In 1980, The Rainbow Project began — with three staff members, two interns, and one phone — to help young children and families overcome trauma. Over the years, the organization has grown and now has about 20 staff members and has served 15,420 children since its inception.
On Friday, Sept. 11 at 6 p.m., The Rainbow Project will host its 40th Anniversary Celebration via Zoom.
“We wanted it to be a fundraiser, but it’s really a way to celebrate goodwill and all the things our families have overcome,” Sharyl Kato, executive director of The Rainbow Project, tells Madison365.
In place of its very popular annual Rhumba4Rainbow Gala, The Rainbow Project will have a Birthday Bash featuring speakers, performers, and an awards ceremony. The Rainbow Project plans to honor community supporters and the children and families they’ve worked with.
“I think more and more teachers and parents are understanding that trauma affects academics,” Kato said.
The featured speaker for The Rainbow Project’s 40th-anniversary celebration will be Nima Novak, a speech-language pathologist, who is co-founder & Indigenous speaker of Living in Empathy. She will be speaking on the “Positive Impact of Early Intervention in Childhood PTSD.”
The Rainbow Project served 1,574 children in 2019 through a combination of programs for infants, toddlers, and school-aged children. For example, Bounce Back is a school-based group intervention for elementary students who have been exposed to stressful and traumatic events.
“We have great partnerships with the schools and early childhood programs,” Kato says.
The Rainbow Project also has a collaborative effort between various Dane County early childhood home visitation programs to address the social and emotional needs of families and children called the Early Childhood Zones Program. Through this program, families received culturally proficient in-home early childhood mental health with priority going to families in the Leopold and Sun Prairie Zones.
“When we started in 1980, it was to provide that early intervention so we started with infants. We started working with infants to six-year-olds but we started working with kids up to 10- or 11-years-old and we never work with kids in isolation,” Kato says.
However, Rainbow’s core programming includes a comprehensive, individualized service model providing best practice trauma-informed, culturally competent services to children and families. Kato said families are always a huge part of their work.
“The families, given all that they’re going through, are really resilient going through telehealth,” she says. “We had 102 families that we had to start up with new treatment programs and working through telehealth.”
Kato says their biggest challenge this year during the COVID-19 pandemic has been making sure that everyone equitably has access to technology for telehealth. The Rainbow Project began providing webcams, Chromebooks, headsets, and microphones. However, she says telehealth has been a lot more convenient for parents who would otherwise have to travel across the city to drop off and pick up their children.
The Rainbow Project has a group of Spanish-speaking moms that meets weekly. The organization also provides resources for parents to deal with their own traumas including therapy for couples and individual adults. The goal is to empower parents to navigate their children’s emotions to better understand their behaviors.
“They’re not going to be therapists but be therapeutic and really understand their child and why their child is doing what they are doing,” Kato says.