MADISON — Now in its fourth year, The Center for Families’ annual benefit, “Paint the Town Blue” has been a place for great food, music, and celebratory socializing, all as a means of supporting the Center’s important work on behalf of area children and families. This year — on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 5:30-8 p.m. — the event leaves its traditional downtown venue for the Center for Families offices at 2120 Fordem Avenue.
“Our plan is to encourage people to actively seek out the different aspects of our beautiful facility, and the many caring and committed staff people who make our work possible,” says Executive Director Mike Kienitz. “Throughout the evening, our staff and the members of our board of directors will serve as ambassadors, helping lead tours, showcasing short video and photo presentations, and answering questions.”
The near north side blue and brown Center for Families building on Fordem Avenue is a familiar landmark for many, but the organization’s name is still building recognition in the community. This follows the January 2011 merger of three longstanding organizations whose histories go back several decades: the Respite Center, the Exchange Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse, and Family Enhancement. Center for Families programs enhance parenting skills, promote understanding of child development, promote child safety, and best practices in the field of child abuse/neglect prevention and intervention. The Center’s family-supportive programs include: CORE, Neighborhood Parent Aide, Parent’s Place, Parents and Children Together, the Respite Center, Welcome Baby, and The Parent-Child Home Program.
This year’s “Paint the Town Blue” event, with a theme reflective of the blue color of efforts aimed at preventing child abuse, will include mellow jazz selections from the Sun Prairie High School Jazz Combo and a raffle. Food and drink options include wine, beer and soda, a Pita Bar from the neighboring Mediterranean/American Banzo Restaurant, and fabulous dessert treats available at various locations around the building, as guests tour the facility.
A centerpiece of the evening will be the Center’s “Good People Awards,”presented in a short program at 7pm. These will “honor the unsung heroes of our community who are making a difference through their ongoing support of the Center’s valuable work,” says Meg Miller, the longtime director of The Respite Center, who is now manager of its programs. Honorees, who are described below, include Sharyl Kato, Kathy Hubbard, Bettye Lawrence, Sharon Kilfoy, Rep. Chris Taylor, and Webcrafters.
Good & Plenty Award – Sharyl Kato
Sharyl Kato, executive director of the Rainbow Project, has been doing plenty of good work for Dane County children and their families for over 35 years, often working in partnership with the Center. “Not only does Sharyl keep an important non-profit afloat during these tough economic times, she is a working therapist with a Rainbow caseload of her own,” Miller observes. She is also a member of the UW Madison Clinical Faculty with the UW Madison Medical School Dept of Psychiatry, and serves as chair of the Children, Youth and Families Consortium, Child Abuse and Neglect Coordinated Response Task Force, the Madison Schools Mental Health Community Partnership, Commission on Sensitive Crimes and the Domestic Violence Task Force. She is co-chair of the Wisconsin Organization for Asian Americans, a member of the Wisconsin Women of Color Network, and a board member of the Madison Sister City to Obihiro, Japan, a member of the Pacific Asian Women’s Alliance, Women in Focus and the Madison College Diversity Council.
“Sharyl leads or actively participates in every community effort to better the lives of Dane County’s children and those who care for them,” says Miller. “She is inspirational albeit sometimes exhausting. She is indefatigable and fierce in her passions, including but not limited to, Salsa dancing. Sharyl’s efforts deserve plenty of admiration, and a Good People Award.”
Good Friend Award – Kathy Hubbard
Miller remembers Kathy Hubbard’s history of extraordinary support of family-focused programs as going back to the Respite Center’s pre-Fordem Avenue offices on Williamson Street in the 1980s. Now the director of Community Building programs for the United Way of Dane County (where she’s worked since 1982), she’s recently overseen two major redesigns of the United Way’s resource distribution system in ways that focus on community impact. “When it comes down to it, though, Kathy’s ‘a kid person,’” observes Miller. “The warmth and strength of her support for our programs, and all programs serving families and children in our county, has made an enormous impact, and is truly inspiring.” This includes her leadership and vision in initiating and implementing the Center’s innovative, United Way-funded “Parent-Child Home Program,” which graduated its first class of four-year-olds this summer.
Kathy Hubbard’s areas of focus at United Way of Dane County are children and youth, Schools of Hope (an academic achievement partnership initiative), resource distribution and agency relations. She was involved in developing the model for the Joining Forces For Families initiative in Dane County, facilitating their early planning. Prior to her work at United Way of Dane County she worked in the field of volunteer coordination, developmental disabilities, child abuse and mental health. She has provided numerous workshops and consultations, and joined the United Way of America faculty in 1997. “When considered alone, Kathy’s support of the Center’s programs makes this an award that’s much deserved,” Miller says. “But it’s especially appropriate, when considered alongside a lifetime of devoted accomplishments on behalf of families and children.”
Good Samaritan Award - Bettye Lawrence
“Bettye Lawrence was already retired from her professional job when she came to the Respite Center for help,” Miller remembers. On and off during her adult life, she had been a foster parent, worked full time, sat on City committees and raised children of her own. Then infant Jasmine was left in her care. Bettye was 62, and in fragile health, but she was determined to be Jasmine’s mother – and she succeeded. She also found time to serve as a devoted board member for the Respite Center.
This spring, Jasmine graduated from East High School and is enrolled in college in the fall. “Bettye never sat by the roadside watching others struggle,” Miller adds. “She pitched in when she could, and deserves this award for her life’s work.”
Webcrafters Inc. – Good Neighbor Award
“The folks at Webcrafters have been good neighbors since 1989 when we moved in across the street,” says Miller. “They welcomed us warmly and continue to be there when we need them. Webcrafters is generous financially; their parking lot is available for our special events and their building is our designated emergency shelter if we ever need to evacuate our facility. We don’t hesitate to ask for help and we know that they will consider each request thoughtfully. What more can you ask of a neighbor?”
Sharon Kilfoy - Good Works Award
Sharon Kilfoy’s work has taken many forms in her 28 years with the various programs at 2120 Fordem Ave., countless contributions for which she is being honored this year upon her retirement from the Center. “Sharon is a visual artist. Her works brighten our hallways and make Center for Families a place that not only feels good, but looks good,” Miller says.
“Sharon is a writer. Her words show a passion when she writes about vulnerable children and families. Her sentences are clear and straightforward when writing policy and procedures. She is always grammatically correct.” Most importantly, Miller observes, Sharon is also a teacher, who generously imparts her creativity and wisdom to others. “You can see her influence in the child care program of the Respite Center; in the children’s art on the walls of Center for Families, and in the murals she paints that decorate the city,” Miller says. “Sharon is as Sharon does.”
Chris Taylor – Good Government Award
Meg Miller believes that Representative Chris Taylor is a breath of fresh air in what has become a stultifying atmosphere in Wisconsin government. “She knew that her job wouldn’t be easy when she was elected as a state representative, but she also knew she couldn’t sit by and watch things she cared about erode,” she says. “She cares about the things we at Center for Families care about - women’s rights, children’s wellbeing, and the economic stability of families. She isn’t shy about talking about, and acting for, what she thinks is needed for Wisconsin to have a fair and representative government – a good government.” She served as a private attorney in Madison and Milwaukee following her graduation from the UW Law School in 1995, and served for almost a decade as the public policy director of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin beginning in 2002, prior to beginning her service in the Wisconsin Assembly in 2011.
On a personal note, Miller remembers that Representative Taylor recently was very useful in interceding with the Department of Children and Families on behalf of the Respite Center program. “There was a licensing rule that DCF wanted to enforce which would have diminished the stability of the program. Chris agreed with Center for Families’ assessment of the situation, and helped DCF see the light so that we now have an exception to the rule. Thank you for everything Chris. We love having you on our side fighting for the things we most care about.”
Proceeds from the $40/person cost of the event go to support the Center’s work. See www.centerforfamilies.org or call 729-1183 for more information.