Loving our million-dollar match!

We did it! YOU did it! Odyssey met its million-dollar match goal! We thank Pleasant Rowland and Diane Ballweg for their generosity and our donors for helping ensure Odyssey’s future. We reached our goal in the nick of time, thanks in part to development director, Jenny Pressman, pictured left (flowers) with her son, supporters and Odyssey staff, receiving an award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals of Greater Madison. Our new $2 million endowment will sustain Odyssey for years to come, helping families to break cycles of generational poverty. Thank you, two million times over!


Love is in the air at Odyssey – and not only around Valentine’s day, but every day!

Teachers tell students that they’re loved and valued. And it’s not unusual to hear staff members call out to one another at the end of the day, “Goodnight! Love you!”

When AFP recently recognized Odyssey’s very own Jenny Pressman as their Outstanding Fundraising Professional, Jenny pointed out in her acceptance speech that philanthropy literally translates to “love of humanity,” and in a UW-Madison feature story about her accomplishment, said she “tries to move through the world with an ethos of love.” 

For Jenny, leading with love isn’t lip service. It’s personal. Jenny’s parents were both Holocaust survivors, enduring Nazi ghettos and concentration camps. Because of the free access to education they received as refugees in Italy, they went on to distinguished professional careers. Jenny’s dedication to equity and access is rooted in the way strangers stepped up to help her parents, out of sheer love for humanity. She brings that same passion to her work at Odyssey, leading a successful campaign to meet Pleasant Rowland’s $1 million challenge match. 

Jenny – and all of us at Odyssey –  felt the love from all of you – our supporters who gave so generously in response to that match and helped establish a $2 million endowment, securing Odyssey’s future sustainability. Because you invested in us, we’re now able to invest in students for decades to come – empowering them to achieve their educational dreams and create better lives for themselves, their families, and their communities. 

Bob, Emily, and Keith

We felt so much love from that last match, in fact, that we can now turn our focus to a new $100,000 match that’s being offered by Odyssey Dad and Piano Man, Bob Auerbach, in celebration of his upcoming 95th birthday. And, inspired by Bob and his late wife, Wanda, who escaped poverty through a free education at Berea College, Emily Auerbach and her husband, Keith Meyer, have offered a $100,000 match of their own. Any gift made to the Odyssey Family Fund through May 1st will have triple the impact. 

The Family Fund is arguably Odyssey’s most important because it’s the most flexible, helping us meet students’ immediate needs. With it, we can provide gas/grocery cards for food, prevent evictions, cover emergency medical and dental issues, aid with transportation to funerals, fix broken glasses so students can see, and purchase shoes for a particularly tall veteran-student who couldn’t find his size at local second-hand stores. Basically, if there’s something that would keep a student from the classroom, the Family Fund tries to help remove that barrier. They say that money can’t buy happiness, but when you don’t have enough for food or heat, it can become a looming source of stress. A robust Family Fund can help ease those pressures for our students so they can focus on their education. “In Odyssey, I feel loved and cared about–and seen,” one single mom said as she worried about getting home from class with an empty gas tank.

In addition to emergency assistance, the Family Fund also supplies laptops for all students, covers the cost of caps and gowns for alumni who go on to graduate from other programs, and provides art supplies and puzzles for Odyssey Junior students. 


Earlier this month, Odyssey staff and alumni sat down with Provost Charles Isbell for an informal, intimate introduction to the program. He listened intently to the overview of Odyssey’s success over the last 20 years and the record-breaking past year the program has had – the most core class applicants ever received, an expanded Odyssey Junior, more Onward classes for alumni, providing meals before every class, ensuring all students who need a laptop have one, and adding staff, space, and programming, from Odyssey Senior, to Odyssey Beyond Wars, to expanding Odyssey Beyond Bars into three additional prisons.

Intrigued, Provost Isbell asked, “So why isn’t everyone doing this? What’s Odyssey got that others don’t? What’s your secret sauce?” 

Without missing a beat, Success Coach and Odyssey alum Brian Benford replied, “Love.” 

Get more information on Odyssey’s new $100,000 match and Bob Auerbach’s 95th birthday celebration. For questions regarding pledges or giving, please contact Odyssey Director of Development, Jenny Pressman at 608- 332-9557 or jenny.pressman@wisc.edu.