Soglin: 'I see an opportunity and I want to explore it.'
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin will be meeting Thursday with the Wallace Foundation in New York City to talk about after-school and summer recreation programs. The foundation bills itself as a "national philanthropy that seeks to improve education and enrichment for disadvantaged children."
Soglin was inspired to connect with the group at National League of Cities conference in Boston in early December. There he sat in on a Wallace Foundation presentation that focused on how school districts, city governments and nonprofit groups can collaborate to deliver after-school and summer programming to students. The foundation launched an out-of-school learning initiative in 2003 based on the idea that students who take advantage of so-called "out of school time" programs have higher self esteem, do better academically and are less likely to engage in high-risk behavior.
Soglin agrees that programs designed to reach kids when they're not in school are vital.
"One of the best investments that can be made is in after-school and summer recreation programs," Soglin says. "The problem is there are still too many children in the Madison area who don't have access, who don't participate."
The Wallace Foundation is one of the largest charitable foundations in the country, and it routinely hands out high-dollar grants to various communities and nonprofits. Last year the foundation awarded a total $7.8 million to nine cities -- Baltimore, Denver, Fort Worth, Grand Rapids, Jacksonville, Louisville, Nashville, Philadelphia and St. Paul -- as part of its initiative to support after-school programs. Soglin admits he hopes Madison will eventually be in line for some of that money.
"That's why I want to have this meeting with them. I don't know, but I see an opportunity and I want to explore it," he says.
The meeting precedes a Wallace Foundation conference in Baltimore next month, which Soglin and eight others from Madison will be attending. The group includes the city's neighborhood resource coordinator, the head of Madison School and Community Recreation (MSCR), as well as representatives from the Goodman Community Center, Lussier Community Education Center and Boys and Girls Club of Dane County.
The foundation has already provided scholarships to cover all expenses except travel for the Madison group. Soglin believes there is a lot to be gained from the school district, nonprofits and the city learning ways to work together.
"We've got really good providers here in Madison. We've been doing this for years. The city's been funding these programs for decades. The school district has had its MSCR program. But those programs are lacking in funding, and then we have too many kids who are not involved in these programs," he says. "Every child should have access to after school programming and summer recreational programming."
While in New York Soglin will also meet with Fred Kent, president of the Project for Public Spaces, who was the keynote speaker at the mayor's Mayor's Neighborhood Conference in October. Kent is a champion of "place making," which involves building community and instilling a sense of place in cities.