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According to Elizabeth Strasma — an expert in what makes young children thrive — a lot of new worlds have been opened up this spring for kids in Madison.

“Books are so tremendously important,” she said, “and it starts with babies. We know children love books, and that by itself is incredibly valuable.”

Reading at a young age, Strasma said, “sets a foundation for a lifetime. It opens up new worlds.”

Strasma, who operates the ever-growing Middleton Baby and Child Care, and more than 700 other residents of Madison and places beyond have combined generosity with good intentions to put the Read Up Madison Fund over the top of our $100,000 goal.

To say achieving that goal is rewarding, and even surprising, is an extreme understatement. That’s like saying Moby Dick was a pretty good book. When the Wisconsin State Journal and WISC-TV launched this year’s Read Up campaign in mid-February, we called the $100k mark “an ambitious goal.” That was actually code for “there’s really not much chance we can raise that much money, but we’ll try.”

But reach the goal we did, with a $6,432 contribution early last week from Strasma’s day care center, a donation that, by design, put the fund at exactly the $100,000 mark. A wonderful piece of serendipity. Since then, other contributions have arrived, putting the campaign total through Friday at $103,695.

And the world-changing opportunities Strasma talks about will start in just a few months, when the Madison School District again rolls out Read Up as part of its summer school program. The reading program is targeted at mostly at-risk kids, the ones who often don’t have any books at home.

This summer, thanks to the fundraising campaign, Read Up will expand from four sites to six, giving about 1,000 children the chance to participate. And with a solid base of funding now in place, the program will grow again next year to even more sites.

Read Up staffers work closely with kids from 4K to fifth grade, helping them select five new books the children get to keep and take home. Families are also engaged in the program, with parents getting coached on reading in the home and siblings getting new books, too.

All in all, it’s a wonderful endeavor carried out in partnership by the school district, the United Way of Dane County, the Madison Public Library and the Madison Reading Project. That last group is a stand-alone organization that officially joined the Read Up collaborative this year. The Madison Reading Project on its own collects and distributes thousands of books each year around the metro area.

Bravo to each of those partners, and even more so to the unfailing generosity of so many community members. People like Jane Doughty and David Wood, John Reindl and Joan Collins. They each made $5,000 contributions to the cause. Another six supporters gave between $1,000 and $2,000 each. Hundreds more gave what they could, writing checks small and large.

Along with the State Journal and WISC-TV, which each contributed $5,000, we had two other corporate partners — Madison Gas & Electric and M3 Insurance — supporting Read Up.

That type of philanthropy — giving to help at-risk children have a better shot at a full, rewarding life — is inspiring and humbling.

In the case of Strasma’s gift, the donation was made to commemorate her facility’s 10th anniversary. Middleton Baby and Child Care opened in 2007 with one child. Now, with 40 full-time providers on staff, they will reach their capacity of 155 children next month.

Why the Read Up Madison Fund? “It’s always been important to us to be a center that serves in a number of ways,” Strasma said. To mark 10 years, she said, “We were looking for something that would speak to us and could make a difference.”

Mission accomplished, for Strasma’s group and for this year’s Read Up Madison Fund. Now, it’s time to open up those new worlds.

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John Smalley is editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.


John Smalley is the editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.