16th Annual Pay It Forward Serves Near North Side Residents

Pay it ForwardEach summer, Neu-Life teens from the Youth Work Innovation Center (YWIC) on North Avenue offer a helping hand to neighborhood residents. They tackle yard work, painting and light repairs for those who may not be able to do the work themselves. 

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. 

Volunteering and service - more important than ever during a crisis.

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.

Physically distanced, socially connected. Following guidelines for safety.

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.

Community service has a powerful impact on teens.

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.

*Very special thanks to Greater Milwaukee Foundation for supporting the 2020 Annual Pay It Forward event.*


Learn More about YWIC Programs for Teens.

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.  

Learn more >> Programs offered at YWIC


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Each year, Neu-Life youth make and sell art in collaboration with local artists. 100% of the proceeds from art sales support Neu-Life's mission.



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