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

Karen Bednar Southwest Partnership Leave a Comment

“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

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