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OFS celebrates mother and son graduating from UW Odyssey Project

Updated: May 22, 2023

Operation Fresh Start staff member Ericka Booey and her son Jermaine (an OFS alum) both graduated from the UW Odyssey Project. They completed a six-credit English literature course focused on reading, writing, public speaking and critical thinking skills. They explored works by Emily Dickinson Martin Luther King Jr., Walt Whitman, Shakespeare, Lorraine Hansberry — and wrote their own pieces published in the monthly Oracle journal.

“The Odyssey Project is a program that you not only gain education through — but it’s a program that you can gain a lot of self-esteem through,” says Booey. She enjoyed reading and writing poems in class, studying speeches and conducting research. Booey says she was exposed to things she never thought she’d be exposed to — from studying the arts to attending operas. She enjoyed hearing all of her classmates’ opinions and watching her son Jermaine participate, especially when it came to the acting portion of class. One thing that really surprised Booey was her interest in studying Plato.

Another benefit of the course was the staff’s ability to help students overcome barriers they were facing. “All of us dealt with situations throughout our two semesters in Odyssey. The staff was so great in helping us get through the program and situations outside of the program.”

In its 19th year, the Odyssey Project takes a whole family approach to breaking the cycle of generational poverty through access to education, giving adult and youth learners a voice, and increasing confidence through reading, writing and speaking.

“For students who may have given up on college because of financial barriers, childcare, juggling jobs, feeling that they had failed at an earlier time in their life — the Odyssey Project is that second or third or eighth chance to get a jumpstart on college education,” says Emily Auerbach, Co-Director / Founder of the UW Odyssey Project.

Auerbach says she is honored to witness the transformation of over 500 alumni of the Odyssey Project. “We have students who have gone from being homeless to having bachelor’s and master’s degrees. We have whole families that have been affected by the Odyssey Project — and I’m thrilled to showcase student gifts.”

UW Odyssey Project Graduation

The graduation ceremony at the UW-Madison Memorial Union on May 4, 2022 included a student video, where Odyssey participants read powerful statements about their dreams, beliefs and what makes them who they are.

Along with celebrating her graduation alongside her son, Jermaine, Ericka Booey ended the course by accepting The Business Forum’s most prestigious award: the Judy Rose Scholarship. The Business Forum‘s mission is to support women by building relationships, awarding scholarships to women pursuing secondary education and celebrating women’s impact in the community.

Booey is the Options and Drive to Succeed Program Coordinator at Operation Fresh Start. She says she will use the scholarship funds to pursue her bachelor’s and possibly a master’s degree in social work.

“I’ve always found myself helping in every profession that I’ve worked in,” says Booey. “I was a child care provider, a social service specialist — just in every position that I’ve worked in, I’ve always helped another person outside the realms of my job. I felt like social work was a really good fit for myself, where I can be a professional helper.”


Watch Ericka's Judy Rose Scholarship Acceptance Speech