COVID-19 Update

Preparing for uncertainty

Odyssey, Onward Odyssey, and Odyssey Junior

Our Odyssey families live near the poverty level and will be hard hit from loss of wages and hungry children home for school. We are worried for their health and safety – not only will it be more challenging to access medical and mental health services, but isolation and crowded homes may increase domestic abuse. We are working to share community resources (below) and to tap into our own “family fund” for emergency help to keep our families fed, housed, and medically safe. Thank you SO much to those of you who have contributed over the years to increase this fund. To help support Odyssey families during this challenging time, please donate to our Friends of Odyssey Family.

Odyssey Beyond Bars

The COVID-19 pandemic has created new and significant challenges for programs that offer higher education in prison. Face-to-face instruction has been suspended, but Odyssey Beyond Bars remains grateful for our strong relationship with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, who has worked tirelessly to facilitate our transition to a remote teaching format. For fall 2020, we have been able to offer a new section of our pilot course, English 100: Writing in the World, taught by Odyssey Project co-director Kevin Mullen. While we had to limit the number of enrolled students to ten in order to maintain social distancing protocols, Kevin is able to join the students each week for live, synchronous classes via Zoom. A team of tutors also meets each week with students for small group sessions on Zoom.

While we continue to hope for an end to the pandemic and restoration of face-to-face instruction, we plan to continue remote instruction for the remainder of the 2020-21 academic year. In Spring 2021, Professor Craig Werner and Anthony Black will teach Afro-American Studies 155: Multicultural Literature via live, synchronous Zoom classes. This will be the first time UW-Madison has ever offered this course to students in prison. We are also excited to be partnering with Moraine Park Technical College, who will provide a prison-based online learning management system that will complement Craig and Anthony’s live classes.

Contact Information

If you are a student or alumni and have any questions or need support, please contact Emily Auerbach at or 608-712-6321 or Brian Benford at or 608-807-7224. If you are an Odyssey supporter and would like to know how you can help with immediate needs or have any other questions, please contact Jenny Pressman at or 608-287-8216. If you have any questions about the Odyssey Beyond Bars program or its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, please contact OBB director Peter Moreno at If you have additional resources that you believe could be helpful for our students and their families, please email these ideas to Emily Azad at

Emily Auerbach

Position title: Odyssey Project Co-Director / Founder


Phone: 608-262-3733

Brian Benford

Position title: Odyssey Success Coach


Phone: 608-807-7224

Jenny Pressman

Position title: Director of Development and Community Partnerships


Phone: 608-287-8216

Emily (Em) Azad

Position title: Program Manager


Phone: 608-590-5862 (or leave a voicemail at 608-262-0763)

Peter Moreno

Position title: Director of Odyssey Beyond Bars


Phone: 608-262-4555

COVID-19 Resources

  • United Way: United Way has a COVID-19 Community Economy Relief Fund that will be used to help with bills, rent, and food. You can also call 1-866-211-9966 and provide your zip code to be given a list of local agencies that are providing assistance.
  • NAMI: If you are feeling anxious, angry, sad, or scared and need someone to talk to, please text NAMI to 741741 or call the NAMI helpline at 1-800-950-6264.
  • Second Harvest: Please click here to view a list of all the local pantries and any adjustments they’ve made due to the current COVID-19 situation.
  • MMSD: Schools are closed but MMSD will be providing free, nutritious meals for kids daily at sites around Madison. A take-home breakfast and lunch will be provided in pre-packaged paper bags at each drop-off site, once per day. Click here to view sites and times for pick-up.
  • Charter Spectrum is offering 60 days of free internet access for college and K-12 students who do not have internet access during face-to-face class suspension. To enroll call 1-844-488-8395.
  • Madison Resources for Impacts of COVID-19: Check out this Google doc to see a long list of resources available in the Madison area. Included in this list are places to make requests within the community, financial and rent resources, utility resources, food and home care resources, and much more.
  • Wisconsin Public Radio: For updated information regarding the current COVID-19 situation, please click here.
  • Public Health Madison and Dane County: For updated information pertaining to the COVID-19 situation in Dane County, please click here.

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