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DreamUp Wisconsin finalists selected, strive for prosperous Dane County

The DreamUp Wisconsin initiative narrows down to a final three proposals, looking forward to a positive Dane county community during welcoming of new Evers administration. 

The DreamUp Wisconsin initiative narrows down to a final three proposals, looking forward to a positive Dane county community during welcoming of new Evers administration. 

Image By: Laura Mahoney

After serious deliberation, the DreamUp initiative successfully narrowed down to three proposals aimed at boosting and strengthening Dane County’s middle class. 

The three proposals were selected based on their ability to fulfill a very specific and challenging set of criteria set out by the minds at Schmidt Futures. 

The first proposal, named Legal Interventions for Transforming (LIFT) Dane, allows for individuals facing civil legal problems — ranging from suspended driver’s licenses to criminal records that block job opportunities — to be provided with free legal aid. 

We Care for Dane Kids is a combination of easing expensive early childhood and after-school program costs by supplementing income and child care costs, reducing facilities’ operating expenses and developing an inclusive child care benefit program. 

The final pitch is EARNDane, an app which functions as “part LinkedIn for entry-level workers and part FitBit for your finances,” according to the press release. It encourages networking as well as boosts career and financial plans among workers seeking to join the middle class.  

As they discussed proposals, Peng Her, the community relations coordinator at the University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty - DreamUp Wisconsin questioned the presence of postsecondary leaders and broadening the scope of middle class citizens across the country. 

“How do we increase the middle class throughout the nation and how do universities play a role in that?” Her asked. 

In May, UW-Madison was named one of the four inaugural schools to bridge university research with Dane County community leaders to raise the net income of 10,000 households by 10 percent by 2020. 

UW-Madison is renowned for its commitment to research as well as remaining true to the Wisconsin Idea, which encourages students to solve problems and improve the health and wellbeing of the Wisconsin community beyond the classroom. 

“With the DreamUp initiative, we are embracing the philosophy of the Wisconsin Idea, leveraging the valuable resources of the university to work together with the community to address these important real-world issues,” said Hilary Shager, the associate director of programs and management with the Institute for Research on Poverty. 

After the initiative introduced 11 proposals that emphasized ways to tackle socioeconomic disparities, a team of 12 university and community leaders honed in on what would benefit Dane County families the most by 2020. They completed their review in early January. 

For the selection committee, Her stated the necessity for a “well-rounded” community of individuals hailing from various nonprofit organizations, business workers and laborers from rural Wisconsin areas. 

Her recognized Dane County as one of the top locations to live, speaking to the significance of choosing the community. However, he acknowledged socioeconomic barriers exist that make it difficult to live not only in the county, but nationwide.

“There are a lot of disparities when it comes to income levels for communities of color as well as folks who are struggling to get into the middle class, and so it’s important that we really work towards increasing that middle class,” Her said. 

The focus of DreamUp is not only on Dane County, but the state of Wisconsin as a whole. As Gov. Tony Evers shifts into his new role, both Her and Shager spoke about their interest to work with him, since the ideals of the initiative match key proponents of his campaign platform. 

Although Schmidt Futures is paving the way for the development of these programs, they will only work as a “catalyst” for statewide changes. The government will be key to making needed policy adjustments and providing remaining financial support, according to Shager. 

Both LIFT Dane and We Care for Dane Kids noted similar enthusiasm as they move further along in the selection process. 

“We'd welcome the governor's help to take it statewide quickly so that every worker in the state gets the free, tech-driven, high-quality legal help they need to deal with these civil legal barriers to economic and financial success and stability,” said Vicky Selkowe, the director of legislative, rulemaking and training compliance at the Legal Action of Wisconsin. 

Wisconsin Early Child Association Executive Director Ruth Schmidt stated how “supportive the Evers administration” has been of early childhood development and looked forward to conversations with the administration “in terms of ways they could best work together.” 

The three finalists will travel to Phoenix to pitch their ideas on Jan. 29. The winners will then finalize their plans as they compete for funding in summer 2019. 

They will later compete in a second round, however the challenge has yet to be finalized, according to Shager. 

Both Her and Shager stated their appreciation for the DreamUp team and their hopes for the initiative as they look to improve the social and fiscal futures of Dane County families 

“We all belong to the same race — the human race. So, helping us dream up so that we all can have the best place here in Dane County to live, learn and enjoy what we have here is what we want to do [with the initiative],” Her said.

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