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American Family donates $750K for Boys & Girls Club's AVID/TOPS program

American Family donates $750K for Boys & Girls Club's AVID/TOPS program

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A group of AVID/TOPS students posed for photos at the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County's college acceptance ceremony in 2016.

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The Boys & Girls Club of Dane County’s college and career preparatory program will receive an additional $750,000 over the next three years through its continued partnership with American Family Insurance.

The Madison-based insurance company first invested $1 million five years ago into the Boys & Girls Club’s AVID/TOPS program, a collaboration with the Madison Metropolitan School District to help students become college and career ready. Since then, the program has grown from one classroom of 28 students to over 1,600 students this academic year, BGC president and CEO Michael Johnson said at a press conference Monday.

“American Family Insurance and the American Family Insurance Dreams Foundation’s funding has played a huge role in helping our young people in this community’s dreams come true,” Johnson said. “We are helping make a difference in the lives of young people in Dane County.”

Vanessa Bahena Hernandez

Vanessa Bahena Hernandez, center, is the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County's youth of the year. At right is BGC president and CEO Michael Johnson.

The investment represents the largest private-public partnership within MMSD, Johnson said. The Boys & Girls Club and MMSD are also considering extending the partnership from a three-year to five-year agreement.

Vanessa Bahena Hernandez, the Boys & Girls Club’s youth of the year for 2021, said at the press conference that the program allowed her to participate in lunch tutoring, internships and professional networking opportunities even during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Boys & Girls Club offered the largest internship program during the pandemic in Wisconsin, Johnson said.

“This (program) has allowed me to feel like I can embrace myself. It’s a safe zone where I can share my voice and speak on what I feel like I want to say,” Bahena Hernandez said. “The biggest thing I have learned so far is that my leadership is important.”

Bahena Hernandez is one of 4,476 students who have participated in the AVID/TOPS high school program. She plans to attend UW-Madison in the fall. The university enrolled a record number of students of color last fall, which Johnson said is attributable to the Boys & Girls Club’s local partnerships, which employ full-time staff across high schools and colleges in the Madison area.

AVID/TOPS serves about 77% students of color. Students within the program have reported higher high school graduation and post-secondary enrollment rates, as well as six-year college completion rates.

The renewed $750,000 investment is part of a $105 million effort by American Family Insurance over the next five years to close equity gaps under its “Free to Dream” initiative, said Maggie Pascaly, community and social impact manager.

“The Boys & Girls Club is a critical part of our community whose work is rooted in equity and opportunity,” Pascaly said. “We strongly believe and trust in the work of the Boys & Girls Club and their ability to make dreams possible for our community. We are excited to renew this investment.”

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