Helping Dreams Come True
Sharyl Kato shares her experiences as a member of Women in Focus and Chair of the I Have a Dream Ball. Women in Focus promotes educational excellence by awarding scholarships to students of color from the Madison community.
Madison Magazine: Please describe your involvement with Women in Focus.
Sharyl Kato: I have been a proud member for 6 years and am currently serving as the I Have a Dream Scholarship Ball Chair this year. I embrace the mission of WIF to provide college bound students of color scholarships. Proceeds from the Ball go towards these scholarships. I also, currently, serve on the WIF Literacy Project and in the past served on the Scholarship Reception Committee.
MM: What has been the most beneficial element of this organization for you?
SK: The fact that this volunteer organization has given over 250 scholarships out to students of color from the Madison/Dane Co. community has been exciting. Since 1983, WIF members have served as positive leadership role models for students of color. For over 15 years, WIF members have volunteered every month to help moms and young children, who reside at the YWCA shelter, to promote reading activities for young children and provide free children’s book, long before current awareness and research existed, which now recommends these kinds of programs and activities.
MM: Please tell us about your upcoming “I Have a Dream” Ball.
SK: We are hosting our 29 Annual “I Have a Dream” Ball on January 17, 2015 at the Marriott West from 6:30 to 11:30 p.m. This is a premier event honoring the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and inspiring the college bound students of color who are the recipients of 2014 scholarships. Formal attire is suggested. Dinner is served at 7 p.m. and a brief program occurs at 8 pm. At 8:30pm we will be highly entertained by the renowned Davis Family Band. Deana Wright, WISC TV Ch 3 newscaster, will be the emcee for the evening. Reservations can be made at our website: http://www.womeninfocus.net Last year we had 366 guests. It is an event that inspires hope and unity in our community.
MM: How has Women in Focus and its events enhanced the Madison community?
SK: Women in Focus and our supporters have always been proactive doers in working towards equity and social justice. Our work providing 250 scholarships and our Literacy Project has significantly changed the lives of so many over the years. As current Women in Focus President, Kay Simmons states, “As concerned Madison and Dane County residents we have to assume part of the responsibility for helping our young people strive for educational excellence” (January 2015). We are counting on our community to move into action and work towards changing lives, one by one.
I must mention that there are many, many gifted leaders who in the past were recipients of the Women in Focus scholarships, including current District Attorney, Ismael Ozanne and former State Representative, Tamara Grigsby.
MM: Did being in Madison make this program more possible than attempting to participate in another city?
SK: On the one hand if I think about the feisty founding members of WIF, I think that they could have started whatever they wanted where ever they were. But I also know that the Women in Focus mission could not have flourished as it did without the incredible nurturing and support of the Madison Dane County community who shared the WIF mission and vision. And especially, to continue to support WIF for the long term. WIF is becoming stronger and stronger every year and that cannot happen in a vacuum.
MM: Where do you hope to see Women in Focus in the upcoming years? Do you have any goals or benchmarks for the organization?
SK: We have recently established a Sustaining Fund that will ensure continued growth to provide scholarships into the future. Our goal is to build upon that fund. In the short term we are hoping this year, to increase the number of scholarships available for (12) students to (14) students.
MM: Is there anything else you would like to say about Women in Focus?
SK: It is so important to publicly recognize, support and promote the positive strengths of our young students of color and the community that believes in them. What the media too often conveys are not positive images or messages and we hope the media will also see the role that they play in making a positive impact on promoting positive change. Too often the world view portrayed is not a hopeful positive image.
The I Have a Dream Ball will be held on Saturday, January 17. To learn more about Women in Focus, visit www.womeninfocus.net.