On a Monday morning, the UW South Madison Partnership compound on Park Street buzzed with activity.
People flocked in and out seeking free tax help. Students at the Madison School District who attended a “microschool” studied art history. Employees from partner organizations swirled through the coworking spaces.
“It’s a great feeling to see so many people using this space,” said Brenda González, who oversees the site as director of community relations at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “We’re trying to follow the Wisconsin idea of being a good neighbor. We listen to and respond to community needs.”
As the UW South Madison Partnership celebrates its seventh anniversary this month, it also marks the official opening of its greatly expanded facility at The Village on Park, 2238 S. Park St. in Madison.
The partnership outgrew its previous space elsewhere in the city-owned mall. The expansion will more than quadruple the floor space from 3,015 square feet to 12,902. The new space features five private offices, seven classrooms/conference rooms, a computer lab, co-working spaces, a kitchenette and an open-plan meeting space. The expansion meets current demand and provides room for sustained growth over time.
Since its inception in 2015, the UW South Madison Partnership has added a new dimension to one of the university’s oldest guiding principles – the idea of the Wisconsin idea that discovery and innovation should come off campus and into the community to improve people’s lives. The partnership also underscores the equally important notion that communities have valuable insights and knowledge to share with the university.
“By anchoring the university in the community, the partnership allows us to begin the discovery process by listening and learning from the individuals we wish to serve,” said Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “The result of this deeper connection is a suite of innovative programs that strengthen and expand the work of our community partners and truly meet people’s needs. I am pleased to see these programs continue to grow and evolve in the partnership’s beautiful new spaces.”
‘A Wonderful Thing’
UW-Madison students, faculty and staff have a long history of working in partnership with the South Madison community. Seven years ago, the university formalized this relationship through the UW South Madison Partnership, creating a dedicated space for a variety of new and existing programs. The effort connects UW-Madison to a neighborhood whose residents have historically had less access to university programs and resources.
“Going into the community and offering a facility like this is a really nice thing,” says Elsa Caetano, who lives nearby and stopped by for tax advice. “It’s also a way of diversifying the university – so many people come and go from all walks of life. It’s great to see.”
During the fall semester, the site averaged 1,300 visitors per month and 83 hours of usage per week. The space was used by 15 community partners, six UW schools and colleges, and eight UW departments, centers and institutes.
Some of the partners have been there since the beginning, such as the UW Odyssey Project, the Neighborhood Law Clinic and the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. Others, like the Richard Dilley Tax Center, are new this year. The center provides free tax preparation to low-income residents, older adults, people with disabilities, and others. It is the busiest tax location of its kind in the state.
Another new partner is the Madison School District. The “micro school” at the site, named Blue Lion High, serves West High School students and juniors who need to earn faster credits to graduate with their classmates. Many of the students live in the neighborhood.
“Coming from the south side of Madison myself, I love that you can come down Park Street and now see so much investment in this area, from the UW spaces to the Urban League building to the new public library” , says Delia Watkins, a teacher at Micro School. “As people of color in this community, we need to see that commitment. It speaks volumes.”
She and co-teacher Crystal Hendrix are excited that the high school students who attend the micro school are getting a feel for UW-Madison, even subconsciously.
“It’s like a mini university campus here, so they get comfortable with the idea of post-secondary education and can aspire to it,” says Hendrix. “This is forward-looking.”
Also new to the site is the Center for Patient Partnerships, an interdisciplinary organization based at the University of Wisconsin Law School that provides patient advocacy and education. Senior staff from the center’s Community Resource Navigator program now work at the Park Street site, and dozens of UW Service Learning students assist at the site each semester.
For customers, the location offers easy access and parking in a setting that’s less intimidating than the central campus, says Jill Jacklitz, co-director. Most people know how to get to The Village on Park, she says — or certainly Lane’s Bakery, another tenant at the mall.
“It changed us to be here,” she says. “It really made us feel embedded in the community.”
The expansion has enabled UW Odyssey Project, a longtime partner, to consolidate sites and quadruple its total footprint for its much-vaunted approach to breaking the cycle of generational poverty through education.
Odyssey now consists of four components: the Odyssey Core Class, which empowers 30 adults each year through a two-semester liberal arts journey; Odyssey Junior, who provide enrichment for their children and grandchildren; Onward Odyssey, provides ongoing support and instruction for program graduates progressing to degrees; and Odyssey Beyond Bars, which bring both enrichment and UW-Madison credits to people in Wisconsin prisons.
“Once the pandemic subsides, we hope to be able to offer computer labs, family movie nights, support groups, and other activities in the new spaces,” says Professor Emily Auerbach, Founder and Co-Director. “The space will better serve Odyssey’s mission of creating a community to encourage families to overcome obstacles and achieve their dreams.”
González credits predecessors Everett Mitchell and Leslie Orrantia with laying the groundwork for the UW South Madison Partnership and seeing the potential for expansion. Associate Director Merry Farrier-Babanovski helps manage the facility.
González sees a very special kind of engagement in Park Street.
“It’s not the university that imposes itself on a community,” says González. “It’s the community that invites us in and tells us what they need from us so that we can be good neighbors. I hope that this approach will shape our future even more. We have yet to invite others to this collaboration and we have every intention of doing so.”
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