For a group of children in West Bend who came to Casa Guadalupe Education Center this summer, that small investment opened them up to un mundo nuevo (a new world) through free basic Spanish lessons.
Cops and Kids Foundation gave a group of at-risk kids in the greater Milwaukee area the opportunity to foster a better understanding and relationship with local law enforcement simply by picking up a fishing rod and some bait on a sunny summer afternoon.
For 50 youth who have been victims of violence, that nominal amount supported Camp Ujima, a six-week summer day camp that offered a necessary escape from reality and enabled them to express their emotions, rebuild their self-esteem and help them heal.
Those agencies were among 30 in metro Milwaukee that received funding from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s second annual Summer Grants for Kids program. The program dedicated nearly $30,000 toward a variety of summertime offerings, ranging from a series of field trips for children with and without special needs, to a two-week rooftop gardening workshop for 7 to 12 year olds, to a leadership program for area teens.
The end goal, though, was the same: to introduce kids to new experiences, provide opportunities that normally would be unavailable to them and encourage participation of their parents and other family members.
“With this special grant program, our hope not only was that kids returned to school in the fall with great memories of the summer, but more importantly that they also were ready to learn,”
“With this special grant program, our hope not only was that kids returned to school in the fall with great memories of the summer, but more importantly that they also were ready to learn,” said Janel Hines, director of grant programs. “These mini grants provided agencies an extra boost to help do just that.”
During quarterly grantmaking cycles, the Foundation typically awards grants ranging from $25,000 to $100,000, but the summer program proves even small grants make a big impact, especially during the summertime. Estimates are that students lose about two months in academic achievement during the summer, putting them at a definite disadvantage when school starts back up in the fall. An investment in programs such as Casa Guadalupe’s helps ensure fewer children experience the “summer slide” or summer learning loss.
Over the course of one week, Latino and non-Latino children between ages 4 and 11 gathered at the agency to learn basic Spanish and gradually improve their reading, writing, listening and speaking skills through the use of fun, interactive activities. A number of parents told teacher Barb Olsen that their children even brought their lessons home with them by singing the songs that they were taught in class that day.
The program was something Casa Guadalupe had been looking to offer to meet the needs of the growing population it serves. The small Foundation grant helped it become una realidad (a reality) last summer. The agency was one of 17 agencies who received grants from the inaugural program in 2013.
Support from the Walter and Olive Stiemke Fund, the Foundation’s largest fund, launched the program in 2013. The fund was created by the late industrialist and his wife, a society reporter for the Milwaukee Sentinel, and is synonymous with support for capital projects yet the field of interest fund also supports programs in the arts and culture and recreation, among other areas.
Mother Nature served as the classroom for children who attended Wellspring’s summer gardening program in Newburg last summer. With 36 acres of nature trails, fields and gardens to draw from, the location was an obvious choice. Campers went on nature walks, fed the center’s 19 chickens and made garden tacos using the eclectic variety of produce they picked.
For one middle-school aged camper, that activity clearly stood out as something he hadn’t experienced before.
“We ate tacos out of kale,” he exclaimed, when asked about the activities they did during their two-day session. “My mom was really impressed. We usually don’t eat veggies that much.”
The variety of rich experiences that area children received (and the positive responses from their families) prompted the Foundation to not only continue the program for a second year, but also infuse it with extra funding so more agencies could benefit.
“We were thrilled with the variety of quality experiences that our nonprofit partners provided to area youth last summer with help from our Summer Grants for Kids program,” Hines said. “We were fortunate to offer the opportunity again this year and, through support from our donors, to nearly double the amount of money available.”
The experiences not only created new summer adventures, but also helped develop important life skills. The parent of one child who attended Danceworks’ summer creative arts camp, a 2014 grant recipient, said her child received more arts instruction in one week than she receives during an entire school semester.
“Your instructors are positive and encouraging and this created an environment where the kids encouraged each other,” the parent said. “Her self-esteem has come so far.”
Wisconsin Humane Society’s People & Animals Learning program, a 21-year-old nationally-recognized program, taught kids ages 10 to 13 respect and responsibility. Children were nominated by teachers and social workers to participate and over the course of two weeks, they worked in pairs to train a shelter dog on basic obedience skills needed in order to be adopted.
“PALs is good for dogs but it is also good for kids,” said Anne Reed, executive director of Wisconsin Humane Society at the program’s graduation ceremony last August. “This gives kids the skills they need to help change the world.”
View a complete list of the 2016 Summer Grants for Kids recipients.