Stories of Impact

Every day, nonprofits throughout our community are creating impact with grants from Madison Community Foundation.   

Starting the Conversation: James Madison Memorial High School

A JMMHS student getting ready for the All-School Read

In a city that is grappling with issues of race and equity, James Madison Memorial High School (JMMHS) leaders developed a rich, multi-component program that engaged students and staff in meaningful dialogue about racial justice in the Madison community.

With help from a $5,000 Community Impact grant from Madison Community Foundation, JMMHS kicked off their first All-School Read on April 3, 2017—providing free copies of All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely to all 2,200 students and staff members. JMMHS also provided programming to strengthen the school community and provide open forums for conversation.

“I’m proud to be a product of a school that makes discussions of race and policing a school-wide priority,” said a JMMHS alum.

Key activities of the project included a student-led book discussions with representatives from the Madison Police Department, a showing of the documentary 13th with a student-led discussion, a training on how to interrupt racism, a social justice art gallery related to the book, student presentations on micro-aggressions, a privilege walk, a community potluck to celebrate the end of the project, and a very special day where both authors of All American Boys visited JMMHS and presented at an all-school assembly.

“Madison Community Foundation was proud to support this thought-provoking, and forward-thinking project. We hope that there will be many more All-School Reads to follow after the success of this pilot project,” said Tom Linfield, VP of Community Impact.

Many opportunities for leadership arose as a group of 30 students, primarily upperclassmen, helped to plan, promote, and facilitate every event resulting in the participation of 211 students and 43 staff, along with dozens of parents and representatives from the Madison Police Department.

Additional results of the programs included 70 percent of the 436 students surveyed reported they felt better connected to the school community. Furthermore, 259 students reported having talked about the book with friends, while 140 students had talked about the book in a class discussion, 158 students had talked specifically with teachers, and 155 students had talked about the book with parents or guardians.

“Months later, we are still in awe that we were able to pull off all the pieces of this very large project,” said Robin Amado, the school’s library media technology specialist. “All four organizers agree that it went better than we could have imagined, and know that it can grow in it’s potential in years to come as we continue the project.”

Summer Scribes: Vera Court Neighborhood Center

Vera Court authors Kiymiah Jones and Michael Onabule

A Community Impact grant to raise reading levels at Vera Court Community Center inspired summer campers to publish their own book

For many school-age kids, summer vacation means a long break from homework, but for Kiymiah Jones, age 10, and Michael Onabule, age 11, their summer was all about learning. Together with their fellow campers at Vera Court Neighborhood Center, Kiymiah and Michael published a book—written, illustrated and formatted by Vera Court kids.

“So basically, there’s this book, Letters from Minty, written by fourth and fifth graders in Florida and it inspired us to make our own Vera Court book,” said Kiymiah, Vera Court summer camp attendee and co-leader of the Book Publishing Committee.

Kiymiah and Michael, chosen to lead the program because of their strong leadership qualities, started the process by gathering content for the book as well as input from their peers about their vision for the book. With the help of Literacy Coordinator Kim Murphy, Kiymiah and Michael developed a system where each summer camp attendee read one article of their choice every day and journaled about what they learned.

After journaling most every day for eight weeks, each child chose one journal entry to develop further—retuning and revising it with the support of helpers like Murphy and volunteer “Community Reading Buddies.”

“We support them with specific writing strategies so they’re building literacy skills into their writing,” says Murphy.

Campers were not limited to writing about what they learned from their daily reading; they were also encouraged to write about the other summer camp activities such as dance club, cooking club, and taekwondo. As a result, journal entries were a way for the kids to save their memories and share with readers what it is like to be a Vera Court kid.

The Book Publishing Committee is a small piece of a much larger puzzle—one whose main focus is to help the summer camp attendees be ready for the upcoming school year and prepare them to start the year strong.

“My goal is not for every kid to stay at grade level but for every kid to be above grade level,” said development director Rebecca Ressl when explaining the importance of summer camp in allowing the kids to stay brushed up on their academic skills instead of slipping behind.

This idea is also reflected in Vera Court’s new campaign, Vera Vision 2020, a $2.2 million project to provide all resources necessary for Vera Court children to succeed academically. Last year, MCF awarded $50,000 for the project, which will double the size of the center, renovate current space, provide intensified academic support to youth and families, and build an endowment to sustain programs for the long term. The center will support programs for 5,000 residents and focus on strong partnerships with neighborhood families to incorporate learning in the household and bring academics to the forefront in the school, community center and home.

Making a Splash: Dane County

A Community Impact challenge grant helped Wisconsin Heights residents build a new splash pad

After five year of diligent work, the Wisconsin Heights Splash Pad volunteers celebrated a brand-new outdoor recreation destination this summer.

The facility, located in Mazomanie Lions Park adjacent to the community pool, offers free, multi-generational, handicapped accessible fun for the communities of Black Earth, Mazomanie and Arena along the Highway 14 corridor west of Madison.

In 2015, MCF awarded a $30,000 matching grant to build the $200,000 splash pad and create an endowment to support ongoing park enhancement and maintenance. With extraordinary community support, the project raised the remaining $170,000 from individuals, families and local businesses.

“I continue to be impressed by the energy and persistence of residents as they dream up projects to serve their communities and then inspire volunteerism and philanthropy to bring new amenities to life,” said Tom Linfield, MCF Vice President, Community Impact. “This splash pad is a wonderful asset that will be filled with screams of joy from multiple generations for years to come. Bravo to the community for rallying around such a terrific project.”

Since 2006, MCF has funded six splash pads in Dane County with grants totaling $415,000.

Camp Creativity: Sector67

Rona (at left) is working on 3D modeling and Alma is drafting a sewing pattern that she will laser cut and sew together to make a stuffed animal during Fractal Winter Break Camp, held at the nonprofit collaborative space Sector67. Beth Skogen Photography

Madison Community Foundation is helping to expand Madison’s premier hacker space, and the next-gen minds that inhabit it

FULL STEAM AHEAD: Most of us know the acronym “STEM,” which stands for learning in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Educator and founder of the Fractal program, Heather Wentler, teaches a variation of STEM, coined STEAM, which integrates the concepts of art and design into education and, ultimately, innovation in the 21st century.

Wentler’s entrepreneurial venture, Fractal, operates out of Sector67, the nonprofit hacker space that provides a collaborative environment to learn, teach, develop, build and create everything from hardware, software and electronics to art, sewing and metalwork.

Sector67 was one of 75 area nonprofits to receive a grant from MCF’s Community Impact Fund in 2016. MCF gave $50,000 to support Sector67’s fundraising campaign to build a permanent home. The new building is located in the same east-side neighborhood and closer to Goodman Community Center, enabling the nonprofit to double the number of youth served annually through Fractal and other programs to over 1,000.

Merging for the Future: Community Partnership & Center for Families

Community Partnerships board member Tim Otis (L) and executive director Scott Strong with Gary Praznik, board chair for Center for Families

Madison Community Foundation grant supports the merger of Community Partnerships and Center for Families into one full-service agency

Community Partnership’s history and legacy are coming full circle. Founded in 2000 with the goal of bringing the work of four local social service agencies under one umbrella, the mental health agency has officially merged with Center for Families— itself an outgrowth of nonprofit collaboration. The merger was supported by a field of interest fund at Madison Community Foundation. The name for the new nonprofit is RISE.

Scott Strong, the merged organization’s executive director, says he’s excited to lead the innovative effort to create more comprehensive services for area residents and a sustainable model for delivering those services at a time when health care is constantly changing and costs are ever-rising. For clients, the nonprofit will create a holistic experience for children, adults and families by bringing together experts in the field of child welfare, mental health, home visiting and care coordination.

“Unfortunately, the common thread in people both organizations serve is trauma,” says Strong. “With integrated services, stronger partnerships, and proven programs that work, together we have the ability to reach and impact a lot of young lives.”

Among the many other benefits of the merger, 6,800 individuals will be served annually with both preventative and responsive services for children and families at risk. But numbers only tell one part of the story. Strong tells the story of a boy who came to Center for Families for respite care while his mother went to be with her sister who was having a baby. He recognized a brochure from the Parent Child Home Program he participated in a few years back, and settled in immediately.

“The community often gives a lot of lip service to holistic care,” says Tom Otis, board member of Community Partnerships. “When you see what’s going on here it gives real meaning to people we serve."

From Immigrant to Entrepreneur: Literacy Network

Lorena Villalobos found more than a tutor in Literacy Network volunteer Jenny Ludtke.

MCF grant to support Literacy Network’s new building and endowment will help people like Lorena Villalobos reach new heights

 

Lorena Villalobos worked across the street from Literacy Network for quite some time before she mustered up the courage to walk through its doors and ask for help. A single mom raising three children, she didn’t exactly have the time to learn English.

What changed her mind were the frustrating doctor visits and parent-teacher conferences, where language barriers presented obstacles to understanding and addressing her children’s health and education. She also knew learning English would increase her employment opportunities.

Nearly five years later, the native of Mexico has far surpassed the goals she set for herself as a student in Literacy Network’s one-on-one tutoring program. Her children are healthy and excelling academically. Her oldest son Juan is a senior at UW-Madison with his eyes on medical school. Edwin is a senior at West High School and hopes to attend UW-Milwaukee. Leslie is a student at Cherokee Middle School, and lives to play soccer. Last April, Lorena and Juan both passed their citizenship test and became American citizens on the same day. Today, she’s a budding entrepreneur—the proud proprietor of Lorena’s Beauty Salon in Fitchburg.

What’s next for Lorena? “I want to keep learning,” she says. “I want to be able to employ my kids at the salon.”

To that end, she and her tutor Jenny Ludtke continue to meet for two hours, once a week, at Lussier Community Education Center, one of Literacy Network’s eight program locations, to hone her business writing. Jenny found the volunteer opportunity through her work at a nearby church. She loves reading and sought to share it with others.

“I know how much easier life is when you can read easily,” says Jenny.

Plus, says Jenny, the program is both convenient and volunteer friendly, with each week’s lesson planned by a Literacy Network volunteer. While Jenny’s job is to execute a well-planned lesson, it’s clear the student and tutor have developed a deeper connection, and that the relationship is rewarding for them both.

Lorena credits Jenny for a lot more than language skills.

“She’s not only my volunteer helping me learn but she’s been a big support in my life,” says Lorena.

Jenny says Lorena’s patience, persistence, strength and determination are among the many reasons she’s achieved her every goal. She also credits Literacy Network for giving students the right tools to succeed.

“The people who are here are longing to do better at work and communicate better with schools, doctors and neighbors. This is a boots-on-the-ground opportunity that is really vital.”

Safer Stories: Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center

Safe Harbor offers children safety and justice on their journey to healing.

Safe Harbor’s Recording Equipment Brings Safety and Justice to Children by Preserving their Stories

 

In order for Safe Harbor to accomplish their important work of reducing trauma to children who have been abused or witnessed crimes, they must have a state of the art recording system. This recording system enables them, after coordinating between all those involved in the case, to interview children in a child-friendly and safe environment. It helps them capture the most accurate information possible and create a recording that can be used wherever the information is needed instead of repeatedly interviewing of the child.

This, in turn, decreases the stress on the child.

In 2015 when Safe Harbor applied for a $7,000 MCF Community Impact challenge grant to upgrade their equipment, the equipment they were using was aging and produced poor picture and sound quality. They worked with the Dane County Sheriff’s office to identify appropriate equipment and procure bids. After receiving the funding, and meeting their 1:1 matching goal of $7,000, they installed the new system in February 2016. The improvement was striking.

A few of the benefits are:

  • Cameras are smaller and less obtrusive making the interview more comfortable for the child.
  • Sound quality is much better largely due to the addition of another microphone.
  • Vastly superior pictures show clearer views from various angles.

The new equipment is also easier to use. It keeps a list of the recorded interviews which allows others to access them more quickly. The similarities between it and equipment used by many law enforcement agencies means their law enforcement partners can navigate it more effectively.

With the help of a MCF Community Impact Grant, Safe Harbor is able to help children tell their story effectively so that, when appropriate, child abusers can be held accountable for their crimes, professionals can move forward with the process, and children in the community can be offered safety and justice.

Light Up the Night: Olbrich Botanical Gardens

"GLEAM: Art in a New Light," is now an annual tradition.

GLEAM artistic displays are a delightful addition to Olbrich Botanical Gardens

Any person walking through Olbrich Botanical Gardens on a beautiful fall evening is bound to hear oohing and aahing. This is a common reaction of visitors to GLEAM, Art in New Light, an annual exhibition of illuminated sculptures and installations set up at the Gardens by regional artists and creative professionals. The experience was made possible, in part, through a $10,000 MCF Community Impact Grant.

When Olbrich Botanical Gardens proposed the GLEAM project, they had a couple of objectives in mind. They wanted to refresh interest in the Gardens and reach more people with their beauty. They also wanted to provide an opportunity for local and other artists to add to or enrich their skills as they constructed art highlighting the concept of light.

Staff and artists worked together to create a visual experience that would reach guests in a new way. They also designed activities to provide opportunities for the artists, form connections between artist and community members, and leverage the increased interest GLEAM brought to the Gardens to raise additional funds.

The result was breathtaking. During the two months of the GLEAM exhibit, Olbrich recorded over 43,000 visitors, a 24% increase in attendance. An estimated 14% were completely new visitors to the Gardens. When asked to attach a feeling to their experience, 30% chose Inspired, 26% chose Dazzled and 20% chose Contemplative. Visitors left comments like, “So beautiful. I might never have been introduced to this meditative place without this special event.” Facebook followers and gift shop sales increased and sale revenue surpassed goals. Lighting designers also reported positive experiences.

In future years, Olbrich Botanical Gardens intends to shift funding of GLEAM more towards admission sales. Their experience taught them a few things that they can use to enhance the visitor’s experience even more. They hope to continue dazzling and inspiring the community for years to come.