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.
As part of its FamilyLink program, CCHD organizes community outings to help parents build strong support systems and children with hearing loss interact with peers who face similar challenges. The field trips also foster spontaneous language development for children, and their parents get opportunities to meet others who have had similar experiences, helping to form a larger network of support.
The Center for Resilient Cities strives to create healthy, robust communities through projects and programs that promote healthy, sustainable lifestyles while fostering new opportunities and social networks. Upon completion this fall, its Resilience Research Center will act as an LEED-rated neighborhood center on Madison's south side, housing world-class researchers and a sustainability-focused charter middle school in a once-vacant school building.
The Center for Resilient Cities’ staff and volunteers advocate for sustainable, just food systems, and revitalize local parks and open spaces. Its urban-resilience project and 2-acre farm, Alice’s Garden, hosts plots for roughly 100 families and 10 community organizations. Amid its soil and greenery, dozens of free programs take place, including yoga and aerobics classes, weekly reading circles, harvest-specific cooking classes, and a youth environment-and-farming-education group led by the Urban Farm Manager.
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.
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.
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.