United Way of Dane County, a volunteer-based organization, announced their budget earlier this week, showing a strong emphasis on education.

Education is an area where the organization wanted to make an impact, UWDC spokesperson Sarah Listug said. It was intentional to have education be so important, she added.

“We’re really trying to respond to what the community is saying,” Listug said. “The community is making education an priority, so that is where we are getting our direction from.”

Listug said UWDC targeted communications with the community to come up with goals because they wanted to make measurable changes in the community and work toward closing the achievement gap.

All the money UWDC raises remains in the Dane County community and funds direct programming, she said.

A UWDC statement showed funding for education makes up 35 percent of the more than $15 million budget, which allocated $5,400,052 to education.

“Any focus on education is positive for Dane County,” Dane County Executive Joe Parisi’s spokesperson Carrie Springer said. “It will only strengthen the county going forward.”

Listug said the idea of focusing on education came from work regarding the achievement gap in Madison schools that happened 10 years ago. She said in the last couple of years, UWDC went back to evaluate strategies to see what has been working and what has not.

While UWDC engages in a lot of work regarding early childhood, Listug stressed the importance of having a focus on high school graduation as an ultimate goal. She said their efforts to make sure all students have the opportunity to graduate from high school, regardless of race, are of upmost importance.

Besides education, safety and health are the two other main targets of UWDC.

The statement said regarding safety, UWDC wants to combat family homelessness and violence directed at individuals and families. Concerning health, UWDC is directing efforts to make sure prompt care is paid toward health issues and individuals, and to help seniors and the disabled to stay in their homes.

According to Listug, if people want to be a part of their work, there is an abundance of opportunity. She said especially for University of Wisconsin students who might be interested, they can become engaged in tutoring and mentoring.

She said the student population, which has an ability to get mobilized, might not realize even a little amount of caring can change someone else’s entire life.

Regarding the value and power of education, Listug said college students have such vibrancy they could greatly add to UWDC’s work.

“This can’t just be done by United Way, and can’t just be done by the school district,” Listug said. “It has to be a community.”

Springer said successful education leads to a successful workforce for Dane County as well.

Coming together to help our community’s children is why education is so important, Listug said.

“Every dollar makes a difference,” Listug said. “Sounds silly, but many don’t know that it is true.”

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