By PrincessSafiya Byers
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
After serving the Washington Park neighborhood for over three decades, United Methodist Children’s Services of Wisconsin has changed its name to better reflect its approach to addressing poverty in the community.
It’s now called Rooted & Rising – Washington Park.
Leaders revealed the new name to the public during the agency’s annual Chili Fest and Family Housing Resource Fair in October.
“Washington Park has been our home here for more than 30 years, and we are really proud of our history and our presence here,” said William Schmitt, the executive director of Rooted & Rising – Washington Park.
“But we want to make sure that we’re presenting an image and just overall feel that is welcoming and inviting to everybody and reflects our commitment to remain in this neighborhood.”
The organization initially opened its Milwaukee office in the ’70s to operate a single program to help families overcome poverty. It has since expanded into a hub that provides services to Washington Park residents, business owners and partners with the goal of addressing poverty.
Rooted in the community
The agency, for example, partnered with other organizations and helped coordinate a 15-neighborhood effort to survey housing conditions in the City of Milwaukee.
The Washington Park neighborhood spans from North Avenue to West Vliet Street and Wisconsin Highway 175 to North 35th Street.
The neighborhood has a rich history, but it faces the same challenges as other parts of the city.
According to a report from Data You Can Use, the neighborhood has an unemployment rate of over 10% and almost 50% of the population lives below the poverty line.
Rooted & Rising – Washington Park uses a five-pillar approach to address poverty in the Washington Park neighborhood. The agency focuses on affordable housing, social services, community organizing, housing development and neighborhood safety.
Helping families find affordable housing, however, is the nonprofit agency’s top priority.
Rooted & Rising has 72 units of housing, including three apartment buildings and 20 townhomes. Fifty-three of the units are designated for low-income families that are working toward financial independence.
Fifteen units are reserved for those in the county’s mental health support program, and four units are allocated for families moving out of homelessness.
In addition, the agency recently re-entered the housing development sphere.
Rooted & Rising – Washington Park won a grant, alongside VIA Community Development Corp. or VIA CDC, to build nine new houses in the Washington Park neighborhood for first-time homeowners with completion expected in 2025. VIA CDC is an organization that focuses on economic development, housing and community leadership.
In partnership with Impact 2-1-1, the group’s social work team provides services such as crisis intervention, mental health monitoring and community-building activities to the surrounding community.
Rooted & Rising also houses a licensed child care center, a family resource center and a food pantry.
Iran Jennings, a Washington Park resident who volunteers with Rooted & Rising, believes everyone in the neighborhood should be informed.
“I think people don’t know the resources that we have in Washington Park, and it’s important for them to have that information,” she said.
Jennings said when Rooted & Rising community organizers knocked on her door, she became more involved in the community.
“They show people one-on-one that their voices and opinions are important,” she said.
A focus on safety
Rooted & Rising also has a safety task force.
Most recently, the group has been working to get cameras installed in an area of the city where illegal dumping is occurring.
“The neighbors are fed up with the dumping,” said Adrian Spencer, Rooted & Rising’s director of neighborhood engagement. “But they also don’t know what to do about it, so we’ve been supporting them to try to get cameras installed there and come up with solutions to help make that a safer area and an area that’s less desirable for folks to dump in.”
How you can get involved
Spencer urges residents to support Rooted & Rising – Washington Park by attending meetings or volunteering.
For more information on Rooting & Rising – Washington Park, you can check out its website at https://rootedandrisingwp.org.