“I think one of the most profound impacts that Odyssey and Odyssey Jr. can have is to transform a family’s view of books and give them the power of literacy,” says Emily Auerbach, co-director/founder of the UW-Madison Odyssey Project. “I have a lot of Odyssey students who stopped reading for fun or who associate reading with sort of difficult school days, but when they find the joy of reading again, as well as their own writing, it opens up a brand new world.”
The UW Odyssey Project, a program that takes a whole family approach to break the cycle of generational poverty through access to education, giving adult and youth learners a voice, and increasing confidence through reading, writing, and speaking, is embarking on a book drive this holiday season and hoping that the greater Madison community will give the gift of books to Odyssey families to help the program expand home libraries for its many Odyssey families.
“We are now working with almost 60 children every Wednesday night ages newborn up to 17,” Auerbach says. “And whether it’s a board book for the newborn or a coming-of-age story, or something about college, going to college for our teens, or something about multicultural identity, we find that sending books home with our Odyssey Junior participants is life-changing.”
Odyssey also provides textbooks in their Onward Odyssey alumni classes along with Odyssey Beyond Bars, which offers college jumpstart programs to students incarcerated in Wisconsin state prisons.
“All parts of Odyssey have expenses related to books, including our prison program, Odyssey Beyond Bars, where we provide books for the students that are in our classes in four different prisons now – Oak Hill, Green Bay, Columbia and Racine correctional [facilities]. Our ongoing new project is to put books into prison libraries around the state. So we have books going into our prison program.”
The Odyssey Project, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary on Oct. 12 at the UW Memorial Union Great Hall, has a goal of providing all 58 children in Odyssey Junior with a new book each week. Odyssey Junior students, ages 2-18, participate in one of three Odyssey Junior classrooms while their parents or grandparents are in class. The majority of children from low-income households have no books in their homes, yet research indicates that there’s a significant increase in literacy rates and problem-solving skills in children who had home libraries.
Even a donation of $25 can make a difference and would help provide every child in Odyssey Junior with new books in their holiday gift bag.
“It could be Frederick Douglass’s narrative of his escape from slavery. It could be Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, the complete poems of Langston Hughes, or textbooks for our sociology, theater and writing classes,” Auerbach says. ” Whatever it is, we need books. Anyone who’s ordered books knows that the cost is high. So we just need books for all parts of our program.”
A gift of $50 will provide a month’s worth of books for an Odyssey Junior teen while a gift of $350 covers the cost of a full year’s worth of books per child. Donations can be made here.
Auerbach points out that any donations made between now and Giving Tuesday (Nov. 29), will be doubled, thanks to a generous match from several Odyssey supporters.
“We try to give out a holiday gift bag in the middle of December because we, like the University of Wisconsin, go on a break between semesters one and two,” Auerbach says. “We have found that our families often struggled during that month when they’re not coming to class. Many of them are struggling to get holiday gifts. And they also have some time to read in between our semesters. So we are trying to send gift books home for that month off whether it’s for the children or for the adults.
“We’ve had some generous donors offered to match donations made for Giving Tuesday, So any gifts made from now including Giving Tuesday will be matched,” she adds. “So that’s very exciting.”