Like most 6-year olds, Jack O'Neil enjoyed playing with toys; unlike a typical 6-year-old, though, he played with his toys in the hospital. Jack was gearing up for corrective limb-lengthening surgery, a process that affected him long after his successful recovery. Once he was healthy, Jack wanted to make sure other hospital-bound kids had toys to play with. Jack began holding charitable lemonade stands, using the proceeds to buy toys. Over time, his pastime morphed into his current charity, Little Hands Make A Big Difference. Powered by fundraisers such as an annual 5K, the kid-run organization delivers Build-A-Bears and other toys to sick tots, fueling their play and filling their imaginations with geometric shapes. For more information, see the organization’s blog.
Founded in 1884, the Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center is among the oldest community music organizations in the U.S., inviting patrons into its halls year after year to support and experience the excitement of live music. The center is home to the Mendelssohn Chamber Orchestra, which won the 2011 award for Best Chamber Orchestra from the Illinois Council of Orchestras. The group of in-residence musicians keep fans of classical music thoroughly entertained with concerts throughout the year and tag-team wrestling matches between the string and brass sections.
Founded in 1921, Dane County Humane Society (DCHS) is an open-admission shelter that cares for approximately 7,000 animals every year—including companion animals, exotic species, farm animals, and injured or orphaned wildlife. It accepts all animals regardless of age or health condition. In 2003, DCHS partnered with the University of Wisconsin's School of Veterinary Medicine to become the first organization to treat ringworm, an infectious disease once thought untreatable in animals, and has since saved the lives of more than 650 cats.
Every animal that enters DCHS’s facility receives necessary medical treatments. After being microchipped and evaluated for behavioral issues, companion animals are placed with permanent families. The organization also helps rehabilitate ill, injured, or orphaned wildlife through its Four Lakes Wildlife Center program. When not working directly with animals, DCHS advocates for humane animal laws and provides outreach programs to teach people about animal welfare.
The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin strives to ensure bicycling is safe, accessible, and fun for residents across the state to achieve its vision of making Wisconsin one of the world’s best places to ride. Along with supporting campaigns such as Bike to Work Week and youth bike camps, the federation works to create bicycle-friendly policies that support riding opportunities throughout Wisconsin, reduce air pollution, and lessen traffic congestion. At neighborhood bike rides and safety presentations, city alders, community members, and police officers are invited to participate and learn about cycling options in their neighborhoods.
A long-term, community-based housing program, Home for Good helps participants become and remain self-sufficient. In addition to housing assistance, supportive services aim to increase residents' abilities to live independently and maintain employment. Nearly all Home for Good participants are receiving mental-health treatment, which can place an incredible strain on their limited monthly budgets due to the cost of copays for doctor’s visits and prescription medication.
Through VSA’s Open Doors Studio program, adults with disabilities who are interested in visual arts learn to manipulate two-dimensional media in studio classes. On average, classes include about 12 students, and focus on creative development and self-expression. After the 10-week program, participants can present selected artwork at VSA’s annual public exhibition.