Stories of Impact

Every day, people and organizations throughout our community are creating impact with grants from Madison Community Foundation. We're honored to share just a few of the many ways they make a difference.    

Dreaming Big for the Community

Mentoring Positives is dreaming big for the Darbo-Starkweather-Worthington neighborhood with the launch of the Darbo Dream Center capital campaign.

Learn more about Mentoring Positives impact on youth and the new Darbo Dream Center

A Fund By and For the Community

The Community Impact Fund supports MCF's competitive grantmaking in our community. Over the years, grants made from this fund have helped transform the landscape of our community.

Learn how the fund got started, and discover some of the transformative grants it has made

An Innovative Approach to Learning

CEOs of Tomorrow teaches students financial wellness and job-readiness through social entreprenuership programs in Dane County schools.

Read more about how CEOs of Tomorrow is offering an alternative approach to learning

Designed By and For Middleton Residents

What all began with an empty lot soon turned into a bussling downtown center packed with events. The Stone Horse Green in Middleon was truly designed by and for the community.

Learn more about the transformation of the Stone Horse Green

Letting Black Girls Shine

Black Girl Magic Educational Services provides programs to build confidence, creativity and uplift Black girls across Madison, forming a safe and affirming community where girls can authentically and unapologetically be themselves.

Discover the many ways Black Girl Magic helps girls thrive

Celebrating 35 Years of Supporting Children

The American Girl's Fund for Children has helped thousands of children engage in arts, cultural and environmental programs in the 35 years since its inception. It has awarded more than $11 million to area nonprofits, including Little Picassos, Rooted and the Aldo Leoplold Nature Center's Nature Net program.

Discover how the Fund for Children has helped these organizations grow

An Extraordinary Fundraiser With an Incredible Impact

As President and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County (BGCDC), Michael Johnson’s infectious enthusiasm and ability to inspire donors have made him an extraordinarily successful fundraiser. This has led to an incredible impact on Madison.

See how Michael and the Boys & Girls Clubs' work were honored

Preserving a Valuable Community Asset

The Foundation for Dane County Parks is dedicated to improving the quality of life throughout Dane County by sustaining and improving its park system.

Learn how the Foundation is working to connect more people to the parks.

Creating a Career Pathway to the Trades

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County and the Madison Area Builders Association are teaming up to create the McKenzie Regional Workforce Center and a career pathway to the trades for Madison-area youth.

Watch the story and learn about their endowment challenge

Investing in the Future

Groundswell Conservancy and Operation Fresh Start are teaming up to providing a pathway to careers in conservation, with some help from a Community Impact grant.

Read about the new Graduate Conservation Crew

Amplifying Women's Voices in the Nonprofit Field

With Amplify Madison, YWCA Madison has helped women increase their knowledge and amplified their voices in the community.

Read how this 75th Anniversary Grant made an impact.

The Playing Field

Breaking down barriers to provide low-income children and their families with access to high-quality early care and education. Read more. 

Brightening Lives with the Gift of Music: DISSO

Dimensions in Sound and The Studio Orchestra have been bringing the gift of music to area seniors for more than 40 years. Read more.

Bayview Foundation Builds a Resilient Community

The Bayview Foundation helps families grow and thrive, even through the pandemic. Read more. 

Introducing JustDane

After nearly 50 years of working for social justice and helping people in our community, Madison-area Urban Ministries has changed its name to better reflect its mission. Read more. 

Omega School Is Making Lemonade From the Pandemic's Lemons

Omega School has worked creatively to meet its mission throughout the pandemic, not only continuing to provide services to students working to get their GEDs, but getting stronger. Read more. 

Madison Children's Museum Adapts Creatively

Madison Children's Museums plans for its 40th anniversary were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. But they adpated creatively. Read more. 

Preserving Wisconsin's Special Places: Gathering Waters works with local land trusts to protect Wisconsin's Natural Wonders

By helping strengthen land trusts across Wisconsin, Gathering Waters helps support them in their work to protect our state's natural wonders. Read more. 

The Power of Collective Creativity: Dane Arts Mural Arts uses a collective approach to art to strengthen and beautify communities

In the process of engaging the community to create murals, DAMA also addresses urban decay, teaches youth new skills, and gives them an opportunity to thrive. Madison Community Foundation has been a supporter since DAMA’s inception. Read more.

All It Needs Is Love: Community Impact grants give the Bartell a fresh new look and feel

The Gerald A. Bartell Theatre is quietly undergoing a renovation project funded by a series of MCF Community Impact grants. Read more

Master Planners: Madison Public Library Foundation Leaders' Foresight Will Benefit Our Libraries Forever

Madison Public Library Foundation has never wavered in its original plan to commit 10 percent of its annual fund to build a permanent endowment at MCF. Read more

Mad About Bikes: Bike Equity Grant Brings Biking to Underserved Neighborhoods

The grant, part of MCF’s 75th Anniversary Year of Giving, provides access for all riders, regardless of economic status, and helps them take advantage of Madison’s Platinum-level status as a Bicycle Friendly Community. Read more

The Power of Porchlight: Grants to Reduce Homelessness Provide More Than Just Shelter

The causes of homelessness are well documented—the top three are poverty, violence or threat of violence, and mental health. Read more

Art for Women's Sake: MCF Grant Inspires Art by Women and an Endowment for Women

Think of the women leaders in Madison. Now imagine them draped like a classical sculpture and gesturing ever forward. Read more

Arts in a New Light: Grant for a Diversity and Inclusion Director at Overture Center

Ed Holmes is a man with a plan—and it’s working. Less than two years into his role as director of diversity and inclusion at Overture Center, Holmes is building bridges through outreach initiatives and programs, increasing arts access for all residents, and creating a sustainable model for equity and inclusion long into the future.

For more than 40 years, Holmes has made community building his life’s work at local neighborhood centers and in the public education system. Now he’s bringing all of his experiences and best practices to bear in his new role “making sure everyone has a place at the table, their voices are heard, and they respect each other.”

Successes so far include the growth of the Community Partner Ticket Access Program to ensure all members of the community have the opportunity to a end great performances, and an increase in the frequency of artists of color paid to perform at Overture. Strides have also been made in creating a greater sense of community through opportunities to further engage fellow patrons and artists at special pre- and post-show gatherings.

Last fall, Holmes partnered with Madison College to organize a special performance of the national touring sensation DRUMline Live based on the Historically Black College and University marching band tradition for 300 area high school students. The event included an educational workshop on historically black colleges and financial aid, a catered lunch from Porta Bella restaurant, and a pre-show performance by Madison favorite Black Star Drumline.

“You could feel the energy and sense of community in the building,” says Holmes. “We’re teaching and preparing the next genera on of theater goers, which will be more diverse because our society is becoming more diverse.”

Holmes says the details and the nuances of bringing in diverse audiences matter most in this work, and he’s challenging the staff to be engaged in the effort. When Grammy Award winner La Santa Cecilia played at Capitol Theater, a member of the facilities staff was invited to promote the event on the Spanish-speaking radio station, La Movida. Partnerships with Centro Hispano and the La no Chamber of Commerce brought hundreds of visitors to enjoy the concert and La no Art Fair that took place the same day.

Holmes is also excited about an innovative collaboration with Wisconsin Center for Education Research to develop data and metrics to track the progress of diversity and inclusion, as well as an arts administration internship for career exploration and training.

“We’re building a plan and a place where diversity and inclusion can be sustained,” he says.

Net Effect: Literacy Network Permanently Funds Computer Lab

Literacy Network established a $45,000 endowment fund at Madison Community Foundation to provide permanent support for its bustling, year-old computer lab.

The endowment will ensure regular maintenance and upgrades to keep up with the rapid advancements of technology.

This endowment is part of a $3 million campaign to build a new building, expand programming and ensure long-term services for adult English learners.

Since the lab opened in January 2017, computer usage by adult learners has increased 40 percent, allowing individuals to improve reading and writing skills, English language proficiency, employment opportunities, financial literacy, access the public library system, monitor their children’s education portals, and more.

“Skills in technology and literacy are vital for families to improve their opportunities to overcome poverty,” said Literacy Network Executive Director Jeff Burkhart. “Thanks to the $15,000 challenge grant from the Madison Community Foundation that helped us reach our $45,000 fundraising goal, adult learners at Literacy Network will be able to build practical skills that help them access a bright future for many years to come.”

In Dane County, one in seven adults—55,000 people—struggle with low literacy. Every year, Literacy Network serves more than 1,000 adult learners through classes and tutoring programs at 29 locations throughout Dane County. 89 percent of learners have incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

“Madison Community Foundation is proud to partner with Literacy Network in a long-term strategy to create greater stability among adult learners and residents of Dane County,” said Tom Linfield, Madison Community Foundation Vice President of Community Impact. “Life-long learning is a gift that can lift people out of poverty and provide more opportunities to help people live their best lives. This is a great program that will continue to give back to our community for many years to come.”

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. 

Learn More About MCF's Grantmaking Program