Odyssey gives thanks

Onward Odyssey student Jelissa with her kids, on the cover of BRAVA magazine

We celebrate Thanksgiving this year at a time of hardship and heartbreak. Our UW Odyssey Project team wants to take a deep breath and share what makes us feel grateful and hopeful.

We remain thankful for:

1. The resillience of our students

As we gather online each week with our Odyssey, Onward Odyssey, Odyssey Junior, and Odyssey Beyond Bars students, we marvel at the way they stay strong, motivated, and compassionate toward each other despite adversity. Farren wrote in our Oracle that, “While Odysseus’s journey is undoubtedly heroic, it is not solitary; he receives an enormous amount of help along the way. In the end, the hero prevails, but he doesn’t do it alone.”

Our students have endured COVID‑19, lost loved ones, faced eviction, cared for special-needs children no longer in school, and battled technology to connect, but they have not given up on themselves or on our class. We are thankful for their courage and tenacity.

2. The generosity of our donors

“How can we help Odyssey families?” From donated books, hats and masks to checks large and small, our supporters have kept our program going in these challenging times.

Special mention goes to Pleasant Rowland, whose half-million dollar pledge to Odyssey earlier this year — along with major pledges from 16 other donors — was matched dollar for dollar by UW supporters John and Tashia Morgridge, creating a $3 million endowment securing our future. A former classroom teacher who created American Girl and is one of Wisconsin’s leading philanthropists, Pleasant has long admired Odyssey’s whole-family approach to learning.

Pleasant Rowland

“I marvel at the way the Odyssey Project has helped low-income adults go all the way to college degrees and careers helping others. Now with Odyssey Junior, their children and grandchildren discover the joy of reading and self-expression, too. Throughout my life, I’ve believed that reading is at the heart of all achievement, making the American dream possible, so I’m delighted that our gift to Odyssey will help more families break a cycle of generational poverty and reach their dreams.”

We are thankful for all our generous donors whose gifts truly change lives.

3. The lifelong, life-changing power of the arts and humanities

Odyssey Junior student with her artwork
Odyssey Junior student with her artwork

This fall, Odyssey Junior children have gained confidence by drawing self-portraits, decorating sidewalks, and dancing together in costumes online — all featured in our Junior Oracle. Odyssey and Odyssey Beyond Bars students have written with raw honesty about times in their lives they felt trapped like the shackled prisoners in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Check out the most recent Odyssey Beyond Bars Oracle to read through some of these remarkable responses.

After listening to spirituals, classical music, jazz, and blues over Zoom, students wrote about music in their own lives. “Music is Odyssey; a journey full of ups, downs, and winding roads filled with hopes, aspirations, and goals to achieve.”

After a virtual tour of the Chazen Museum of Art, Kwan wrote about a statue that reminded him of Wordsworth’s “My Heart Leaps Up,” with its message of enjoying life for what it is rather than what we want it to be. See Kwan’s full response in our most recent Oracle.

This bittersweet Thanksgiving, the UW Odyssey Project thanks our students, alumni, staff, partners, and supporters for everything they have done and will do as we go forward together.