Grantees Announced for Reducing Barriers to Employment & Advancement
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Grantees Announced for Reducing Barriers to Employment & Advancement

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RBEA 2023/24 Grantees

July 13, 2023

When everyone has access to family supporting income from work that affirms their dignity, our whole community is stronger on every level.

United Way's Reducing Barriers to Employment & Advancement initiative is anchored in the belief that all adults of working age should have the opportunity to obtain permanent employment with a livable wage at a workplace where they are treated with dignity and have opportunities for advancement. This helps families create safer, more stable, and healthier homes.

In 2023-24, we are funding the work of 16 organizations committed to reduce the barriers to employment.

Meet the 2023-24 grantees for funding:

Art Start

Funding Purpose: Education, Training, and Credentials 
Program Name: Art Start's Creative Connections Program (CCX) 
Program Description:
Art Start uses the creative process to nurture the voices, hearts, and minds of historically marginalized youth, offering a space for them to imagine, believe, and represent their creative vision for their lives and communities. Their Creative Connections Program (CCX) began in June and offers varying levels of professional development opportunities for youth and young adults to learn new skills and creative career “trades.” The program includes Creative Career Summer Internship (including creative career exploration trip to New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago, etc.), outdoor exhibition of Art Start Portrait Project and/or See Me Because public campaign in collaboration with community partners, Production of the 2023-24 Art Start Portrait Project (ASPP), and Emerging Artist Residency (EAR).

Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin (CAC)

Funding Purpose: Re-entry Services  
Program Name: Coordinated Entry for Individuals after Incarceration
Program Description: Community Action Coalition seeks to transform their communities by fostering conditions where everyone can achieve social and economic security. For this project, CAC will work with the LIFT Wisconsin Legal Tune Up act to provide reentry services to the people of Waukesha County. The Legal Tune Up act includes working within the justice system to remove criminal records, past evictions, reinstate drivers’ licenses and navigate community resources to reduce barriers to employment and housing.

Down Syndrome Association of Wisconsin, Inc.

Funding Purpose: Education, Training, and Credentials  
Program Name: Think Ability Wisconsin 
Program Description: The Down Syndrome Association of Wisconsin's (DSAW) mission is to provide support to Wisconsin families and individuals with Down syndrome and related disabilities through awareness, education, information, programs, services, and the exchange of ideas and experiences. Think Ability Wisconsin (TAW) combats the historical discrimination of, and lack of employment education/opportunities for, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (PWIDD) that has been greatly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. TAW creates and provides supporting programs that help adults with disabilities to learn a new skill or trade and earn new certifications. Additionally, TAW will provide education and training for employers. Focus groups found that many employers are open to employing PWIDD but lack the resources and support to do so. 

Employ Milwaukee

Funding Purpose: Education, Training, and Credentials  
Program Name: Fresh Coast Tech Up: NXT
Program Description: Employ Milwaukee promotes a strong workforce network by coordinating and collaborating with local, federal, and state community stakeholders and business partners to develop workforce initiatives that alleviate many common barriers to employment. Fresh Coast Tech Up is a cohort-based training program that provides a 16-week, remote, degree-level course to eligible Milwaukee County residents at no cost to its participants. Over the course of the semester, students will attend four accelerated courses (Computer Information Systems Fundamentals, CompTIA A+ Essentials and IT Technician, Support Center IT Technician, Network Communication) lead by Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) professors. Upon successful completion of the program, participants will earn MATC IT Service Center Technician Certificate, MATC Digital Badge, and a Wisconsin Certified Pre-Apprenticeship Program Certificate.

Grand Avenue Club

Funding Purpose: Re-entry Services 
Program Name: Grand Avenue Employment 
Program Description: The mission of Grand Avenue Club (GAC) is to provide Milwaukee County Adults who have experienced mental illness with employment, educational, and general enrichment programming. Their employment program focuses on connecting members with paid, quality, and well-recognized employment opportunities throughout Milwaukee (including Medical College of Wisconsin, Colectivo, Cafe Benelux, Foley & Lardner, BILTRITE Furniture-Leather-Mattresses, The Milwaukee Repertory Theater, etc.). The GAC employment programming consists of Transitional Employment (TE), Supported Employment (SE), and Independent Employment (IE).

Greater Milwaukee Committee

Funding Purpose: Education, Training, and Credentials
Program Name: Milwaukee Appraiser Diversity Initiative Pilot  
Program Description:
The Greater Milwaukee Committee is comprised of 200 passionate CEOS and other community leaders who work together to make Milwaukee the best place to live, learn, work, play, and stay. The Milwaukee Appraiser Diversity Initiative (MADI) will partner with The Appraisal Institute and McKissock to provide Qualifying Education hours for participants who participate in the program experience. MADI's primary objective is to assist program participants in obtaining full-time employment within the local appraisal industry. The training, which will be at no cost to participants, will utilize a cohort model that combines both in-person and online resources to provide education and training for aspiring appraisers. 

Independence First 

Funding Purpose: Diverse Talent Retention 
Program Name: DEI Staff Development and Career Pathway Initiative 
Program Description: Independence First’s mission is to empower individuals with disabilities to live independently in the community. The Independence First program model is to increase BIPOC employment at Independence First, increase BIPOC management and leadership, and to retain BIPOC staff by providing an inclusive and culturally embracing workplace environment. With a new DEI Training Coordinator in place, Independence First has launched a DEI Staff Development and Career Pathway Initiative that aligns with RBEA Diverse Talent Retention priority issue. Their formal commitment to workplace DEI began by signing the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s (MMAC) Region of Choice Pledge, and publicly documenting their participation in resolving area workforce racial disparities.

Kinship MKE, Inc.

Funding Purpose: Education, Training, and Credentials 
Program Name: Prosper 
Program Description: Kinship Community Food Center engages volunteers and neighborhood residents to end hunger, isolation, and poverty. Kinship Community Food Center’s recent launch of a Workforce Training pilot program will help disrupt the cycle of poverty by providing comprehensive support that is transformational for those individuals, and subsequently has a long-term impact for their families and our community. They aim to close the skills gap among the population they serve. The full program provides training and wages, therapeutic healing, and holistic case management and mentoring services for each workforce participant. The program has five skill departments: warehouse and grocery; culinary and kitchen management; customer service and retail; urban agriculture and farming; and human service. All participants start in the kitchen to learn culinary skills as well as to practice their soft skills for workplace expectations. 

Legal Action of Wisconsin, Inc.

Funding Purpose: Re-Entry Services 
Program Name: Legal Action of Wisconsin’s Road to Opportunity Project  
Program Description: Legal Action of Wisconsin is a nonprofit civil legal aid law firm that provides free legal representation to people experiencing poverty. Their advocates help individuals with a wide range of civil legal problems, including housing, public benefits, family, consumer, and employment issues. In Milwaukee, the Road to Opportunity Project is dedicated to removing barriers to family-sustaining employment. The four attorneys on the project work on expungement, pardons, resolving court sanctions caused by nonpayment, and citation defense. Criminal convictions and citation convictions create legal grounds to deny employment to job seekers in Wisconsin. Post-conviction remedies, like pardons, substantially increase the earning potential of the recipient. All their clients are involved in the justice system, and most would benefit from getting an expungement or pardon to use as a lifelong workforce credential.

Milwaukee Community Service Corps Inc. (MCSC)

Funding Purpose: Education, Training, and Credentials 
Program Name: MCSC Core Training Program 
Program Description: MCSC’s mission is to provide education, life skills, and job training opportunities for Milwaukee's unemployed and hard-to-employ adults and at-promise youth that allows them to earn wages while improving the community and the environment. For over 13 years, MCSC has offered job skill training and credentialing to help trainees significantly improve their employability, receive higher entry level pay, and gain living wage jobs. MCSC’s Core Training is available at no cost to trainees and provides nationally recognized OSHA10 and Forklift credentials, which are valuable in many industries including: construction, manufacturing, warehouse/distribution, environmental services, landscaping, building maintenance and rehab. Both courses are National Safety Council certified. Core Training also provides financial literacy education in partnership with Educator’s Credit Union and their new partner BMO – covering budgeting, credit, car buying, and financial decision making. 


Funding Purpose: Transportation  
Program Name:
FlexRide Milwaukee 
Program Description: MobiliSE is Southeast Wisconsin's voice and platform for regional multimodal transportation. They convene stakeholders, articulate a vision for transportation, advocate for critical projects, programs, and funding, and drive tangible projects. They are playing a lead role in the planning and launch of FlexRide Milwaukee, which offers on demand rides from the North Side of the city of Milwaukee to work sites in Menomonee Falls and Butler. The service was launched in early March 2022, and the Franklin service began in April 2023. FlexRide provides approximately 180 rides per day and directly addresses one of the most significant challenges in connecting the workforce to jobs in Southeast Wisconsin with reliable transit. 

My Way Out, Inc.

Funding Purpose: Re-Entry Services 
Program Name: Workforce Readiness – Leading with Equity & Empowerment 
Program Description: My Way Out applies lived experience and the voices of the underrepresented and marginalized to create pathways for systemic change and lasting solutions to structural inequities in Wisconsin's reentry programs. The Workforce Readiness program interviews individuals shortly after release and prescreens for interests, skillsets, needs, and prior job-readiness training or education. If appropriate, they are offered an opportunity to participate in the Bridging the Tech Gap for Returning Citizens and Financial Literacy (BTGRC), a 5-week, 20-hour weekend technology training program on how to: use a smartphone, a computer to search for and apply for employment, complete a resume, and access community services. Individuals completing the course receive a complimentary laptop computer. The Financial Literacy component covers financial responsibilities, budgeting, banking, and credit. 

Next Door Foundation

Funding Purpose: Education, Training, And Credentials 
Program Name: Next Door’s Pathways Program 
Program Description: Next Door’s mission is to support the intellectual, physical, and emotional development of children by partnering with their families for success in school and the community. They strive to build Milwaukee’s early childhood education workforce by empowering individuals with free education, training, and credentials to launch and advance his/her career as an early childhood teacher at Next Door – or any early childhood center in Milwaukee. The program currently offers five pathways: pre-apprenticeship, infant/toddler badge, state apprenticeship, associate degree, and bachelor’s degree. Their Pathways program removes barriers for Milwaukee residents, provides opportunities for career advancement, and positions individuals with employment in an in-demand industry that supports their families and their livelihoods.

Project RETURN, Inc.

Funding Purpose: Re-Entry Services 
Program Name: Project RETURN: Meeting the Re-Entry Needs of Formerly Incarcerated People 
Program Description: Project RETURN’s mission is to help individuals leaving prison make a positive and permanent return to community, family, and friends. Their strategy is to offer a range of holistic and interconnected services that help people manage challenges, so they are ready to be successful in jobs with family-sustaining wages. They help people obtain necessities, including food and clothing, provide housing referrals and AODA treatment groups, and enroll people in programs such as FoodShare Employment and Training (FSET). In the past two years, Project RETURN placed 272 individuals in the FSET program, which connects individuals with vocational training in high-demand occupations, including construction, forklift operation, and culinary arts. 

Wisconsin Community Services, Inc.

Funding Purpose: Education, Training, and Credentials, Transportation 
Program Name: Driving to Work 
Program Description: Wisconsin Community Services’ philosophy of care incorporates a strong set of values that emphasizes strength- based, trauma-informed, community-based, person-driven, and culturally competent services while always remaining mindful of community safety. A valid driver's license is a valuable employment credential because employers often view it as a measure of responsibility and 30% of civilian jobs require some amount of driving. The Center for Driver’s License Recovery & Employability (CDLRE) is a partnership between WCS, Legal Action of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Area Technical College, and the City of Milwaukee. CDLRE provides expert case managers and lawyers to help participants create an individualized driver’s license restoration plan. Since 2007, these partners have served more than 13,000 low-income Milwaukee residents and helped more than 4,000 individuals obtain their driver’s licenses.


Funding Purpose: Education, Training, and Credentials  
Program Name: Empowerment to Employment (E2E) 
Program Description: WRTP | BIG STEP is dedicated to creating apprenticeship pathways for underemployed and underrepresented populations in the manufacturing, construction, transportation, broadband, and green energy sectors. WRTP | BIG STEP will provide E2E participants with industry-focused recruitment, screening, orientation, job readiness training, and job placement assistance. Participants may enter directly into career pathways training with WRTP | BIG STEP or be enrolled in educational or vocational preparation activities such as basic education, GED, or HSED. Based on the participant’s individualized career plan, they can enroll in pre-apprenticeship programs:

  • Entry-Level Construction Skills (ELCS)
  • ELCS + Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)
  • ELCS + Highway Construction
  • Entry-Level Manufacturing Skills (ELMS)

Embedded in these trainings are other industry-recognized certifications such as OSHA 10, First Aid, and CPR, Commercial Drivers Licensing (CDL) prep, and other certifications. 



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