Community Rehab: Milwaukee and the Walnut Way

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Last weekend I went up to Milwaukee to visit my cousin, Emily.  She is currently the Spanish teacher at Hope Academy through Teach for America (TFA).  One of her fellow TFA alums, Ashley grew up in Milwaukee and is very active in the community; Ashley had been volunteering with a neighborhood organization called the Walnut Way Conservation Corp.  So on Saturday, Ashley invited Emily and a few friends to partake in a street festival that was being held in support of the Walnut Way mission.

Milwaukee is a neighborhood based city, much of which is referred to as its respective ward.  Walnut Way is in Triangle North, an area of the city to which I had never been.  Much like my hometown Chicago, it seems that certain neighborhoods in Milwaukee are avoided, and over the years, this has been one of them.  Not long ago, gunfire was normal, drug deals and prostitution were visible on the streets, and the homes were left in disrepair and abandoned.  Almost fifteen years ago, a woman moved back to her ancestral home and couldn’t believe the state of the neighborhood.  After making a few calls, partnerships were formed and the Walnut Way Conservation Corp began.

With this one woman’s perseverance, the neighborhood began to change.  Houses were restored, violence and crime have all but disappeared, and neighbors walk freely through the streets.  According to their website, “Sixty-five new homes have been constructed and occupied …construction is planned for 54 more new homes. High production gardens are cultivated annually, and a small tree nursery has been planted.”

At the festival this past weekend, we were privileged to be a part of the celebration and support of the organization. Between the community center at the end of the block, silkscreen demonstrations, child craft stations, and tables selling produce and honey from the neighborhood gardens and nurseries, we were in awe.  It was an inspiring afternoon, fit snugly between our BigTen-football-watching schedule.  Not to speak for all of us, but I think we each saw things in a different perspective that afternoon and were reminded that with some hard work and love of thy neighbors, you can make a big difference.

There is much more to Walnut Way than what I have included above.  To learn more about the efforts underway and programs available at Walnut Way, please visit their website, http://www.walnutway.org.

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