Pandemic Perspective: Emily’s new, unfamiliar role during COVID-19

Hear from Emily Wills, Fund Development Coordinator of the Wisconsin Youth Company, about her move from Chicago to Madison to begin her relatively new career in the development field.

Emily began her job on March 16th at Wisconsin Youth Company, a non-profit organization that that offers various after-school, summer camp and other programs for school-aged children in the Dane and Waukesha counties for 30+ years.

“It was definitely a strange start to a new position in a new company! It was like come in, get all of your stuff and go home. I’ve certainly learned things along the way though.”

Emily Wills

Madison support.

I was new and had just moved from near Chicago, so I didn’t know many people in the area yet. I’ve learned through virtual networking and webinars I’ve attended here that development folks in Madison are more than willing to take a cold email “call” and were super willing to help out. Organizations across the city, like AFP, are small groups of lovely humans who know each other and have this great network. What an amazing resource to have and place to be.

Most of all, it is important be flexible and adaptive.

At Wisconsin Youth Company, we have parents and their kids to think about. Normally we have before- and after-school programs, summer camps, winter break and spring break programs to name a few. Families know and love us but have never been asked to donate before. We had to try some new things, like asking families if they would like to donate their camp fee, because summer camp was very limited this year. We got a pretty good response (around 25-30%) and needed that financial support for programs moving forward and for staff.

Our summer camp programs were limited to only 10 kids as opposed to 60+ normally. A lot of funding comes from program fees and grants from the city, so COVID-19 has brought around a lot of things we are really proud of, but it has presented a ton of challenges.

Get creative!

We run the Theresa Terrace Neighborhood Center and decided to do a Back 2 School Supply Drive for kids and their families to drive through and pick up brand new school supplies! We have also delivered thousands of meals to Madison families and have partnered with the city of Madison to provide free meals at Elver Park. Normally, we would be fundraising for our after-school and summer camp programs, but, like our kids, there’s always opportunities to get creative. New experiences for me and the staff and another way to help out the community!

Power of positivity!

Like many, we’ve done things we’ve never done before and it’s been amazing. We sent out our very first appeal letter to current families and donors and have expanded on our stewardship practices (things like handwritten notes and little postcards, etc.). We’ve partnered with Woodman's to provide kids with school supplies. We’ve also started some programs around diversity, equity and inclusion to lend teens a voice.

I’m grateful to land here at Wisconsin Youth Company and in Madison and I’m excited to continue to learn from everyone and ask a lot of question along the way!


WI Youth