Home Local News Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation announces record $1 million gift to the Odyssey...

Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation announces record $1 million gift to the Odyssey Future Fund as a challenge match

Odyssey student Talaisha, with son, Kahleeh, and Bucky Badger at Odyssey graduation.

The Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation has announced that they will be making a $1 million gift to the Odyssey Future Fund as a challenge match of the UW Odyssey Project, which means that between now and Dec. 31, every dollar you give to the Odyssey Future Fund – up to $1 million – will be matched by this generous gift.

The UW Odyssey Project takes a whole family approach to breaking the cycle of generational poverty through access to education, giving adult and youth learners a voice, and increasing confidence through reading, writing, and speaking. The Odyssey Project was co-founded in 2003 by Emily Auerbach, a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

“This million-dollar donation from Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation is the largest single gift we’ve ever had. We’ve had a couple of half-million-dollar grants – one through the state and one through the federal appropriations through Tammy Baldwin’s office, but those grants are set to end. So we are so very happy about this current gift,” Auerbach tells Madison365.

Auerbach says that the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation has helped the Odyssey Program in the past with a $500,000 gift for the endowment for the directorship.

“This million-dollar match is intended to help us with our Future Fund,” Auerbach says. “We just celebrated our 20th anniversary and this new campaign that we have this fall is to help us secure the next 20 years by building an endowment. And so that’s why we’re calling it Odyssey Future Fund. 

“This million-dollar gift [from the Pleasant T. Rowland Foundation] is offered as a match,” Auerbach continues. “So we have to call on our donors to raise that million to get the million and that would then leave us with a $2 million endowment. The way we’ve come to learn to secure our future is to have an endowment where it just continues to grow and support our programming.”

Auerbach says she went to Pleasant T. Rowland’s house to talk to her about the Odyssey Program and enjoyed the interaction. ”She is someone who was an educator and real champion of what we do at Odyssey and she was delighted to support our Future Fund,” Auerbach says.

“The Odyssey Project is an extraordinary initiative that, as a former educator, holds a special place in my heart,” Rowland said in a statement announcing the matching gift. “I have witnessed firsthand the incredible transformations that occur when individuals are given the chance to pursue their educational aspirations. I am honored to be able to support Odyssey, and I hope that my contribution will inspire others to join me in investing in the transformative power of education. Together, we can change lives and build a brighter future for all.”

Donations made to the Odyssey Project will help to eliminate challenges in the cost of housing assistance for Odyssey students facing homelessness and eviction which have more than doubled this past year as well as for the cost of food, which Auerbach says has tripled, as the program served more families through the Odyssey Family Learning Center. The money will support opportunities for our students and programs like Onward Odyssey, Odyssey Junior, Odyssey Senior, Odyssey Beyond Bars and Odyssey Beyond Wars.

“If you expand programming, you’ve got to also make sure that the funding is there to sustain it. We have been asked to grow in other ways and so we just are really trying to build support,” Auerbach says. “This year, I had a record-breaking 150 applications in for the 30 spots in year number 21 [of the UW Odyssey Program.]   So we’re turning away people for that. I have people asking if we can do more of our Odyssey Senior work with elders in the community, not just with Odyssey elders. Same with our [Odyssey] Junior program. There’s a growing interest in seeing ways that Odyssey can expand and the only way I see to do that is by building new sources of funding.”

The deadline to donate, Dec. 31, may seem like a long way for some, but Auerbach knows it will come quickly. All of those donations will be matched.

“We’re hoping a lot of people do charity toward the end of the year, in this case, we’ve got the fall to try to raise that million dollars to take full advantage of the match,” Auerbach says. “Even someone who donates $10 will help us. I just want to say I value every single gift of any size because it takes so many people to help us make a project like this succeed.”