The University of Wisconsin-Madison Odyssey Project has received a $100,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). It is among the inaugural round of Humanities Access grants, awarded to 34 organizations that provide cultural programming to underserved groups.

The Odyssey Project must raise $100,000 over the next two years to receive the matching funds. It will then have three years to spend $200,000.

Odyssey Junior is pioneering a multigenerational approach to breaking the cycle of poverty through the transformative power of the humanities.

Odyssey Junior is pioneering a multigenerational approach to breaking the cycle of poverty through the transformative power of the humanities.

The Odyssey Project has a 14-year track record of empowering adults near the poverty level to overcome adversity and achieve their dreams through higher education. It offers a two-semester humanities course that lets students rediscover the joy of learning while earning six credits from UW-Madison. Odyssey has helped nearly 400 low-income adults find their voices and get a jumpstart on earning college degrees. Two-thirds of the alumni have continued their education and dozens have completed two-year, four-year, or graduate degrees.

“The Odyssey Project gave me a hope that was long lost within me,” says Sahira L. Rocillo Ramírez. “It gave me light to illuminate my past, and it expanded my mind. I no longer feel like I walk alone on this earth.”

Breaking the cycle of poverty

The Humanities Access grant will help expand Odyssey Junior, an innovative program for the children and grandchildren of Odyssey students. It creates a pipeline to college for economically disadvantaged children through a humanities-based course of self-discovery and expression.

“Odyssey Junior is pioneering a multigenerational approach to breaking the cycle of poverty through the transformative power of the humanities,” says Odyssey Project director Emily Auerbach. “Students between ages 2 and 18 gain a sense of pride, and whole families become more hopeful about their futures.”

With NEH funding, Odyssey Junior will provide students with books and offer scholarships to programs that match their interests. The grant will also support the quarterly publication of a newsletter written by students.

The Odyssey Project grant is among 290 new projects funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities in 43 states, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. $16.3 million in grants will support a variety of humanities-based research and programs. Odyssey is the only organization in Wisconsin to receive a Humanities Access grant.

“The humanities help us study our past, understand our present, and prepare for our future,” said NEH Chairman William D. Adams. “The National Endowment for the Humanities is proud to support projects that will benefit all Americans and remind us of our shared human experience.”

To donate to Odyssey Junior and have your gift matched dollar-for-dollar by this NEH grant, click here; or mail a check to Friends of the Odyssey Project, Attn: Odyssey Junior Match, 21 N. Park St., Room 7468, Madison, WI 53715. For more information, contact Emily Auerbach, 608-262-3733, emily.auerbach@wisc.edu.