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Operation Fresh Start Expands Training to Prepare Dane County Youth for Green Careers

As communities address the impacts of climate change, opportunities exist to prepare youth for a changing economy. Industries such as construction and land management are evolving, and with them comes the need for a future workforce ready to build upon that evolution to improve our future. Unfortunately, many low-income youth lack job search skills and advanced credentials to compete with other candidates for career positions in climate fields. In Dane County, Wisconsin, where Ascendium is based, more than 4,000 residents ages 16-24 live in poverty and are not connected to education or self-sufficiency through employment. That's where Operation Fresh Start (OFS) comes in.

A $300,000 grant from Ascendium supports OFS in improving and expanding training for Dane County residents ages 18-24 who are proactively taking control of their education and career. This training will consist of traditional trades with expansion into several aspects of natural resource management, including energy infrastructure and the conservation of urban tree canopies. Young adults may enter into these growing careers if provided the opportunity to train and receive the necessary skills, certifications, and other credentials to make them viable candidates. OFS's proven programming makes that possible.

"Ascendium's gift will make a difference in the lives of many emerging adults in our community as they gain the skills for success," says OFS Executive Director Greg Markle. "We appreciate this investment in our community's future and the recognition that the young adults we serve are vital to building this future!"

Mitch working in a field.

Mitch working on an OFS conservation crew.

This grant continues a fruitful partnership between the organizations. In 2021, an OFS construction crew helped build Ascendium's new headquarters. That year, Ascendium invested in OFS's expansion of pre-apprenticeship training for young adults, creating a new Conservation Academy. One graduate from that program, Mitch, has a long-term goal of becoming a certified arborist. While working with OFS, he earned seven credentials and certificates and received a $500 Conservation Academy Tool Scholarship to help him purchase gear and tools for his career. He has since been hired by Madison, Wisconsin-based Groundswell Conservancy as a land management specialist.

"Whether I was training technical skills in the field, learning about ecological theory, or getting coaching on job interviews and resume writing, I always had the chance to learn and gain new knowledge and skills," says Mitch. "Conservation Academy helped me sharpen soft skills such as punctuality, workplace communication, and time management, and helped boost my confidence as a young professional beginning their career."

About Operation Fresh Start

Operation Fresh Start, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, empowers emerging adults on a path to self-sufficiency through education, mentoring, and employment training. Since 1970, Operation Fresh Start has served over 9,000 young adults ages 16-24 in Dane County. For more information, visit

About Ascendium

Ascendium Education Group is committed to making education and training beyond high school a reality for more people. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, we fund initiatives across the U.S. that help learners from low-income backgrounds achieve upward mobility; provide student and employee success solutions to colleges and businesses; invest in education-focused innovations to improve learner outcomes; and provide information, tools, and counseling to help millions of borrowers successfully repay their federal student loans. While we have many roles, we have one goal — elevating opportunity by creating a world where everyone can rise to their highest potential. To learn more, visit