Sharyl Kato and "Rhumba 4 Rainbow"
Serving children and families
By Laura Salinger
     Rhumba 4 Rainbow is a chance for those working in a sensitive, and often weighty, field to strap on their dancing shoes and celebrate the work they do to protect children and create healthier families. For Rainbow Project Director Sharyl Kato, the event is a chance for her to enjoy a favorite pastime, salsa, while celebrating the achievements of the Rainbow Project and the families they serve.
      "We started Rumba 4 Rainbow as a celebration," Kato said. "We celebrate the success of the families at Rainbow, as well as recognize the people doing wonderful things for children and families in our community."
      The Rainbow Project is Kato's brainchild ? an organization born 27 years ago when the then graduate student and daycare worker noticed a lack of specialized services for children facing trauma and abuse. A non-profit child and family counseling clinic providing treatment and early intervention to young children who have experienced trauma, the Rainbow Project serves children age infancy to 10 who have experienced child abuse, child sexual abuse, neglect, and exposure to community violence.
      "Since 1988, we have served 2,930 families; 4,777 children and 4,247 adults," Kato said. "In 2006 alone, we served 211 families."
      Aside from individualized treatment for children and their families, the Rainbow Project has been called into high profile situations where they have counseled children and families traumatized by events like the Stoughton tornado and the shooting by Madison police of a dangerous intruder wielding a meat cleaver at the Red Caboose Day Care Center on Madison's near east side.
      For many, child abuse -- especially in its most severe form -- is difficult to think about and sadly, easier to ignore. But Kato and her staff recognize the dire need of these children and their families.
      The work done at Rainbow Project is no small feat. In Kato's words, the Rainbow Project works to "help change a child's world view." Building trust is key to children who have been given little reason to do so.
      "If they don't have trust, it greatly affects their development," Kato said of the children she works with.
      What some of the children at Rainbow have experienced in their short time in the world could turn the stomachs of many grown adults. Kato recounted stories of a severely abused three-year-old who was thrown down a flight of stairs and a toddler left in her car seat so frequently and for such long durations, that her shoulders were actually slouched into a hunched-over position. She has seen children under two years old simply shut down because of neglect and abuse.
      But then there are the rewards. The boy that was thrown down the stairs, who for so long took such caution with his body and was afraid to let his feet leave the ground, eventually took to a swing under Kato's watchful eye. Her voice softened with tenderness as she recalled the sheer joy on the boy's face as he swung back and forth. She has been invited to high school graduations of children who were at one time counseled at Rainbow and has witnessed former victims of child abuse grow into thriving, loving adults.
      "That's what keeps me going ... the spirit of children and adults to not only survive abuse, but to be so kind, open, and trusting and want to do better," Kato said.
      Kato has long been recognized as a notable advocate for children and families, as well as a community educator on issues of child abuse, neglect, child sexual abuse, domestic violence, multi-trauma, and related topics. She is the co-founder, director, and child and family therapist for the Rainbow Project. She currently chairs the Dane County Commission on Sensitive Crimes, the Dane County Children & Youth Mental Health and Child Abuse Task Force, and the Coordinated Community Response Task Force on Child Abuse/Neglect. She also serves on a multitude of other community task forces and projects including the Safe Harbor Steering Committee, Children of Violent Homes Prevention Project, and the MMSD Community Partnership on Mental Health. Additionally, she is a Clinical Faculty member for the UW-Madison Medical School's Department of Psychiatry.
      Kato's work has been tireless in her pursuit to help abused/traumatized children and it is reflected in the series of awards she has received, including the 2003 Outstanding Service Award from Safe Harbor of Dane County; a 2001 LuAnn Gilbert Award for Outstanding Contribution in Domestic Violence Intervention and Prevention; a 2000 Madison Police Dept. Outstanding Support Award; and a 1997 Woman of Distinction Award from the YWCA.
      While her life's work has focused on the treatment and prevention of child abuse and trauma, she also manages to find time for cultural endeavors and to connect with her roots as an Asian American and woman of color. She is a co-chair for the Wisconsin Organization for Asian Americans, a member of the Wisconsin Women of Color Network, and member of the Pacific Asian Women's Alliance.
      On September 28, Kato hopes the community will come out and join her for a colorful celebration benefiting the community's most important asset; our children.
      For more information on Rhumba 4 Rainbow visit or or call the Rainbow Project at (608) 255-7356.
     On September 28, the Grand Ballroom at the Inn on the Park in downtown Madison will once again pulse with Latin music. The third annual Rhumba 4 Rainbow, a charity event to benefit The Rainbow Project, will feature salsa dancing, a Latin Dance Floor Show, a salsa contest, door prizes, a silent auction, and a quesadilla station. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz will present "Extra Mile Awards" to those demonstrating "exceptional advocacy for children  and families" in Dane County.
August 2007 Issue