Complied by Kia Marie Green
Last week Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Thornton, along with MPS Board President Michael Bonds called a special School Board meeting to discuss interventions for troubling behavior and solutions for our community.
Parents, public officials, representatives from various community and faith-based organizations as well as concerned citizens packed the MPS Central Services auditorium to discuss and share ideas and strategies on the best ways to reign in our youth.
Like a coming together of the minds, the meeting last week – as well as the subsequent meetings and hearings scheduled by various groups – was a testament to the power of organizations working with schools, schools working with neighbors and neighbors voicing their concerns to develop strategies for a successful outcome.
Last week was an illustration of: “Putting the Neighbor Back Into the Hood.”
There was a time when this concept wasn’t uncommon and was employed rather frequently to bring about change, progress and solutions.
In fact so many of the community and faith-based organizations on which so many people rely were founded on that principle – people working with people, neighbors helping neighbors and organizations merging forces to achieve a specific outcome.
Whether it was the merging of religious organizations or youth groups, the people of Milwaukee have a longstanding history of working together.
Organizations such as UMOS, The Benedict Center and MICAH are examples of the religious groups merging to fill in the gap as needed.
UMOS, which today offers diverse programs provide programs and services that improve the employment, education, health, and housing opportunities of under-served populations, was founded more than 35 years ago.
The Episcopal Church, the Roman Catholic Church and Migrant Ministry of the Wisconsin Council of Churches each offered various services to migrants in Wisconsin. In 1965, these church groups joined to form UMOS, Inc. with the main purpose was to provide temporary childcare service to migrant families in a four-county area during the summer months.
Similarly, The Benedict Center, an interfaith, nonprofit criminal justice agency, was founded in 1974, when Margi Flanagan, a community activist, and Sister Rita Martin, a Racine Dominican, teamed up with Father Al Veik at St. Benedict the Moor and others committed to justice to found the Benedict Center as an educational alternative to jail for women.
Today The Benedict Center provides a myriad of programs and services to women who are or have been in conflict with the law including: the Women’s Harm Reduction Program; community advocacy for fundamental systemic change in the criminal justice system; outreach programming to men and women in conflict with the law in the community through Restorative Community Service at the Community Justice Day Reporting Center; and street outreach to women involved in drugs and prostitution through the Sisters Project and much more.
In looking at interfaith organizations working together for a common goal, the Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH) definitely stands out. MICAH is a multi-racial, interfaith organization committed to addressing justice issues that have an impact on the community and on the members of MICAH congregations.
Comprised of more than 30 mostly central city churches, locally MICAH congregations have come together to close down drug houses and local establishments where crime once flourished.
Over the years, the city has seen several religious and community-based organizations merge and the city ahs also seen a number of passionate men and women step up to ignite change, such as COA Youth & Family Services, Journey House and Agape Community Center.
First known as the Children’s Outing Association, COA was founded in 1906 by a group of women who were members of a charitable organization called “The Personal Relief Society.” The initial focus of the agency was to provide a positive camping experience to urban children. For more than 100 years, the COA Youth & Family Services has served Milwaukee children and families through a continuum of educational, recreational, and social work programs offered through its urban community centers and rural camp facility.
With a similar philosophy of serving children and families, Journey House was established in 1969 and rooted in the philosophy that “Education is a Family Journey.” It was started when a VISTA volunteer worked with neighborhood parents to establish the “Happy Moon Journey House,” a safe place where community youth could get away from urban and peer pressures.
Since developing and providing programs and services to the community for more than 41 years, Journey House has earned a strong reputation within and beyond its target neighborhood.
Another organization founded by a group of women is the Agape Community Center, which has served and demonstrated its commitment to Milwaukee’s Northwest Side for more than 25 years. The community center credits its start to the thoughtful vision and the financial support of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother. Several Sisters living in the neighborhood learned that too many area families were in need of food—often eating meals of bread and cereal. Working with area churches, they began serving community meals in November 1986. Since that time, Agape has grown into a vital community resource offering services, activities and programs to nearly 25,000 neighbors.
This is just a glimpse of the countless people and organizations who have a history of ‘Putting th Neighbor Back Into the Hood’
This year, the Milwaukee Community Journal will highlight some of those Neighborhoods Organizations…their leaders, their unique demographic make-up; their objectives and how this works to better the lives of residents; and the city of Milwaukee.
As we encourage and celebrate these lifelong institutions within the Milwaukee community, we also hope to encourage and inspire such progress in the future.
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