In only two years, Odyssey Junior has changed the lives of more than a hundred economically disadvantaged children. The University of Wisconsin-Madison program has set them on the road to college with a humanities-based course of self-discovery and self-expression.
In December 2016, the National Endowment for the Humanities recognized Odyssey Junior with a $100,000 Humanities Access challenge grant, awarded to organizations that provide cultural programming to underserved groups. Though the program had two years to raise $100,000 to receive the matching funds, an outpouring of support helped it reach the goal in just three months.
Colleen Johnson, Odyssey Project development director, says the federal funding will be invaluable in sustaining Odyssey Junior over the next three years.
“The National Endowment for the Humanities established the Humanities Access grant to provide a solid financial foundation for programs that engage children, people of color, and low-income populations in the humanities,” Johnson says. “With these funds, Odyssey Junior will help children develop self-confidence and discover a love of learning that can transform their lives.”
A better future
Odyssey Junior is a new offshoot of the UW Odyssey Project, which empowers adults near the poverty level to achieve their dreams through higher education. For 14 years, the Odyssey Project has offered a two-semester humanities course in which students earn six credits from UW-Madison and get a head start on a college degree. Director Emily Auerbach envisioned Odyssey Junior as a way to break the cycle of poverty, allowing about 50 children and grandchildren of Odyssey students to study similar topics in a weekly class.
“Like the adult class, Odyssey Junior provides children from elementary school through high school with enrichment and a sense of pride,” Auerbach says. “They can discuss the readings and activities with their parents and grandparents, and whole families can imagine a better a future for themselves.”
Odyssey is the only organization in Wisconsin to receive a Humanities Access grant. It will help fund instructors, books for children’s home libraries, field trips, and special guests. The grant will also support a monthly newsletter written by students.
Jalisa Galvin graduated from the Odyssey Project last year and then enrolled in Madison College to continue her education. Daughter Aa’laisa was similarly inspired by her experience in Odyssey Junior.
‘I’m doing homework just like you’
“At home, my daughter now sits in bed with me and says, ‘Mom, I’m doing homework just like you.’ When I hear her say that, it just gives me the chills,” Galvin says.
The graduation ceremony for the Odyssey Project class of 2016-17 is May 3, Varsity Hall, UW-Madison Union South, 6:30-8 p.m. Chancellor Rebecca Blank is among the speakers, and each graduate will share a brief reading. The event is open to the public.