When Lucile Polo came to the United States from Mexico, she had more on her mind than just seeking out a better life. She didn’t just want to live in a new community in a new place. She wanted to be part of the community no matter where she was.
At the Literacy Network in Madison, Polo has met people from all walks of life. Learning English there as well as the ins and outs of U.S. Citizenship has been great and all. But beyond that, Polo has been able to meet people who just wanted to make a difference in their community. A difference in other people’s lives. That’s what inspires her both personally and as the mother of two boys, ages 9 and 12.
Polo wants to build a better life for her sons by building a community that they can proudly live in.
“For me, the challenge has been how to be involved in this society,” Polo told Madison365. “I’ve been really active because I have two kids and I really want to get a better life for them. That’s my biggest goal, but also how to get better opportunities for jobs. It’s not just an economic issue. When you decide to live in another place and to meet other people and other cultures, you learn respect for the people around you and you also get that respect from people.”
Across the United States the political rhetoric and racial tension have reached hot temperatures. Polo was asked what it is like to be an immigrant in this climate, especially with her children. Is this the climate she wants them coming of age in?
“Yeah. It’s not just about the hard part. This meeting is about people who are working together and people who are working hard every day to build new things,” Polo said, referring to the event announcing $813,000 in community impact grants from Madison Community Foundation. “So it’s not just the everything that is awful. The bright side is all these people working to help other people. That kindness, that love for people, for the human beings no matter where you come from or language you come from. I’ve met people who are really open-hearted, who are taking the time. Look at the ladies in charge of the English class. They choose to be helping people. And that’s the bright side.”
The bright side was well represented on Thursday morning at a gathering of more than 22 non-profits in at Madison’s Central Library. The gathering was not focused on the receiving of grants from the Madison Community Foundation. It was focused on the dozens and dozens of walks-of-life non-profits come from and serve.
With that in mind, Madison Community Foundation announced $813,000 in Community Impact grants to 22 nonprofits across Dane County. The grants will provide support for race equity and academic achievement, STEM learning and entrepreneurship, reading and literacy, nonprofit mergers, arts and the environment.
One of the most cutting-edge things happening across Dane County is a focus on youth entrepreneurship. CEO’s Of Tomorrow, led by Dr. Roxie Hentz, has been running incubators since 2017 focused on teaching youth the types of 21rst century skills they would need not only in order to run a business but also to be successful across many career platforms. Earlier this week Hentz was named one of the most influential Black leaders in Wisconsin.
Tierra Jones and Abraham Ruiz are two youths who have immersed themselves in CEOs of Tomorrow. Ruiz, who is a senior at LaFollette High School, says that participating in each of the programs offered by CEO’s of Tomorrow has allowed him to expand his mind for business. CEO’s of Tomorrow allows youth to try out different business ideas in each incubator. But for Ruiz, it has been about refining one particular venture.
“So, I was in every incubator and every incubator I have done has been better than the last,” Ruiz told Madison365. “My situation is a little bit different because I’ve been making the same business over and over for the incubators. But each time she teaches us new things in how to present ourselves, how to market, and how to go about selling things.”
CEO’s of Tomorrow was the recipient of a $21,000 grant to help grow the “These Teens Mean Busine$$” internship program. For Sun Prairie High School senior Tierra Jones, the grant money shows that these are the types of programs we need for youths.
“It makes us excited because it brings us more opportunities not just to better ourselves but also better CEO’s of Tomorrow,” Jones told Madison365. “I have my business, Brown Crown, which is based on Colorism, which is the discrimination of people with darker skin tones. Right now I’m doing my business thing and trying to get to a broader spectrum of where I can reach out to boys and not only girls, which is what my program has been for.”
Goodman Community Center received the largest grant on Thursday, $100,000 to expand the Center’s building and a project to reduce overcrowding. The Literacy Network received $75,000 to build an education and employment partnership with the new Madison College south campus.
100 Black Men of Madison received $27,000 to launch “The 100 Scholars Process”, a program that will provide opportunities for children in grades 3-12 who have shown they have advanced capabilities in arts, leadership, creativity and other activities outside of the scope of regular school programs.
Many of the grant recipients were organizations that help empower and educate Black and Brown youth. Organizations like the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute, who received $10,000 for their program supporting students going to HBCU’s or Maydm, who received $46,000 to expand its STEM Immersion Camp for girls of color to prepare them for careers in computer science/technology.
Each of these grants were carefully chosen by the Madison Community Foundation and were made possible because the community invested in MCF with phenomenal amounts of donations.
For Diane Ballweg, the Chair of the Madison Community Foundation Board of Governors, this meeting was not just about giving. It was about giving right and knowing where to put resources to work.
“That’s always the hard thing is when you have meetings you always feel like you’d like to give to everything,” Ballweg told Madison365. “I always look at how is this going to positively change the culture? How is this going to impact others?”
To say that Ballweg is an accomplished philanthropist would be a massive understatement. It’s hard to need an introduction when giving an interview just steps away from your own wing in Madison’s Central Library.
Still, Ballweg feels compelled to continue the push towards bettering the community. Echoing the thoughts of Lucile Polo, Ballweg says that positive change is happening all around Dane County. We just need to look for it.
Peering over towards the spot where a group photo was taken of the two dozen nonprofits and members of the community, Ballweg noted that this is the type of story we need to be telling.
“I just think they should put that picture with those faces on the front page of the newspaper, because I’m so tired of every day looking at the paper and it’s somebody going to prison. Somebody going to jail. Somebody is accusing someone of something. There are a lot of good things going on right here. There are a lot of positive things.”
There were indeed. That much was clear from the smiles on the faces of youth like Ruiz and Jones. The joy of Polo. And the diversity of the faces receiving answers to their hopeful prayers. Those were the faces representing the bright side.