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North Side ‘On the Table’ Seeks to Build Community

ZIP code 53206 is often labeled as the poorest, most troubled neighborhood in Milwaukee. These stereotypes were put on the table during a community roundtable made up of people who call it home and believe in its future.

Twenty-eight residents, civic leaders and entrepreneurs from the north side took a deep dive into the challenges their neighborhood faces during candid conversations hosted by St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care-Bucyrus Campus on Tuesday, Oct. 17. The event was part of On the Table, a one-day forum sponsored by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, offering people from a four-county region an opportunity to connect and collaborate on ways to improve quality of life in our community.

“We had earnest discussions that came up with several long-term solutions to repair the torn social fabric in the central city and spur small business growth,” said John Jansen, St. Ann Center’s Vice President of Grants, Community & Capital Development. “These are the rank and file central city residents who are going to build back their community.

“All three of our groups, sitting in separate rooms, expressed a strong need to find numerous ways to increase social interaction and communication among people in the central city,” Jansen said. “The good news is that there are so many ways we can do this, including arts groups, business networking, school activities and athletics, to name a few.”

The Challenges

“People aren’t connecting as family and neighbors, or having community experiences like they used to,” said Rochelle Robinson, a teacher who helps run her family cleaning business. “Many of us are so busy, we’re in survival mode. We aren’t aware of what’s happening and what’s available even on our own block.”

Only 2% of residents who live in the 53206 ZIP code work there. Andre Ellis, founder and CEO of We Got This Milwaukee, an initiative to empower young black males, is concerned about the local talent drain. “Many people think there are no jobs here, so they go to Atlanta or somewhere else for better opportunities,” he said.

The scarcity of family-supporting wages is another concern. “While the community rises, people need a minimum wage of $15 an hour in the interim, so they have time to spend on pursuing their talent, rather than worrying whether they can put food on the table,” said Barbara Miner, a freelance journalist who has reported on Milwaukee’s central city. Eddie Hatch, founder of Night Owl Services, his family appliance repair business, agreed. “We need to eat while we dream,” he said.

Questions of race and racial inequality also came up. “We don’t want to talk about it because it’s difficult, but it needs to be on the table,” Miner said. Sharon Adams, President of Business Improvement District #32 and co-founder of Adams Garden Park nursery business, pointed out that job creation for big corporations like Amazon are subsidized by government tax dollars. When people in the central city ask for help to revitalize their area, they’re often told to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. “Policies are made that provide equity to certain people—you could call it racism,” Adams said.

The Solutions

The majority of the discussions focused on positive actions that could help the north side community reach its potential. Some of the bold ideas offered include:

Create a healthy business environment. “There’s a lot of vacant land that’s owned by the city—let’s get organized and turn it into resources,” Adams said. She suggested locating pop-up shops in vacant buildings as a way to launch or test out a business, without a long-term lease commitment or permanent space. Business coach Dana Williamson has dreams of opening a coffee shop that doubles as a movie theater and small business incubator. She suggested a twist on a “tour of homes” for developing businesses—a tour that would showcase north side startups, introducing them to the community.

Build a sense of community. Bishop Walter Harvey of Parklawn Assembly of God emphasized the importance of unity and collaboration in a neighborhood. “We are better together,” he said. “We need people to form fraternities and sororities around their common interests so they can share their gifts. Our church has formed an Economic Development Corporation to bring entrepreneurs together. They are able to learn about and from one another in a noncompetitive environment.”

Liz Haagensen, Community Relations Coordinator at WaterStone Bank, suggested opening a shared community space that could serve as a think tank. “People could bring their skills here and meet others with different specialties,” she said, adding this could lead to beneficial partnerships and productive problem-solving.

Improve communications. Participants agreed building awareness is key to fostering a healthy community. Markasa Tucker of Wisconsin Voices Inc., suggested using targeted door-to-door canvassing of neighborhoods and businesses to spread the word on important issues. “To reach the younger generation, we could use a cell phone tree,” she said, explaining how important information could be shared through text blasts. Monica Hubbard, founder of her own pastry and dessert business, thought the neighborhood could use a prominent digital sign that would display community events, job and learning opportunities, new business openings and more. Others emphasized the importance of networking through churches, businesses, schools and community media outlets.

Find and support local talents. Several participants proposed conducting a census of skills within the neighborhood with results used to create a comprehensive inventory of local resources. Once talent is found, person-to-person referrals are vital, said Angela Thompson, who runs her own accounting service. Milwaukeeans need to recommend businesses they like to their friends and family, she said. “That’s an important way to support one another.”

Involve residents in decision-making. Diane Beckley, Chief Operating Officer of St. Ann Center’s Bucyrus Campus, explained how the organization spent five years getting input from north side residents before the center was built. “We asked people to tell us what kinds of services they’d like to see,” she said. Requests for a family-friendly entertainment venue and exercise area led to the planning of a 350-seat band shell and tree-lined walking paths on the Bucyrus Campus grounds, scheduled to be completed next year.

Other ideas for community building ranged from block parties that spotlight neighborhood artists, to community-wide talent shows with prize money, to free and affordable classes on everything from music to sports to starting your own business.

The importance of investing in the north side’s young people came up in every conversation. If the community wants strong leaders, Adams said, “We have to grow our own. And we have to create a place for them…a place they want to come back to after college.”

Ellis told the story of 11-year-old Malik, a smart and creative boy who, without a father figure, was getting into trouble. Ellis became his mentor, and when Malik was 13, showed him how to turn a $20 investment into $160 selling cold bottled water from a cooler at 8th Street and Locust Avenue. The next weekend, Malik had four of his friends working other corners—each made a couple hundred dollars. This year, at 15, Malik made $1,600 over the summer and was able to take his little sister shopping for new school clothes. “Many young black teens want to get away from guns,” he said. “We need to create a system so they can.”

Photos #OnTheTableMKE

Newsletter Story: Bringing Up Baby

Most kids have grandparents who spoil them. And Alexis Alloway is no exception. Just turned one year old, the precocious toddler is the apple of the eye of 18 love-struck adults, age 50 to 80-plus—all clients at St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care.

Alexis’ mom, Rosemarie, is the lead Certified Nursing Assistant on the Veranda Unit. “The clients I work with have known Alexis since before she was born,” Rosemarie said. “I brought my ultrasound in to show them.” Seven weeks after delivering, Rosemarie returned from maternity leave, bringing her newborn with her. Alexis was enrolled in St. Ann Center’s childcare program. “An important part of our mission is bringing the generations together,” Rosemarie said. “Since our clients got such a kick out of seeing Alexis, I started bringing her upstairs once a week so we could all watch her grow up together.”

As her first birthday approached, Alexis’ adult friends decided to throw her a party on the Veranda, inviting all the one-year-olds in her classroom. The bash included an intergenerational game of balloon volleyball, party hats and a potluck with adult- and kid-friendly dishes. Instead of buying presents, the clients made a mixed tape of songs for the toddlers to dance to.

“Babies have a natural way of brightening the day,” Rosemarie said with a smile. “I love being able to share Alexis with these wonderful people. And they have so much to teach her.”

Alexis’ First Birthday Celebration Photos

A version of our “Bringing Up Baby” story was featured in our newsletter. Read all the stories of our joyful intergenerational community in the October-December Issue of Seasons of Life. [button type=”primary” link=”” target=”_blank”] Read More [/button]

This issue our newsletter contained a special wishlist for needed repairs at both campuses. If each person reading the newsletter donates $50 we will be able to reach our goal and continue to offer a safe, beautiful place for people of all ages and abilities to spend their day together.
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North Side Entrepreneurs Dream of More than Money

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Promising entrepreneurs filled up on advice and connections—high-octane fuel for startups—at the North Side Business Incubator workshop held Thursday, Aug. 31, at St. Ann Center’s Bucyrus Campus, 2450 W. North Ave.

“It was inspiring to see how many people are committed to starting businesses on the north side,” said John Jansen, Vice President of Grants, Community and Capital Development at St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care. “Besides making money, they are dedicated to improving their neighborhood and serving the people who live there.”

Twenty one entrepreneurs had the opportunity to pitch their ideas to more than two dozen investors, mentors and business coaches at the free event. The aim of the day was to nurture homegrown commerce for Milwaukee’s 15th Aldermanic District. Ald. Russell W. Stamper II and the Marketplace Business Improvement District 32 co-sponsored the workshop—the third in an ongoing series of business incubators hosted at St. Ann Center’s north side campus, which opened in the 53206 ZIP code two years ago.

“There were a lot of connections made—both between the entrepreneurs and the business resource people and among the entrepreneurs themselves,” Jansen said. “People were very interested in one another’s ideas and how they might work together. A few set up appointments to meet later because one needed the other’s services.”

The workshop kicked off with elevator speeches from the business hopefuls. Instead of the traditional half-minute pitch, these went three to five minutes. “The entrepreneurs were more passionate than 30 seconds would permit,” Jansen said. The day also included time for one-on-one discussions between entrepreneurs, mentors and investors along with a networking session.

Each entrepreneur had a chance to meet privately with Ald. Stamper to discuss what they needed to start or expand their business. Several are currently pursuing their ideas as sidelines—most dream of launching full-time businesses. Participants like Monica Hubbard of the Bread Explosion Comfort Cafe came with samples of their products. Her mini peach cobblers didn’t last long. Maurice Sharpe, who was seeking startup funds, gave potential investors a chance to taste his brainchild—hot chocolate with a caffeine kick.

Response to the incubator was so overwhelming, 40 additional entrepreneurs have already registered for a second workshop tentatively scheduled for October. In the meantime, Ald. Stamper, Sr. Edna Lonergan, President of St. Ann Center, and Jansen will meet to determine next steps for helping participants turn their ideas into profit-making ventures.

Jansen will also be sending out contact information so the networking can continue. “There was so much camaraderie in the room, it was incredible,” he said, adding participants all had one dream in common. “They want to take back their neighborhood and see it grow and prosper. Judging by what we saw today, I’m sure they’re going to do it.”

Business Incubator Photos

St. Ann Center Summer Campers Take It to the Lake

Summer sailed by for the kids at St. Ann Center…literally. As a special treat, longtime St. Ann Center supporter Al Bathrick and his friends at the Oconomowoc Lake Club hosted the Summer Camp kids for a day of nonstop fun.

The excitement started with a pontoon ride around the lake. For some of the children, it was their first time on a boat. “It was awesome!” 4-year-old Mason confirmed. “We even got a turn to drive. And I saw about a hundred seagulls.”

After docking, it was time for a construction project. Student volunteers from Oconomowoc High School helped the kids build sandcastles on the beach—even Sr. Edna lent a hand filling sand pails. To make things even more interesting, the volunteers had “seeded” the sand with coins and gold doubloons that the kids were all too happy to retrieve.

The outing wrapped up with a lunch of hot dogs, lemonade and hot fudge sundaes, plus a bag of popcorn for each summer camper to enjoy on the bus ride home. Although the start of school was only days away, the kids were intent on squeezing every bit of joy out of the sunny, blue-sky experience. “I’ll think about fourth grade later,” Maddy said with a smile.