UW Odyssey Project receives funding from CUNA foundation’s investment in south Madison

Dominique Christian and her daughters standing together in caps and gowns

At a crucial time when support and emergency services are needed for their students, the UW Odyssey Project is receiving $100,000 from the CUNA Mutual Group Foundation’s investment in nonprofits focused on equity.

“The CUNA Mutual Foundation puts equity into action. Not only are we inspired by the vision for the Urban League of Greater Madison’s The Black Business Hub (The Hub) and the Center for Black Excellence and Culture (The Center), but we’re honored to stand alongside community organizations doing the same in very powerful ways,” said Alexzandra Shade, director of corporate social responsibility for CUNA Mutual.

The CUNA Mutual Group Foundation is investing more than $4 million in nonprofits focused on economic security and education, with more than $2.4 million going towards south Madison organizations. The UW Odyssey Project has held classes in south Madison for almost 20 years and created the new Odyssey Family Learning Center at the UW South Madison Partnership space in August 2021.

“We are so grateful to the CUNA Mutual Group Foundation for their amazingly generous, transformative grant benefiting our families near the poverty level,” said Odyssey Co-director Emily Auerbach. “This funding will allow us to increase critical wraparound support to Odyssey families, almost 95 percent of whom are from communities of color, as they pursue education while battling unprecedented challenges from the pandemic and from centuries of racial and economic injustice.”

Jenny Pressman, Odyssey’s director of development and community partnerships, added, “Another significant aspect of this generous funding is that it is grounded in partnership and trust. CUNA Mutual Group Foundation, along with other area funders such as UW Credit Union and American Family Insurance, are redefining philanthropy in Madison to ensure that it centers and empowers low-income, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and other historically marginalized communities. We are honored and grateful to be a part of that change.”

This is the second time in 2021 CUNA Mutual Group Foundation has made major investments in south Madison. Earlier this year the Foundation approved more than $600,000 in funding for the YWCA and Centro Hispano/Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, bringing this year’s investment in south Madison to more than $3 million.

For 19 years, the UW Odyssey Project has taken a whole family approach to breaking the cycle of generational poverty through access to education. The Odyssey Project offers a six-credit English course for low-income adults; Odyssey Junior for children and grandchildren of Odyssey students; Onward Odyssey for students continuing their education; and Odyssey Beyond Bars, college jumpstart programs for students incarcerated in Wisconsin state prisons.

Photo above: Dominique Christian, second from left, is an Odyssey Class of 2009 graduate who earned her master’s degree in social work (MSW) in May 2021 from UW–Madison. Her children, pictured with her in matching graduation caps and gowns to celebrate their mom’s accomplishment, participated in Odyssey Junior.