The Rainbow Project Executive Director Sharyl Kato’s office is filled with the spirit of children. There are tea sets and baby dolls, stick-figure crayon drawings of smiling faces, and assorted furniture perfectly crafted for her young clients. As Kato pulls her chair from behind her desk to talk with me face to face, I imagine her sitting at the tiny round table in her office, having a conversation with the children she serves. “This work is so rewarding,” Kato says of The Rainbow Project, the nonprofit she started in 1980. “I really enjoy seeing change. It sometimes doesn’t take much when [children] are younger.”
The change Kato refers to is helping kids, from birth to ten years old, move from a place of fear and trauma to safety and resolution. For the last 36 years, The Rainbow Project has been on a mission to provide restorative healing and hope for children and their families in the wake of experiencing or witnessing emotional and physical abuse, family and life transitions, natural disasters, and other community violence.
Over the course of nearly four decades, The Rainbow Project has served over 10,800 kids and 10,300 adult caregivers in Dane County. They offer 10 distinct programs for children, families, and community members ranging from group therapy for child survivors of trauma, to connecting grandparents to advocate for grandchildren under their care.
The Rainbow Project takes a holistic approach to trauma resolution, with the belief that all stakeholders in a child’s life, especially family, should be involved in the process to break the cycle of trauma.
“Sometimes there is generational violence, and the child is experiencing and witnessing the violence. It is as damaging [for children] to witness violence as it is to experience it,” Kato tells Madison365. “It is not only a problem that children are learning negative ways to solve their problems and express their feelings; they are not learning what else to do instead.”
Kato and her team at The Rainbow Project have watched young people overcome trauma and develop the skills necessary to flourish as adults. “I’ve seen kids from preschool to adulthood now, and they are really successful,” Kato says. “I still have relationships with some of them. They’ve said ‘this is what I remember you saying that made a difference.’ That’s quite a gift. It’s really powerful to hear that.”
The Rainbow Project does its best not only to protect some of Madison’s most vulnerable young people, but also share the gift of making a difference with all members of the community. This Friday, The Rainbow Project will host its 12th annual “Rhumba 4 Rainbow,” a fundraiser used to celebrate children, families, and community stakeholders.
“There is a need to remember how to be joyful and understand what beauty is,” Kato says. [“Rhumba 4 Rainbow”] is something we can do to celebrate client successes and really bring the community together to thank them for supporting us.”
Pinned as “Madison’s premier salsa event of the year,” The Rainbow Project welcomes community members to enjoy live music, Latin dance, and a special performance by seven-time World Salsa, Bachata and Hustle champions Uriel Garcia and Vera Rowe. The night also includes dinner, a silent auction, and a fashion contest. “[Rhumba for Rainbow] is truly ‘fun’ in fundraising,” Kato says of The Rainbow Project’s flagship fundraising event.
In addition to the entertainment, Rhumba 4 Rainbow also honors community stakeholders that partner with The Rainbow Project including teachers, social workers, volunteers, business allies and first responders.
“The ‘Extra Mile’ awards are for people in our community who are working every day on behalf of children and families,” Kato says. “We are a tiny agency, and to have this type of event is a lot of work. We really couldn’t do it without the help of volunteers. We really feel that we are not alone in the work that we do.”
The Rainbow Project will host Rhumba 4 Rainbow Friday, September 23, at Varsity Hall (Union South at the University of Wisconsin-Madison) from 7 p.m.-midnight. Tickets are available via The Rainbow Project’s website.