Graduates of the Youth-Business Mentoring Program at Madison West High School, Fall 2015. Photo by Kent Sweitzer.

2015 Youth Programs Annual Review

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Each year, we like to highlight the impact of our Youth Programs from the previous year, including the Youth-Business Mentoring Program (YBMP) and Employment & Financial Literacy Workshops. We do this in August because we like to provide the most accurate information about how many students in the YBMP that we placed in jobs, and sometimes it takes several months to find a job that fits the participant’s interests and schedule.

In 2015, Common Wealth provided 311 teens with high quality financial education, mentoring, employment and job retention skills. Common Wealth also placed 99 teens in jobs with local businesses.







2015 Youth Programs Employers

We are grateful to the following area businesses that provided employment to participants in the Youth-Business Mentoring Program:

Common Wealth is grateful to the following volunteers who either helped us do mock interviews with Youth Programs participants, or spoke at a graduation for Youth-Business Mentoring Program participants. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Rachel Darken, Youth Programs Director, at 608.256.3527 x18 or

  • Jaime Benton
  • Robert Coffin
  • Grant Gelhar
  • Ada Gonzales
  • Keith Johnston
  • Randy Joswig
  • Christina Juneau
  • Jackie Lisowski
  • Nancy Martin
  • Rudy Moore
  • Joann Nichols
  • Sean O’Herrin
  • Sarah Olson
  • Phyllis Pleuss
  • Randall Reinke
  • Tamaris Relerford
  • Susan Robbins
  • Deb Simon
  • Katharine Stalker
  • Michele Thoren
  • Walter Williams
  • Steven Zwickel

Youth Programs at Common Wealth would not be possible without the generous support of the following donors. If you would like to make a donation to support Common Wealth’s work, please visit our Donate page or contact Mike Sweitzer-Beckman, Fund Development Manager, at 608.256.3527 x34 or

Major Supporters of Youth Programs in 2015 ($7,500+)

American Family Insurance Dreams Foundation


CUNA Mutual Foundation

Dane County Department of Human Services

City of Madison Community Development Division

Other Supporters of Youth Programs in 2015



  • Robert Beckman
  • Cory Borgen
  • Maja Christiansen
  • Beverly K. Fergus
  • Constance Kilmark
  • Maureen McGilligan-Bentin
  • Ted Parker
  • Michael Rosenberg and Cheryl Daniels
  • Karen Sallander
  • George Swamp
  • David L. Wallner
Willy Street Fair raffle banner

2016 Willy Street Fair Raffle

Andy Miller Events, Willy Street Fair 2 Comments

It is that time of the year again for the Willy Street Fair raffle! We have an awesome lineup of raffle prizes. Ticket sales will go to benefit programming at Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center and Common Wealth. Tickets are 1 for $2, 3 for $5, or 10 for $10. There are a few ways you can get tickets:

  1. Stop by the Common Wealth office, located at 1501 Williamson Street in Madison, between 9:00 am to 3:00 pm on weekdays.
  2. Call Mike at 608.256.3527 x34 to arrange a different time to meet at the Common Wealth office to buy raffle tickets.
  3. Stop by the booth at the 39th Annual Willy Street Fair, located near the 1000 block of Williamson Street the weekend of September 17-18, 2016.

Here are a list of raffle prizes for this year!

Click here to download a poster with a listing of all the prizes.

Grand Prizes

  1. $1,000 cash, donated by Applied Tech Solutions
  2. Trek District 9 Bicycle ($789 value), donated by Trek Bikes
  3. $550 cash, donated by Baer Insurance Services, Struck & Irwin Fence, Bock Water Heaters,
    Blair Lawn & Landscape, Full Spectrum Solar, Badger Welding Supply, Potter’s Crackers, Willaby’s Cafe
  4. 4 tickets to a Milwaukee Bucks regular season game ($510 value), donated by Milwaukee Bucks
  5. Eldorado Grill BBQ Package for 20 People ($369.80 Value), donated by Eldorado Grill
  6. One‐Night Stay, African Queen Suite at Kalahari Resort ($349 Value), donated by Kalahari Resort & Convention Center
  7. Gift Card to Willy Street Co‐op ($250 Value), donated by Willy Street Co-op
  8. Weber Performer Grill ($249 Value), donated by Ace Hardware on Williamson Street
  9. The Absolute Relief Spa Package ($228 Value), donated by Kneaded Relief Spa & Wellness

Click here to download a poster with a listing of all the prizes.

Stephanie Bradley Wilson, Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Project coordinator at Common Wealth

Stephanie Bradley Wilson brings 31 years of community experience to Common Wealth

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Stephanie Bradley Wilson worked for Madison Police Department for 31 years – every role from an undercover officer to neighborhood officer to shift commander and lieutenant supervising detectives. In January, she retired and by the end of February, she was hired by Common Wealth to be the Project Manager for the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Initiative.

She doesn’t see this new role as being too different from some of the roles she enjoyed playing when she was a police officer, especially when she was involved with community engagement activities such as summer programs, seat belt initiatives, Christmas giveaways and Juneteenth. It also fits with her commitment to service in the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (of which she has been a member since 1976) and being active at Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation project is an 18 month planning grant awarded to the Madison Police Department in late 2015. The project’s purpose is to create a comprehensive public safety and revitalization plan for the Raymond Road corridor neighborhoods by obtaining input from residents, local organizations and service providers, businesses, and government agencies to develop the plan. The plan will be used to apply for possible implementation funding from the U.S. Department of Justice and/or other sources.

The Raymond Road target area is located in southwest Madison. It consists of several neighborhoods: Meadowood, Prairie Hills, Greentree and Park Ridge/Park Edge. The community, made up of 8,800 people, consists of single family homes as well as several large apartment complexes and townhouses.

Stephanie has high hopes of getting residents involved in the process in a way where everyone is respected, and hopes to facilitate a process where everyone’s voices are heard.

“I prefer to see the glass half full,” reflects Stephanie when asked about some of the divisions of trust in the Madison community and the Madison Police Department. “There are things that haven’t gone well ever since police organizations were started in the 1800s. Black communities in urban areas didn’t receive police services at first. I remember images from my childhood from the Civil Rights movement on television where blacks were being hosed down with water, police dogs were used in attack mode, and people were battered with billy clubs.”

“There are trust gaps between police and the black community, police and the Muslim community, police and the gay community. This won’t change overnight, but we can build on the strengths we have. We can’t say there aren’t any strengths in the community – that is far from the truth.”

There are about a dozen sites throughout the USA that are in the planning phase of the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Initiative. Each site has a researcher attached who is supposed to be more of an active participant than academic. Dr. Jeffrey Lewis of Sustaining Natural Circles, LLC will serve as the grant’s research partner to support participatory, evidence-based approaches to gathering and using data to help develop strategies for the planning process. Dr. Lewis will be able to help share evidence-influenced practices that have worked elsewhere in order to make decisions that produce a positive impact.

Stephanie sees the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Initiative as a way to create something that is sustainable with lasting positive impacts, as well as a way to cultivate leadership and help leverage other resources to address issues in the Raymond Road corridor.

To learn more about the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Initiative at Common Wealth, please contact Stephanie Bradley Wilson at or visit our website.

Keith Lepinski and Jessie Light, MACLT home owners

MACLT helps Common Wealth residents move from rental to home ownership

Andy Miller Housing 2 Comments

“I can finally get out on my own side of the bed,” reflects Keith Lepinski.

He and his wife, Jessie Light, closed on their first home in the Rolling Meadows neighborhood on Madison’s east side on June 1 with the help of Madison Area Community Land Trust (MACLT). MACLT is an affiliated organization with Common Wealth and the two share office space on Williamson Street. Previously, they spent four years in a Common Wealth affordable housing rental on Williamson Street.

Keith and Jessie’s move from a 1-bedroom apartment to a 3-bedroom house allows them to do more than just build equity. They are both now able to pursue a multitude of hobbies. For Keith, that means building furniture, painting and making music. Jessie can now get back to her hobbies of weaving and piano playing. Keith and Jessie are also enjoying getting a garden going in their backyard and planting a sour cherry and shade trees. Keith enjoys his work at Orange Tree Imports and Jessie is a baker at Cress Spring Bakery in Blue Mounds.

Since 1990, MACLT has provided affordable homes to low-moderate income home-buyers in Madison. MACLT homes are more affordable because the buyer purchases the home only, and ownership of the land remains with the land trust. Homeowners rent the land from MACLT for an affordable monthly fee. This model saves homeowners about $200 or more per month. When MACLT homeowners sell their home, a shared-appreciation formula ensures the home will be affordable for the next low-income buyer. Through that formula, MACLT homes will remain permanently affordable.

“We wouldn’t have been able to buy a house like this without MACLT,” says Jessie. “Other places would have been smaller, needed more repairs, or been further away from town.”

Click here to learn more about Madison Area Community Land Trust and follow them on Facebook. Click here to learn more about Common Wealth’s affordable housing program.

CraftOptics logo

CraftOptics featured in Wisconsin State Journal

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CraftOptics, one of Common Wealth’s business incubator tenants at Main Street Industries, was recently featured in the Wisconsin State Journal. Click here to learn more about their prescription glasses with telescopic lenses, especially made for artists and jewelers doing detailed work:

Liz Machesney, PASS AmeriCorps member serving at Common Wealth

Reflection on the PASS AmeriCorps experience at Common Wealth by Liz Machesney

Andy Miller Youth Programs 1 Comment

Serving as a PASS AmeriCorps Member with Common Wealth Youth Programs grants me the opportunity to work directly with teens from a very diverse set of backgrounds. In the mentoring aspect of my position, I develop relationships with high school youth who complete our three-week training and then become eligible to apply for and get placed into part time jobs. Specifically, I develop these relationships through checking in weekly or bi-weekly, preparing students for interviews during the application process, and keeping an eye out for my mentees when I’m at their high schools.

As can be expected, serving in a youth-work capacity falls nowhere short of having many highs and lows. Some moments are great, like when students disclose to me that they’re writing a short novel or decide it’s important to share that they’ve tried a new Cheeto, or give me a hand-drawn picture on the last day of training. A bit more significant are the proud moments when students get hired for a job on the spot or hear some very rewarding feedback from managers. Then of course scattered throughout the school year are some discouraging moments – a student who has so much potential but struggles to meet our expectations; a student who pushes away our attempt to mentor her because that’s what her background has taught her to do; a student who shares she’s been facing depression and anxiety and feels a little hopeless.

As discouraged as I feel when encountering these “lows,” I continuously push myself – with the help of the rest of Youth Programs staff – to see the moments as learning opportunities.  They provide me with chances to further develop my youth work skills  and to better understand where these students come from, all in an effort to serve them best.

It’s an honor to know these students accept me as their mentor, whether that means they feel comfort in confiding personal struggles with me and sharing minute details of their day-to-day lives, or if that means a quick weekly conversation and a friendly wave at school.

Liz Machesney started at Common Wealth in September 2015 in the PASS AmeriCorps program.

STEP employee Lavon Bryson working in the native prairie at Holy Wisdom Monastery with Greg Armstrong in April 2016.

STEP participants help restore native prairie at Holy Wisdom Monastery

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“This is the right thing to do at the monastery,” states Greg Armstrong, land management director at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton. Greg directs volunteer efforts to restore the monastery’s 130 acres of former farmland into native prairie. Some of his recent volunteers include participants in Common Wealth’s Southwest Transitional Employment Project (STEP), a program of the Southwest Partnership (SWP) with Orchard Ridge United Church of Christ and Dane County’s Joining Forces for Families.

“So many of the ‘least’ in our community have experienced prejudice,” observes Greg. “Working together helps us build mutual respect for each other.”

The idea with the STEP program is to efficiently connect motivated neighbors to a short-term paid employment experience, individualized support, and connections to SWP volunteers. Eligible participants are hired by Common Wealth and paid a living wage while working temporary STEP positions designed specifically with the participants’ employment goals in mind. Last year, 82 individuals (67% of participants) found employment while participating in this program thus far. These individuals raised their household income by an average of $1,387 per month.

At Holy Wisdom Monastery, STEP participants have already accomplished a lot. The monastery planted 33 acres of new native prairie in a year, and one challenge with newly sewn prairie is to remove non-native plants quickly before they overgrow. With the help of STEP participants, Greg worked with two to four STEP participants for three hours at a time to remove bull thistle using spades. Greg and the STEP participants covered 29 acres in six different sessions. STEP participants have also helped pick apples from the monastery’s orchards and remove brush.

“I like to ask the STEP participants what the best thing that has happened to them in the past month,” reflects Greg. “One time, a fellow told me that his girlfriend just had a baby. Another time, someone said the best thing to happen to him was John Wroten*. I can tell Common Wealth is making a difference.”

*John Wroten is Common Wealth’s Employment Continuum Manager. If you are interested in becoming a work site for STEP participants or volunteering with the Southwest Partnership, please contact John at 608.516.5332 or If you would like to learn more about the prairie restoration activities at Holy Wisdom Monastery, please visit

Dan Norton (Filament Games), Sarah Hole (Common Wealth), Dan White (Filament Games)

Recap of Lunch & Learn with Filament Games

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On April 5, 2016, we were fortunate to host our business incubator tenants for a Lunch & Learn at Old Sugar Distillery, one of our incubator tenants. Underground Catering (another incubator tenant) provided a delicious meal of pulled pork and smoked brisket, as well as kale salad, potato salad and brownies. Hinckley Productions hooked us up with a sound system. Kent Sweitzer took photos of the gathering, which are available in this online album.

Filament Games co-founders Dan White and Dan Norton shared their experiences of being a tenant in the Madison Enterprise Center. In 2011, they moved to the top floor of 316 W. Washington Avenue, near the capitol in Madison. Filament Games is an educational gaming company started by “three scrappy guys from Wisconsin,” as White and Norton describe it. Many of their clients include mission-driven nonprofits and academic researchers. They are now moving toward a product-based business model, evolving into something they hope is more sustainable and scalable. The founders all met while working at the same company and decided to give this a shot. They shared their experiences during their humorous and reflective talk of having to evolve over time from just making stuff to having to innovate, develop processes and project management systems.

Some tidbits of advice White and Norton offered included that every business has its own story. Many other business owners will want to give you advice, and they have found that sometimes this advice works very well in some situations, and doesn’t work at all in other situations.

They also described how hard it is to find the right people. Every business has to define its own culture, as people are influenced by the people around them and our own culture is defined by those around us. They also suggested defining your company’s growth trajectory — being deliberate about being scrappy, chasing growth, or doing something in between.

Lunch & Learn events are one of the perks offered by Common Wealth to our business incubator tenants. Visit this page to learn more about our available commercial space.

Yanglee Vang, Youth Programs alum

Youth Programs Alumni Profile: Yanglee Vang

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We recently had a chance to catch up with Yanglee (Yang) Vang, a participant in the Youth-Business Mentoring Program during the 1998-99 school year while a student at Madison East High School.

After completing the three week training, she was placed at the Puzzle Box, a toy store on State Street now known as A New Hope Collectible Toys & Comics, where she was a cashier. Later, Common Wealth placed her at the Red Roof Inn on the east side doing housekeeping. In 2000, Common Wealth was able to place her for a third position at Reserve America, a call center for campsite reservations, where she developed her phone experience. All these jobs have led her to where she is today as an employment specialist at Forward Service Corporation. Yang’s passion is helping people, a skill she saw the staff at Common Wealth bring to the training and job placement experience she had in high school. She now lives that out by helping food share recipients find employment.

“I was motivated through that training to become who I am today,” reflects Yang between a busy day of appointments with those seeking jobs. “I learned about resumes through the program at Common Wealth.” She recalls everyone was shy during her training. One of the trainers held up a $1 bill and asked the quiet room what it was. After a few moments, one person raised their hand and said, “It’s a dollar.” The student was awarded with the dollar and it taught her that she had to move forward with confidence and speak up in order to be noticed – a lesson that has stuck with her after all these years.

Click here to learn more about the Youth-Business Mentoring Program, now in its 26th year with over 8,500 students served and placed in jobs in our community.


Marianne Morton

Marianne Morton nominated for Athena Award

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Marianne Morton, executive director at Common Wealth, has been nominated for the ATHENA Award. Marianne is one of ten finalists with the award to be presented on Tuesday, March 8, 2016 at the Concourse Hotel in Madison.

The purpose of the award was to bring into focus the outstanding professional and business women in the community and to encourage the opening of leadership opportunities for women in the workplaces of the Chamber and the community. The ATHENA Award is presented for outstanding achievement, service and assistance to women in reaching their full personal and leadership potential. In addition to recognizing one ATHENA recipient, the process also allows for the recognition of the many nominees who contribute so much to our community.

Marianne first started at Common Wealth as a VISTA volunteer in 1981, and was hired permanently on staff in 1983, where she has been ever since. She has guided the organization through many transitions and projects, always leading and working with staff to build better neighborhoods and create economic opportunities for people throughout Dane County. As executive director, her responsibilities involve supervising Common Wealth’s Program Managers, carrying out strategic planning, and developing/monitoring the organization’s budget.

Some of Marianne’s professional accomplishments at Common Wealth include:

Most recently, Marianne has helped establish the Southwest Partnership on the southwest side of Madison in collaboration with Orchard Ridge United Church of Christ and Joining Forces for Families. Job Shop provides employment training and resume services, and Southwest Transitional Employment Project (STEP) provides stipends for motivated individuals to work in community developed work placements that complement each participant’s employment goals.

Richard Sals of Johnson Bank describes Marianne as a passionate volunteer and tireless worker. They have served on the board at Community Shares of Wisconsin for about 20 years now so he has observed that Marianne is always up for volunteering to take on a task at hand, and her commitment is unwavering.

Emily Dickmann has served on the board of Community Shares of Wisconsin with Marianne since 2008. She says:

Marianne asks wonderful questions and models the importance of inquiry and group process in making decisions. As a newer leader at a local non-profit, I greatly appreciated the moments when Marianne would clarify our decision-making process so the group understood what we were trying to achieve and how we might work together to get there. I often modeled my meeting facilitation after her good example.