Much like the program it supports, turnout for the first Backpacks for Success fundraiser dinner was outstanding Friday.
The event, emceed by former Badgers football star Al Toon, was aimed at raising money to support the Backpacks for Success program administered by the 100 Black Men of Madison while also serving as sign of appreciation for the program's donors. The dinner drew around 140 people to the Kohl Center.
The 100 Black Men and the University of Wisconsin Athletic Department joined forces to stage the first of what will become an annual event to help fund the increasingly popular backpacks program, which offers free school supplies to low- and middle-income families in the Madison.
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In its first 12 years, the program has donated nearly 15,000 backpacks filled with school supplies to those in need in the community. This year's distribution of backpacks will be held next Saturday, Aug. 22, at Demetral Park in Madison.
Friday, the 100 Black Men's president for 2009, Wayne Canty, offered thanks to all those who support the group's charitable efforts and provided some background on the Backpacks for Success program.
"We always assess, are we doing the right thing, is this the right thing for the community" Canty said. "The answer always comes back a resounding, 'Yes.' The need is there and we want to make sure these students start the school year with the supplies they need to be ready to learn."
Those in attendance also watched a special video message recorded by UW Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez, who was unable to attend in person. He explained the relationship between the 100 Black Men and the UW Athletic Department, which began with the Backpacks for Success program and has continued to develop with a variety of partnerships and annual events.
"What better way to generate goodwill and help the community than to help young people," Alvarez said. "I thought it would be a great opportunity for my football players, at the time, to participate in. Since then, a number of our players have been to the backpack giveaway every year."
The crowd also enjoyed a keynote address from UW football coach Bret Bielema, who shared insight from his own experiences of growing up in an area that lacked diversity and, eventually, finding himself in situations while on the recruiting trail in which he was the minority.
Bielema then thanked the 100 Black Men for their contributions to the community and to UW Athletics.
"We have great mentors and great people around, and that's why I appreciate everything you do," Bielema said. "All I want is one thing. I want everyone to have success, and success doesn't necessarily come during your time at the University of Wisconsin, it might come 5, 10, 15 years down the road.
"That's why I can't say enough about what this group does with the backpacks, it is an unbelievable event to see those kids smiling."