In 1928, John H. Harris, the manager of the Sheridan Square Theatre in Pittsburgh, found a month-old baby girl abandoned in one of the theater chairs with a note asking someone to take care of her. He took her in, dedicated his social club—the Variety Club—to underwriting her support and education, and named her Catherine Variety Sheridan. Harris’s efforts drew support from other entertainers internationally, who joined together to provide aid to disadvantaged youth and children with disabilities. Today, Variety – The Children’s Charity has chapters in 14 countries and 10,000 members and works to enrich the lives of children around the world.
The Wisconsin chapter was started in 1935 by businessmen with ties to show business, and it assists children with disabilities through three programs. The Freedom Program funds durable medical equipment to grant youth greater mobility, and the Caring for Kids program donates medical equipment and therapeutic devices to local clinics and hospitals. The Future Kids program provides educational experiences for young people, including trips to museums, sporting events, and shows.
Hunger Task Force supplies approximately 60,000 meals to 82 pantries and meal programs across Milwaukee County, and more than half of the 35,000 people who visit the pantries every month are children. The Hunger Task Force's emergency-food fund provides nutritious meals such as peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, chicken-noodle soup, and grilled cheese to those in need, with a special focus on children facing hunger. It costs Hunger Task Force $10 to provide a month's worth of lunches for one child.
The True Kulture Screenprint Shop teaches teenagers how to decorate T-shirts, hats, and canvasses with training in graphic-arts and screenprinting techniques. Students learn how to design and market original products to develop both entrepreneurial and artistic skills, and train for design-oriented career paths alongside mentors who work in creative industries. Teens can begin by selling their products online and in local stores, and as the program expands, they will receive stipends to further their projects. True Skool needs additional funding to purchase a UV-screen exposure unit, along with ink and supplies for its printing workshop.
Two young participants of the PAL program pair off with a shelter dog, which they train to become a well-mannered member of an adoptive family. During training, children are empowered with the responsibility of caring for the animals, learning to respect them and better understand their behavior. Children can then teach their peers about the need to prevent animal guardians from practicing cruelty and neglect. WHS requires additional funding to purchase supplies for dog training, as well as transportation and snacks for PAL participants.
Will Allen has worn many hats in his lifetime. The son of a sharecropper, he founded his urban farming foundation Growing Power in 1993 after a brief career in professional basketball, going on to earn a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and a spot on Time magazine's Top 100 of 2010 list. From Milwaukee to Chicago, his city farms thrive, tended by a volunteer team of all ages who gain the all-too-uncommon satisfaction of knowing the "who, when, where, and how" of their vegetables’ origins. Besides providing the seeds, tools, and educational resources to green the thumbs of any willing student, the farms also foster community bonds by filling the pantries of select local restaurants and locavore squirrels.
The Milwaukee Debate League trains students for rigorous academic debate to help them strengthen their mental faculties and improve their self-esteem. Completing research in preparation for debates informs them about the world, and engaging in debates with their peers builds communication skills that translate to future careers. The centerpiece of the program, seven citywide debate tournaments, pits students against other teams to debate a specific policy topic and share their ideas about social issues. The Milwaukee Debate League also hosts other opportunities for students to learn research and articulation skills, including a summer institute, a leadership council, and the MDL Scholars Program, which engages high-school students in high-level research at Marquette University. Following a period of declining participation, the Milwaukee Debate League relaunched in 2011 and now works with 14 high schools in the area.
Journey House’s 2010 basketball program engaged 67 students who ranged in age from 13 to 18 years old, and the organization's five middle- and high-school teams competed in both spring and summer leagues. Athletes are required to adhere to a curriculum designed by coaches that imparts positive skills and values such as goal setting, sportsmanship, and individual responsibility. Players must prioritize academics above athletics, and are required to participate in Journey House's scholastic programs, such as Reading Scholars and Math Academy. Journey House would like to outfit its basketball players with new uniforms to help instill a sense of teamwork and pride in its student athletes and present a unified front during competitions.