friendships will not be forgotten. 2017-08-11_0026



The Nora Project: official website

The YouTube collection of The Nora Project Documentaries

Rena Rosen: speaker and author of the Art of Compassion

The 2016 Nora Project Film Festival coverage

Flash Magnets

Food Sponsors: Lyfe Kitchen, Village Inn Pizzeria, Cornerstone Restaurant Group,  Eat Pak’d, Chipolte, El Arte de Camila


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