Working together to support Dubuque’s children

For more information

To learn more about the Community Foundation’s Every Child Reads initiative and ways you can make a difference for people in Dubuque, visit or call 563-588-2700.

Growing up in Dubuque was a foundational experience for Michael Nivarel. The sense of community he felt and the generosity he witnessed made such a lasting impression that even though he has grown and moved away, he continues to give back to support the next generation.

“When I look back on my growing-up years, I realize I had a lot of these above-and-beyond experiences that stand out in my mind,” Nivarel said. “I want to ensure today’s generation has these same types of experiences.”

This year, as he considered ways to support Dubuque’s youth, he focused on the impact of recent events. He knew COVID-19 had turned children’s worlds around, leading to academic setbacks and social-emotional challenges. However, living hundreds of miles away, he didn’t know the pandemic’s effects on Dubuque specifically.

Nivarel is like many people who want to support the communities they love but don’t know where to start. Often, they want their gifts to have an equitable impact, helping break down barriers to resources for those who need them most. Thanks to our relationships in the community, knowledge of local issues and experience working with charitable individuals, we help people make decisions about their giving that have a positive impact and meet their goals.

In Nivarel’s case, we leveraged a number of resources, including a matching gift program offered by his employer, to help address needs of children. It all started this spring when he and I had a conversation about how school closures, remote learning, illness and isolation negatively impacted children’s learning, particularly reading.

I shared that through our Every Child Reads initiative, we are working with partners to focus on summer learning, school readiness and attendance as ways to help children improve or maintain skills that were impacted.

As we talked, Nivarel thought back to the experiences he had as a child — how they inspired him and helped him to succeed in school. He fondly recalled attending University of Dubuque’s UD for Kids summer camp.

For 30 years, the camp has offered opportunities for children to take week-long courses that encourage real-world curiosity while building skills focused on STEM subjects, reading and the arts.

It’s a wonderful experience but not one that all children in Dubuque have historically been able to access. Barriers like cost and transportation put it out of reach from some children who might benefit most.

Nivarel’s happy memories helped us zero in on a way to give back: He decided to fund UD for Kids scholarships for five first-graders so they could have a learning experience they might not otherwise be exposed to.

“There was a lot of value in my son attending UD for Kids program,” said the parent of one scholarship recipient. “He made new friends, learned a lot, and had fun teaching his sister when he got home. He started talking about going a week before it started and is still talking about it. He would like to go back, because he truly enjoyed the things he learned and the people he met

To help Nivarel’s gift go further, his employer provided a dollar-for-dollar match through a program offered to workers who give. Plus, I worked with the Regional Transit Agency to offer rides to scholarship recipients who faced transportation challenges.

His gift provided support for other community resources beyond UD for Kids, as well. In our conversations, we talked about an array of issues local families face, including access to school supplies and clothing. With that knowledge, he allocated portions of his gift toward initiatives like the back-to-school supply drive and donations of clothes and toys for children and teens.

The experience working with Nivarel helped illustrate something that I know in my job to be true: Supporting children takes all of us. In this case, my colleagues and I were able to help a charitable individual, an employer, an educational organization and a transit agency come together to provide enriching experiences for children.

“If I had to guess the needs of the Dubuque community from halfway across the country, I wouldn’t have been able to,” Nivarel told me. “However, I was able to learn about them from the boots on the ground and leverage the knowledge and partnership of the Community Foundation.”