The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has announced that they are giving the University of Wisconsin-Madison Odyssey Project a $100,000 challenge grant today.

“We are absolutely thrilled,” Odyssey Project Director Emily Auerbach tells Madison365. “But we know that we have a lot of work to do because this is a challenge grant. They will give us $100,000 but only if we raise $100,000. It’s a matching challenge grant. So, we will be working very hard over the next two years to raise that money, which will be doubled, and then we’ll have three years to spend that $200,000.”

For 13 years now, UW-Odyssey Project has been offering a two-semester humanities class for adults facing barriers to a college education. They provide them with free tuition, textbooks, childcare, a weekly dinner, and six UW credits in English through support from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, grants, and private donations. “We have over 400 alumni at the Odyssey Project and 30 new students,” Auerbach says. “And so far we’ve worked with 100 children in Odyssey Junior.”

Auerbach says that the Humanities Access grant will help expand Odyssey Junior, an innovative program that works with the children and grandchildren of Odyssey students. “The hope that we have is that by doing this we’ll be able to guarantee the future of our programs. We’re using funds to charter a bus to take children to the Art Museum or the Children’s Museum, it goes towards books and art supplies and all kinds or enrichment programs for the children ages 2-18 that are in our program. We’re working with 50 children every night while working with 30 adults who are in the Odyssey Program.”

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Today, they announced funding for 290 projects in 43 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. $16.3 million in grants will support a variety of humanities-based research and programs.

“The humanities help us study our past, understand our present, and prepare for our future,” said NEH Chairman William D. Adams in a statement. “The National Endowment for the Humanities is proud to support projects that will benefit all Americans and remind us of our shared human experience.”

How hard is it to raise $100,000?

“We’ll find out,” Auerbach laughs. “It’s a lot of money but I have confidence that when organizations, grants and donors hear about this opportunity will help us out. I think more and more people are understanding that we need to start early with our programming if we are going to tackle inequities in Dane County. I think we’re helping to change what is a dismal record in Dane County of not giving everyone access to higher education.”