In June, 2008, community leaders, corporations and educators joined forces to launch a major community initiative aimed at enabling more children from families in need to benefit from the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra’s community partnership programs and the core large ensembles. The new initiative has been dubbed Fran’s Fund in honor of Fran Richman, who celebrated her 20th anniversary as executive director of MYSO in 2008.
The establishment of a scholarship fund in Richman’s name is an appropriate reflection of her goals, in particular her commitment to bringing diversity to MYSO and to insuring that all young people—regardless of circumstance—can have the chance to study music. In conjunction with MYSO's 2005 move into the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, Richman led the establishment of several Community Partnership Programs that are helping fill the gap created as a result of the public schools' cutting back on music and arts education. Approximately 200 young people, the majority from inner city schools, are now enrolled in these pioneering programs, and a number of others have happily graduated into more advanced MYSO ensembles. The unique programs include:
- Progressions. An intensive string training program for City of Milwaukee third and fourth graders
- Jazz Studies. Classes and small combo opportunities for middle and high school students, with a special emphasis on City of Milwaukee youth
- Calypso. A steel band program formed in partnership with the Milwaukee Public Schools
- Boys & Girls Club Partnership. Special music instruction activities including an introductory jazz program designed for members of the Clubs, most of whom are from the inner city
- Latino Arts Strings/United Community Center Partnership
- Neighborhood Concert Series
- String Orchestra/Central
These Community Partnership Programs have been tremendously successful, and MYSO now must address the organization’s ability to support the young graduates of these programs—along with other young musicians with significant financial need—in their desire to move upward through the MYSO system. A new fund of more than $2 million will be needed, the income from which will help cover the costs of supporting young musicians (see below). Fran’s Fund, which has been exceptionally supported and nurtured by the MYSO Board of Directors, received an appropriate kickoff at a well-attended "Roast and Toast" event on June 1, 2008, called Franissimo! The MYSO Board proudly joined the community initiative by committing $500,000 in designated funds to match gifts from the evening's tribute to Fran. The impact on the lives of the young people who participate is tangible and dramatic, measured not only in the development of their musical skills but also in self-reliance, team skills, improved academic performance and self image.