A local organization dedicated to providing second chances for Dane County’s disenfranchised youth is getting its own fresh start.
For more than 45 years, Operation Fresh Start has helped disconnected teenagers and young adults become self-sufficient by helping them earn their high school diplomas, as well as job training and community service.
A main feature of the group’s programs is construction: youth enrolled in the programs build affordable housing in Dane County and perform conservation work.
Organizers said Operation Fresh Start has helped more than 8,000 young adults through the decades, but it hit a plateau in the number of people that could be enrolled each year. The group’s location at 1925 Winnebago St. on Madison’s East Side can’t fit the number of staff required to expand the organization’s reach.
Executive Director Gregory Markle and his team began to search for a new location nearly two years ago.
“We were looking for something really centrally located,” Markle said since the group serves all of Dane County. “And we needed a space where we could double our services.”
The former home of Holy Cross Lutheran Church and School fit the need. The location at 2670 Milwaukee St., just east of East Washington Avenue, provides easy access to bus routes, and the sanctuary and gym offer ample space for classrooms and construction training labs.
While selling the building to an organization focused on community engagement was not a necessity for Holy Cross, Pastor Bernt Tweit said Operation Fresh Start was a “great fit” because of its mission.
“We are thrilled that it will still be used for youth and education,” Tweit said.
The move will not be immediate since the space needs significant renovations to fulfill the group’s vision. But Markle said even the changes required in the new location offer a new opportunity to participants.
“Our young people will be working the next two years to make this our new home,” Markle said.
Although Markle estimated that professional construction crews could complete the remodel in just a few months, he said the organization chose to use the remodel as part of its programs for youth and adults.
“It’s going to be very empowering for them to build the new location of Operation Fresh Start,” Markle said. “It might not always go smoothly, but we can work through that.”
The participants will take part in demolition, cement work, installing windows and doors, and constructing the ceilings. Markle said plumbing, electrical and air control will be subcontracted.