We all felt it, the dramatic shift in early March 2020 when all of the sudden the world halted for COVID-19. But for so many community groups and leaders things did not stop, in fact, their quick pivots of service kept our neighborhoods strong and thriving.
While the City of Madison was focused on direct messaging from public health and the safer at home order, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway wanted a social media campaign to share stories of positivity and resilience in our community. Librarians at Madison Public Library shifted their already ongoing Living History Project to collect “Stories from a Distance,” and a team of Library staff in the Bubbler and marketing departments, along with Karin Wolf of the City's Madison Arts Commission, launched the Look Forward campaign with help from the creative minds of Art & Sons.
“We wanted a way to create a sense of togetherness and bring forward the diverse voices in the city that were responding to COVID,” said Tana Elias, Digital Services and Marketing Manager at Madison Public Library. “We wanted to share a hopeful message to Look Forward, but also let our community discover things that were happening around them that might not be on their radar.”
Tagged across social media platforms with the #LookForwardMadison, Madison Public Library started gathering and sharing stories and interviews with community individuals and groups and encouraging others to share too.
Rapid Response to Community Need
Stories like the amazingly quick response from Wisconsin Youth Company to meet the needs of their program families and beyond.
“Things happened so quickly. With our after school program canceled, we quickly tried to figure out what was the greatest need. We turned to our community, our neighborhoods, and listened.” Jennifer Weber, WYC Director of Neighborhood Centers told us.
“We couldn’t solve the childcare need, but we could help with making sure everyone had food.” Many of the children in WYC’s care counted on the meals that school and their centers provided - breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, and often an evening meal at a teen program or community dinner. While MMSD was hosting food pick ups, WYC still worried about the barriers.
“So many of our families are essential workers with long work days and limited access to transportation.” Jennifer explained “We also didn’t want them to feel like they needed to take a risk to go out just to feed their family.”
So they mobilized. “We have vehicles!” Jennifer exclaimed, “and amazing staff. Shout out to our staff. We did the coordination, but they are the ones picking up and dropping off meals. They have the relationships and trust of their community and they are the ones making sure everyone on the route gets what they need every day.”
And the route is big. On March 19th, WYC’s team delivered 55 meals to the children enrolled in their programs and their families, but the need was greater than that. “We shared what we were doing, our families were taking to their community and every week the number got bigger. We are now delivering 160 breakfast and lunch packs every day.”
But they didn’t stop there. Working with Badger Prairie needs network and Lussier Community Education Center, WYC expanded what they could offer and are now delivering supplemental food items like fresh produce and bread. Their Thriving Together campaign (still ongoing) raised over $5000 for household essentials for their enrolled families.
Ian’s Pizza got in the mix too, offering pizzas at cost to nonprofits. “Ian's wanted to keep their workers employed and their doors open - it all felt like a win, helping a local business and providing dinner for our program families.”
“We take it day by day.” Jennifer said, “We view ourselves as a partner, rather than a service provider. We are trying to listen to the needs of our community and develop the trust so our families are comfortable having conversations with us. So we can work together and thrive with them.”
In the past, team Bubbler has supported WYC with youth programming and helping them implement new digital initiatives. We’re Looking Forward to when we can help them engage their youth in programming again soon, but in the meantime, we’re happy that we can feature their incredible work as part of the Look Forward campaign.
Capturing Together, Apart
The amazing work of Wisconsin Youth Company and so many of other community leaders and organizations, truly embodies the sentiment captured in the featured image for Look Forward - a brilliantly lettered Malcom X quote, “When I is replaced with we even illness becomes wellness.”
Drew Garza of Art & Sons (speaking also for partners Jerry Chapa & Scott Pauli) described the art direction for the campaign to us as getting back to “an honest core.”
“So many of us have had to give up a lot of the technologies and luxuries around us. We wanted Look Forward to be about embracing small things. Like the sidewalk in front of your house or the dirt in your backyard. Human, organic, so we didn’t use a computer at all.”
In fact, they completely embraced what they had around them, including the “design teams” in their own homes -Their kids painted the alphabet that was used in the lettering for all of the images. “Our kids were included - just a little bit of child labor,” Draw laughed, “They did a great job, and we were home and wanted our homes to be involved in it.”
Creating a set of images that promoted a sense of togetherness, but still responsibly staying apart was a challenge, but Art & Sons was up for it. “We were excited and proud to do this work. We had so much pent up energy,” Drew recalled, “When Trent (Trent Miller, Bubbler manager) reached out, he asked us for one poster…. And we had our first meeting and we had twelve posters...”
We asked Drew of those twelve, if he had a favorite, and he said hands down it was the Malcom X quote. “It so simply represents how we have to appreciate and work together with who we can be with, so we can Look Forward to when we are all together again.”
You can be a part of the Look Forward campaign while still being safer at home by checking out the Look Forward Madison web page. Submit a story of those doing the work in your community and check out the full set of images from Art & Sons in posters, graphics, and coloring pages to share.