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Expanded Programming from Operation Fresh Start Prepares Dane County Youth for Careers in Construction and Conservation

Madison, WI—The COVID-19 health crisis profoundly changed our local economies. This has been especially harmful to young people disconnected from work and school looking for career-track employment. Thankfully, Operation Fresh Start (OFS) is prepared to lend a helping hand. The Madison-area nonprofit, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, has a demonstrated history of putting these young adults on a path to self-sufficiency. Specifically, its various programs help youth ages 16-24 attain a high school diploma and driver’s license, explore career options and transition successfully into work or postsecondary education.

Now, OFS will get needed support to continue and expand this programming with the aid of a two-year, $250,000 grant from Ascendium Education Group. Through this funding, OFS will bolster its existing Graduate Crew program, which provides pre-apprentice training for young people just starting careers in the construction trades. It will also add a Conservation Graduate Crew to address a growing need for diverse young adults in that field, to begin later this year.

To date, OFS has helped over 8,000 young people on their path to higher education, employment and a better life. Graduate Crews work full-time on commercial or residential projects with a construction partner. In addition to paid on-the-job training, members receive daily meals and a work stipend, plus help accessing physical and mental health resources, transportation and childcare. Ninety-three percent of those who complete the Graduate Crew program are placed in apprenticeships, and past participants have gone on to work for employers such as The Boldt Company and J.H. Findorff & Son.

“This wonderful gift from Ascendium will provide more young people with training, education and access to career-track employment,” says Greg Markle, OFS Executive Director. “Expanding the Graduate Crew to include a pathway into the conservation industry will create a new doorway to economic prosperity for emerging adults who need support finding pandemic-resistant career opportunities.”

Ascendium has long been a supporter of OFS and the difference it makes in the Madison community. In 2019, Ascendium contributed to a capital campaign that allowed OFS to build a new office in a former church on Madison’s east side. Currently, an OFS Construction Graduate Crew is at work on Ascendium’s new Madison headquarters. It’s all in service of the organizations’ shared commitment to increasing postsecondary education and workforce training opportunities for learners from low-income backgrounds.

“Operation Fresh Start is a terrific organization whose mission to put young people on a path to self-sufficiency through education and training is very dear to us,” says Amy Kerwin, Ascendium’s vice president of education philanthropy. “We’re lucky to have them in our community.”

Learn more about Operation Fresh Start and Ascendium’s grants to local nonprofit organizations.