Stories of Impact

A Fund for Women grants help local nonprofits improve the lives of women of color, single mothers, and women with fragile economic status.

Stories by Sarah White, Advisory Committee

2017 Grant Recipients and Friends L to R: Vanessa McDowell, YWCA Madison; Mayra Medrano, Madison Gas and Electric and Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County; Carla Garces, Latino Academy of Workforce Development; Jessica Cavazos, Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County

Investing in women is a proven solution to achieving economic security for families in Dane County.

At the annual dinner and fundraiser on October 12, A Fund for Women announced four grants supporting efforts to reduce poverty and increase opportunities for education and family-sustaining jobs, as part of its ongoing Earn-Save-Invest Initiative.

Latino Leadership Academy serves low-income or unemployed Latino adults. Latino Academy of Workforce Development (LAWD) is the only organization in Dane County to offer a GED course in Spanish and a Madison College transition program in Spanish. This is one of many ways that LAWD helps students advance their credentials by removing potential barriers.

The $15,000 grant will assist more than 60% of LAWD students who are women enrolled in its job training programs. These programs lead to stable, well-paying entry-level jobs in the construction and transportation fields. Our grant will not only help Latinas secure gainful employment, but will also benefit their families. On a bigger scale, this project will impact Dane County by reducing the reliance on social services, giving Latinas the skills to contribute to the job force, and reduce the achievement gap for Latino children.

Onward Odyssey expands the impact of the Odyssey Project, a life-changing initiative to empower adults near the poverty level to overcome adversity and pursue higher education. Onward Odyssey’s program of college-level courses and counseling offers a supportive learning community for the over 400 alumni of the Odyssey Project. It leverages the strong relationships that Odyssey Project alumni have with each other and with faculty and staff. Odyssey helps to light a spark within students; Onward Odyssey feeds this flame.

The $19,500 grant will help fund a fourth year of Writing Composition to the Onward Odyssey program, plus Special Education Paraprofessional courses and the second pilot year of the Food Systems and Food Justice course. It will help Onward Odyssey deliver wrap-around support including meals, childcare, transportation, textbooks, technology support, and assistance with emergency needs. It will support development of personalized academic and career roadmaps, and more proactive outreach to Odyssey alumni pursuing higher education.

Women in YWeb Career Academy (YWebCA) builds on the successful YWCA Madison education and job placement program for women and people of color, who are underrepresented in technology. Participants receive instruction in website development, job readiness, team building, and computer programming. Upon completion, graduates have opportunities to attend conferences, network with local tech professionals, and participate in job-shadowing and paid internships with local tech partners. YWebCA narrows the diversity gap in the tech industry by helping to provide qualified candidates to area employers.

The $30,000 grant will help fund two student cohorts enrolled in the YWebCA, expected to comprise 40 to 50 students, half of whom will be women. The ultimate goal of this program is to increase access to tech jobs for women and people of color. YWebCA graduates have long-term earning potential and career growth opportunities as a result of this program:

In addition to its 2017 grants, A Fund for Women continues to support the Doyenne Group Evergreen Fund, an innovative entrepreneurial resource designed to financially support the launch, growth, and sustainability of businesses owned by women and people of color. A Fund for Women’s $10,000 grant is pooled with resources from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation and the city of Madison to provide a mixture of grants, loans, equity investments, and program support for Madison area startups.

Requests from grant applicants in the 2017 cycle totaled $283,560. Each application outlined worthy programs that would address pressing challenges in Dane County. A growing body of research directly links community, state and national vitality to the empowerment of women. The Institute of Women’s Policy Research rated Wisconsin a C+ grade in employment and earnings. In its decision-making, the Advisory Board of A Fund for Women took into account applicants’ capacity-building and alignment with our Earn-Save-Invest initiative, with a bias toward fully funding programs over mere partial funding.

“A key takeaway from the decision-making process,” said board chair Nicole Jenkins, “is that we need to grow our endowment fund if we want to increase our impact.”

The Earn-Save-Invest Initiative involved Listening Summits in 2016 that led to a focus on improving the lives of women of color, single mothers ages 20-40, and women with fragile economic status. The Initiative has led A Fund for Women to focus on funding (1) systems that increase accessibility of postsecondary education that supports women in career development and opportunities to earn a family-supporting wage; (2) programs that develop women’s financial literacy; and (3) addressing systems that create barriers for women to access education and employment, such as affordable child care, reliable transportation, and accessible and affordable health care.

Education is the Key

Tai’Kiah Phillips with her daughter Taraji Hillman

Onward Odyssey: Tai’Kiah Phillips Is Rocking College and Motherhood

By Sarah White, Advisory Committee

Recognizing the role higher education plays in economic empowerment, A Fund For Women selected Onward Odyssey – Empowering Women to receive a $20,000 grant in its 2016 cycle. Tai’Kiah Phillips is rocking college as a result.

Onward Odyssey is an outgrowth of the UW-Madison’s Odyssey Project, a free humanities course offered through UW–Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies and English Department to adult students facing economic barriers to college. Each year since 2003, the Odyssey Project has given 30 students free tuition, textbooks, and childcare, allowing them to participate in a two-semester humanities course and earn six college credits. Many Odyssey graduates go on to finish college degrees. Over the years, the program has grown to include an Odyssey Junior program for children and Onward Odyssey to help program graduates continue their education.

Onward Odyssey – Empowering Women serves at-risk women with four programs: Special Education Assistant (SEA) training; Odyssey English 100; Odyssey Introduction to Food Systems; and one-on-one academic coaching. Tai’Kiah Phillips participated in SEA in 2016 and Odyssey English 100 in Spring 2017.

The arrival of daughter Taraji had interrupted Tai’Kiah’s plans to return to college after dropping out of UW-Whitewater. She had done well in high school but the transition to college was difficult. “You’re away from home, you think you’re so mature, but you get there—wow!” she said. Tai’Kiah returned to Madison and began working. “Life happened,” interrupting her academic plans. “When I got to Odyssey, they pushed me back in the right direction,” she said.

The SEA program prepared Tai’Kiah to pass the exam for the credential required to work in the Madison Metropolitan School District. Odyssey English 100 brings Tai’Kiah closer to her goal of a career as a teacher. Tai’Kiah is now studying at Madison College.

“The Odyssey program gave me an opportunity to prove to myself and everyone else that I can do school, and I can be a full-time mother, and I can still try to reach my goals,” she said.

“Tai’Kiah illustrates how motivated our Odyssey students are and how helpful the Fund for Women grant has been in empowering young mothers to overcome adversity and achieve dreams through higher education,” said Emily Auerbach, Professor of English and Director of the UW Odyssey Project.

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