by Executive Director, Jody Rhodes
Tracy Hrajnoha came to Neu-Life over 12 years ago as a Marquette Student interested in teaching Art to the Neu-Life youth. She started as a volunteer and throughout her 12 years here, rose up through the ranks and held many positions that have contributed to all our successes. As I reflect on those 12 years of Tracy’s contribution to Neu-Life, I hope you learn why she was so integral to our growth and success.
--Tracy is leaving Neu-Life to pursue her career dreams! We are proud of her and wish her all the success in the world. We know she will always be connected to the Neu-Life family, she helped build our family model.
--Tracy is the creator/founder of Farmfork Youth Culinary Arts, one of our most popular and innovative programs for the youth we serve. She started it from the ground up and Neu-Life will fulfill her mission
--Tracy has been integral to spearheading our staff training, professional development and evaluation systems. Whether we are evaluating each other, programs or overall organizational systems, Tracy has been the architect to find us the best systems to use to help us “Better Our Best”.
--Tracy is extremely passionate about advocating for the youth and staff at Neu-Life - she has kept me grounded as an Executive Director all these years and her advice comes from the heart (always!)
--Tracy is an awesome cook and baker- evident of the Farmfork Culianry Arts Program she started here at Neu-Life. We have been so lucky to have her talents on staff for a dozen years!
Please join us in saying farewell or leaving your favorite memory of Tracy in the comments!
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How will we reach our youth to continue the great work we do...during a pandemic? A question Neu-Life Executive Director, Jody Rhodes, considered when the whole country was put in lockdown back in March. Virtual programming was a no brainer, but how do we reach our youth in accessible ways?
In this post, we will discuss our approach to virtual engagement, continuous learning, some of our successes, and how we plan to expand our capacity to reach our youth; bridging the gap between Neu-Life and home to keep their support system in tact.
The concept of Neu-Media began when the surge of Covid-19 shut down the city, keeping youth at home and forcing our staff to work remotely to maintain the support system our families depend on. We quickly discovered limitations and needed a way to adapt our reach to our youth, to more effectively bridge the gap between Neu-Life and home. We needed resources. Youth needed the tech technology like laptops with webcams, and we needed an organized but flexible program that adapted to them wherever they were at.
Out of that, Neu-Media was born; A studio equipped with professional recording gear, mics, cameras, control station, green-screen backdrops and studio lighting. A place where Neu-Life staff pre-record or live broadcast virtual programming such as Farmfork, LifeSkills, Making Proud Choices, and Virtual TOP.
“With covid, we realized how challenging it was to engage with Neu-Life youth. We weren't set up for online programming," says Executive Director, Jody Rhodes. "The only way we had to contact youth at the time was through phone calls and text check-ins. We encouraged them to do their school work and incentivized our IXL math program, but we weren't set up for meaningful online programming. So I went to Misha Seigfried to discuss what it would it take to get our programming online. It was important for us to maintain high quality programming beyond check-ins on zoom or google classrooms. That’s where the idea for the studio came into play.”
Jody quickly got to work in April, writing grants to invest in equipment and technology that both Neu-Life staff and youth would need to make Neu-Media virtual programming a reality. Studio construction started in July and since then, staff have produced a variety of engaging programming for Neu-Life youth and keep them connected to the support system that Neu-life provides. A recent success was the live broadcast of the Annual Youth Summit.
The next phase of the program will offer youth opportunities in community activism, organizing and social justice issues while learning to powerfully use video and new media production skills. Participants will alternate between roles such as director, host, audio, and camera. They’ll collaborate to develop their ideas with pre-production worksheets that develop the script and“live” timelines for a broadcast or recording.
Green Bay Packers Give Back invested the first $10,000 in Neu-Media Studio to help with the laptops and other technology to distribute to Neu-Life youth. With a few month's worth of virtual programming behind us, we're working to better our best, improve our programming and importantly, expand support and partnerships to sustain and grow this critical safety net for Neu-Life youth.
Wifi connection. "In order to support all of this new technology," says Rhodes, "Neu-Life had to up our own wifi. We also had to make sure that all of the youth here would have a strong wifi connection at home so that they would be able to join virtual programming." YWIC site coordinator, JaQuawn Seals, talked to youth and luckily, found that most had wifi or access to a smartphone hotspot.
Laptops. Initially, Neu-Life estimated that sourcing laptops would be a challenge based on experience with the Chromebooks youth had received from MPS. How could we do this better? Neu-Life partnered with local nonprofit Digital Bridge to purchase business-grade refurbished laptops for our virtual programs.
The studio creates more opportunities for Neu-Life staff. MishaSeigfried was promoted to studio manager, JaQuawn Seals became the broadcast lead announcer and all of the resilient YWIC staff have been flexible, adaptive and innovative in learning to teach online.
Special thanks to our very own tech-expert and studio connoisseur, Misha Seigfried, for leading the program launch.
“It matters because it helps keep the staff and youth employed, and gives us a way to continue to do prevention work and allows youth get the programs they need.” JaQuawn Seals, YWIC Site Coordinator
“To me it matters because of what’s going on in the world. It allows us to keep in contact with people while still being in safe distance. And it teaches kids more technology.” Delores Moore, Operations Manager
“It’s important because it gives the youth an opportunity to stay at neu life and an opportunity for staff to stay employed. It’s a big deal!” Amunique McGee, Farmfork Coordinator
“It’s important because we have the advantage now of virtual classes and we can still do events, keep Neu-Life going through the studio.” Ceejay Kendall, YWIC Lead Photography Teacher
“It’s important also to keep students safe, so that they won’t be at risk for catching Covid.” Tamesha Roberson, YWIC Lead Art Teacher
“The Neu-Media studio is important for Neu-Life because it enables us to develop innovative ways to offer programming; to provide direct service youth work in these trying times. It’s also important because it’ll give kids with creative talent a foothold in media production that’s unavailable to them anywhere else. We’re paying them for the opportunity toget their hands on tech and skills that won't cost them an armand a leg and to access lucrative careers.” Misha Seigfried, Neu-Media Studio Manager
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Keynote Speaker Panel Features Neu-Life Alumni
Muhibb Dyer - A native Milwaukeean, Muhibb began counseling and mentoring youth through while still in high school. Muhibb has performed all over the U.S. as a spoken word artist and in 2002, was a finalist at the National Poetry Slam (the nation’s top spoken word competition). He co-founded Flood the Hood with Dreams and the I Will Not Die Young Campaign to bring the art of spoken word to inner city youth. He conducts conflict resolution workshops in Public School systems across the U.S. and has made numerous appearances as a motivational speaker and at graduation commencement ceremonies. His most recent appearance on the program Democracy Now has garnered support for continuation of his work with youth across the globe.
Khalil Coleman - A former Neu-Lifer, Coleman is a local community activist and protest organizer with over 15 years of experience working with and for youth. He's the founder of Changing Lives Through Literature and co-founder of Safe Zone Inititiative (SZI), a citywide voilence prevention/intervention program. He is an author and nationally recognized thought leader who has been featured on PBS News Hour, Black in Milwaukee (2016).
Jeremy Triblett - Jeremy began his career as a Public Ally with Urban Underground, an after-school program that develops teen leadership skills through civic engagement. He is currently the Public Policy Institutue's Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator and the Mental Health and Wellness Coordinator for MCSAP. Jeremy combines his experience in project coordination, collective impact strategies, professional development training, and organizational development to advance the work of youth- and family-serving organizations.
Chanda Harris - Chanda is a Milwaukee native and one of the “original” Neu-life kids. Her community work started at an early age through Neu-life with civic engagement and community service events. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee with a degree in business and is currently works as Business Engagement Director for Neu-life and Residential Living Services. Outside of her corporate career, Chanda is an artist that goes by the stage name of Chae Harris. She is part of a collective that started Art therapy, a platform for new and established local artist to share a stage and promote each other.
Kwabena Antoine Dixon - Kwabena is award winning author, motivational speaker and nationality recognized spoken word artist. Born and raised on Chicago’s west side (known in the 80’s as the gangbang capital of the world) Kwabena lost his father to street violence at the age of 11. He moved to Milwaukee to escape a lifestyle that many of his closest friends and family had fallen prey to. He found his voice in art. A graduate of both Malcom X College and Columbia College Chicago, Kwabena has dedicated his life’s work to inspiring not just a generation, but a movement.
By Britta Jerdee
From June 15 to August 21, 2020, five Neu-life teens participated in a first-of-its-kind pilot program alongside six other Milwaukee organizations. The program, called Stock Market Game, gave teens the education and opportunity to invest a fictitious $100,000 on the EconomicsWisconsin Stock Market Game platform. Winning team members received a very real $200 each for 1st place; $100 each for 2nd place and $50 each for 3rd at the end of the game .
Teens participated in weekly team meetings, educational workgroups and digital orientations with various "office hours" presenters from across the country. After the team felt comfortable in their knowledge and ability to successfully manage their investment portfolio, they decided how to invest their $100,000 through simulated, real-time stock transactions.
Teens who learn the Stock Market Game have a unique opportunity to learn how to invest in themselves, grow generational wealth and economic prosperity. It teaches them to discover their personal risk tolerance, learn investment strategies and develop a sense of their own investment aspirations. All the while, they are developing useful life skills - team work, gaining responsibility in their roles, and collaborating with an ever expanding network. The positive outcomes of financial education can be absolutely transformative, expanding beyond the student and into their communities.
Empowering young people with the knowledge and skills needed for investing along with exposure to career opportunities in the financial industry can set them on a path to financial health and wealth. The SIFMA Stock Market Game has a long history of providing students with a platform to research, find and select investments for their portfolio in a classroom setting. Research demonstrates that the game improves financial literacy.
“The Stock Market Game has a long and successful history as an educational tool within the classroom framework,”says Bob Glowacki of Economics Wisconsin. “The significant innovation we are trying here is to see if the game can also be implemented effectively through community based organizations. If so, this will open up an entirely new and accessible way to bring early education in investing to more urban youth.”
The TIAA Institute released a study measuring financial literacy among racial groups. Key findings show that personal finance knowledge among African American adults lags that of Whites and that there is a strong link between financial literacy and financial wellness. Those who are more financially literate are more likely to plan and save for retirement, to have non-retirement savings and to better manage debt.
Journey House, Milwaukee School of Excellence, Neighborhood House, Peak Initiative, Running Rebels, MKE Fellows
Asset Builders, United Way consultant, Jim Bower, Collective Impact
Stock Market Game Pilot planning committee:
Bob Glowacki, Julie Glaunert and Mark Schug
Collective Impact and Stock Market Game Community Liaisons:
Darryl Davidson – Director of Community Engagement
TeAngelo Cargile Jr. – Office of Violence Prevention
Shannon Reed and Whitney Bingham, Jeremy Simon
“Office Hours” Presenters:
Eric Utrie, Mark Schug, Na’il Diggs, Better Investing, Gregory Webb, Joe Knight, Ionnie McNeill, Dr. Terrance Green, Angela Stenklyft, Paige Radke
A special thank you to United Way and the City of Milwaukee
Game platform made possible by the SIMFA Foundation
To learn more about the wide range of school and community-based programs and resources on personal finance, wealth-building and economics, visit our partners’ websites:
Asset Builders: www.assetbuilders.org
United Way: www.unitedwaygmwc.org
Honeycutt (or Miss Darla, as she is called at Neu-Life) is a Milwaukee native with 8 years of Fashion Design experience specializing in denim fashions. Her brand - Dee Denim - offers customized denim apparel to customers in the U.S., the United Kingdom and Brazil. Darla took Dee Denim to the playground to teach skills like stonewashing and tie dyeing, and eventually created a textile arts class for youth called FashioNation. Check out Honeycutt's class offerings at FashioNation!
NL: How long have you been doing Fashion Club
DH: I have been operating FashioNation, formerly known as Fashion Club since 2015.
NL: What has been your favorite fashion project so far?
DH: My favorite fashion project thus far has been our Denim Fashion Design workshops. Seeing our participants’ eyes light up after transforming their denim apparel from start to finish has been quite a reward. Especially because I began my fashion career designing and selling my own denim apparel. Our participants have learned how to distress, stonewash, embellish and much more since experiencing FashioNation.
NL: How do you stay inspired as a creator?
DH: I stay inspired as a creator by knowing that our youth participants can and have taken what they’ve learned with FashioNation and applying it at home for the use of hobby and/or entrepreneurship!
NL: How has fashion and art positively impacted you?
DH: Fashion and art has always been an inspiration for me but they continue to motivate me to see the beauty in everything around me.
Miss Graham has been a long-time partner in providing textile arts at Neu-Life. Graham believes that the arts help children explore their natural given talents and exposes them to their creative side, developing skills along the way that they may be able to utilize in the future. "My most memorable moment from this summer was creating t-shirts with the little ones," says Graham. "It gave them a connection to what was going on in the city and allowed them to be a part of the peaceful protesting in their own way."
*Youth pictured with tshirts made with Miss Graham and backpacks donated by long time partner, Zonta Club of Milwaukee.
While Milwaukee nonprofits grappled over the summer with a pandemic that forced distance between them and those they serve, Neu-Life believed its annual youth-led service event, Pay It Forward, was still possible and very much needed - perhaps more than ever.
Pandemic or not, the neighborhood around Neu-Life's YWIC site on North Avenue still looked forward to and relied on the youth-led Pay It Forward service day to clean up trash and make minor repairs and improvement to homes. In its 16th year, the community engagement and service event has helped Neu-Life build strong relationships within the neighborhood. With a few extra precautions for COVID safety, the event continued to be a success.
Information collected by the CDC for April - July 2020 indicates that for many young adults, social distancing and lack of peer support comes at a high cost to mental health. For Neu-Life youth who may already experience setbacks, being cutoff from the Neu-Life family and support system could make things even more difficult.
To make attending program in-person at Neu-Life as safe as possible, new guidelines were implemented - and they were things that many of us were doing already like washing our hands, physical distancing and staying home when sick. Additionally, Neu-Life required masks and recorded body temperature of every student and staff upon arrival. Even during a normal summer, Neu-Life programming is all about being outdoors and getting lots of physical activity and fresh air with programs like Wellness Wednesday and FarmFork Gardening.
Neu-Life felt very strongly that Pay It Forward could still happen with a little extra planning and a few new rules. Keeping distance and wearing masks were a must, which meant fewer high fives and fist bumps than in years past. Sharing of equipment was minimized and teens worked in small groups.
Studies show that youth who volunteer are less likely to become involved in at-risk behaviors such as drinking alcohol and skipping school compared with those who do not. Volunteerism also positively impacts other youth social and behavioral issues like teen pregnancy, dropout, substance abuse and violence.
Neu-Life's mission is to instill in youth the skills to make better life choices, and volunteerism plays an important role in that strategy. Neu-Life teens collaborate on preparation, planning and action, and also reflect on the impact of Pay It Forward: what did they do and learn, what difference did it make in the community and themselves, and what comes next? All important lifeskills that Neu-Life teens carry forward into other areas of their lives.
YWIC offers youth year-long access to prevention programs; a one-on-one preventative case manager (called a Student Advocate) who helps track and coach toward academic, career and life goals; project based work groups; paid work experiences; and access to college and career readiness. All of this is done in a caring and supportive environment with very little turnover in staff or program participants, creating a family-like envirnoment where youth flourish.
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Welcome to our #DonorAppreciation post! In the spirit of giving thanks - Neu life wants to take a moment to publicly showcase our donors and say thank you for supporting us! Many of our programs would not be possible without generous donations from Zonta Club of Milwaukee, a long time, donor, supporter, and partner.
In this post, you will get to know a little bit about why Zonta is a rockstar in our community, how they have supported us throughout the years and ways to join forces with Zonta Club of Milwaukee and Neu-Life. Here’s to you, Zonta!
Read more to find out about what Zonta does and why their support means the world to us.
A little background: The Zonta Club of Milwaukee is a non-profit organization that has specialized in empowering women for over 90 years. As advocates for women, Zontians have been committed to raising funds to allocate resources to women in the community.
Zonta focuses on prevention of violence against women but they don’t stop there! They advocate, provide hands on services and raise funds for scholarships to help survivors of domestic violence.
In an environment safe from violence, women have the opportunity to thrive. Zonta's work makes education, mentoring and financial assistance services accessible, helping women achieve in their chosen fields.
Click here to find out more about Zonta Club of Milwaukee.
Zonta’s impact on Neu-Life’s youth began nearly a decade ago. Over the years, our collaborations have evolved from sponsoring the construction of our art room. Most recently, Zonta’s involvement has reached Neu-STEPP, The Back to School Career Fair and The Holiday Season for Neu-Life Youth.
Zonta is responsible for the development of Neu-STEPP, Neu-Life's Sex Trafficking Education and Prevention Programs.
Zonta’s donations are integral to the development and growth of Neu-STEPP. At the beginning of the year, we collaborated with Zonta to outline goals for creating education that focuses on emphasizing healthy relationships to support community members in identifying early warning signs of sex trafficking. Since then, we completed three pilot programs and incorporated feedback from program participants and the community to refine the program.
None of this would be possible without Zonta. We’re happy to announce that with their support, we have redesigned Neu-STEPP and are starting revisions to print the official toolkit.
Backpacks and Christmas gifts are more than just free stuff. Zonta provides relief to families during the most financially stressful times of the year.
“Gift giveaways help provide gifts for 50-75 youth. The impact of that is-some of those youth wouldn’t have been given a gift if it wasn’t for Zonta. They help make Christmas possible for young people who may not have otherwise received a gift. This relieves pressure from families during a stressful time.”
-JaQuawn Seals, Site coordinator
This is our opportunity to shout 'Thank You' from the mountain tops, from all of us here at Neu-Life. Zonta, you continue to amaze us with your generous donations, support, and partnership.
Without you, we wouldn’t be able to support the families in our community, or provide education to keep young people safe from violence.
We wouldn’t be able to give young people the chance to start out their school year with brand-new backpack stuffed with school supplies, or brighten their holiday season with Christmas gifts.
Do you want to brighten the holiday season for young people? Check out our Annual Gift Drive registry and donate gifts this holiday season!
1. What would you name the autobiography of your life?
“Is this real life?”
2. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be?
Everything, I love to learn!
3. If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do?
Invest half and travel
4. When you have 30 minutes of free-time, how do you pass the time?
5. If you could be any fictional character, who would you choose?
6. What was the last experience that made you a stronger person?
7. What is something you learned at Neu-Life in the last week?
I learned the terms “Port and Starboard.
8. What’s your favorite indoor/outdoor activity?
Riding my bicycle or hiking.
9. What chore do you absolutely hate doing?
10. If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would you meet?
There are too many people to choose.
11. Have you ever had something happen to you that you thought was bad but it turned out to be for the best?
I’ve learned something from every misstep I’ve taken.
12. At what age did you become an adult?
47 (I’m 26)
13. What three traits define you?
Empathy, organization & pensive.
14. Ten years ago, who did you think you would be now?
I thought I would be married and a mom.
15. What’s the coolest (or most important) trend you see today with youth?
That they love themselves.
16. What would you do (for a career) if you weren’t doing this?
I would probably be WWOOFing.
17. What advice do you have for kids who are struggling in school?
Your teachers want to help you, ask them for help.
18. What would you most like to tell yourself at age 13?
You don’t have anything to prove to anyone!
19. How do you define success?
If I am happy and proud.
20. What is your favorite thing about working at Neulife?
Coming back after the weekend and seeing the young people smile.
On July 22nd, five teens and staff from Neu-Life led a group of students from other sites on a tour of black-owned businesses in Milwaukee. The route, itinerary and information for the experience was developed throughout spring and summer by youth tour leaders at the YWIC, with support from experienced tour guide, Adam Carr. They used what they knew as a foundation and built upon it through experiences, interviews and research — even the theme for the tour was generated during a field trip.
The final tour route includes stops at Alice’s Garden, Bronzeville Collective MKE, Sherman Phoenix and an original interactive activity that illustrates cooperative economics. Moving forward, we’re hoping to deliver the tour to more youth, as well as adult groups. Carr has been in conversation with Cross Lutheran about the potential of adapting the tour for their senior group, which would also include opportunities for intergenerational dialogue.
An aspirational goal is turning the tour into a small business, potentially attached to other developments/organizations in the neighborhood. This could be a source of income for Neu-Life youth, as well as an authentic, deep-rooted way for interested folks to learn about the neighborhood
“Working with Neu-Life youth and young adults was a wonderful experience," says Carr. "The whole process was propelled by their curiosity and insights, which pushed me to think deeper and engage with questions that pushed my limits." During the tour, Carr said exactly zero words, allowing the youth to lead the entire tour. "They rose to the occasion and offered a beautiful learning experience within their own community."
Physical activity is critical for youth to develop positive behaviors and grow into self-sufficient adults. That is why Wednesdays at Neu-Life are WELLNESS Wednesdays, and feature activities that move the body, provide opportunities for problem-solving, teamwork, and improve the overall wellbeing of our kids. We're fortunate to be located so near to Johnsons Park, one of the few public green spaces in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood, and are happy to say that the park gets used every week by our kids!