Northwestern Mutual

Developing Lifelong Learners

Read about how the Northwestern Mutual Foundation is giving back to children in Milwaukee.

Mr Potato Head King

When children at Betty Brinn Children’s Museum begin playing inside a giant console shaped like the bridge of the starship Enterprise, Fern Shupeck knows the seeds for lifelong learning will be planted.

The console is inspired by the work of New York-based designer/author Chip Kidd, and is part of the Word Headquarters exhibit. Funded by a grant from the Northwestern Mutual Foundation, the exhibit highlights literacy as the key to a child’s academic and lifelong success.

“The influence of early literacy skills on lifelong success is nothing short of profound,” said Shupeck, the executive director of the private, nonprofit children’s museum in Milwaukee. “Surrounding a child with different forms of communication is critical to their evolution.”  

Spud Overboard Under the Sea

Improving literacy in Milwaukee—where the latest public school reading and math scores show proficiency is at 16 and 20 percent respectively—is a museum priority, and a foundation priority. “Literacy is not just reading at bedtime,” Shupeck says. “There are also important messages for adults in the exhibit about how literacy influences a child’s understanding of themselves and the world, a child’s lifelong ability to communicate, and his or her capacity to become a successful student and a productive member of our community’s future workforce,” Shupeck said.  

Positive early learning experiences, particularly for disadvantaged children, can shape a child’s capacity to learn for a lifetime. Each year, more than 30,000 children and adults who would not otherwise have access to BBCM benefit from the museum’s outreach programs.

“Our ability to support families who are struggling to raise a young child is made possible by generous donors—with Northwestern Mutual at the top of that list,” Shupeck said. In fact, its support of the first traveling exhibit developed at BBCM has sustained the museum’s outreach. Since its launch in 1998, the Mr. Potato Head exhibit has drawn nearly 3 million visitors throughout the U.S., Mexico and Canada, and led to a long line of educational exhibits developed at BBCM and leased or purchased by other children’s museums.

“That initial investment allowed us to improve our organizational self-sufficiency and enabled us to develop a product line considered one of the best in the country,” Shupeck said.

But more importantly, Shupeck said, it allows the museum to offer critical support for families and children. “There are many families in our community whose circumstances limit their access to resources that can build a young child’s school-readiness skills, shape their values and cultivate their capacity to learn for a lifetime.”

Northwestern Mutual’s support of BBCM is linked to its mission of improving third grade reading proficiency and making Milwaukee great, two of four focus areas for its foundation. Both organizations believe investment in the lives of young children will forge a stronger community.

“Northwestern Mutual thinks of Milwaukee 20 years down the road when it invests in an organization in terms of what the community needs to do to be successful,” Shupeck said. “It’s really all about education. Northwestern Mutual values and respects that.”

Making an Impact

Learn more about how we make an impact by giving back to the people and communities we serve.  

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