Goodman Community Center | In GCC’s teen program, staff and teens…

In GCC’s teen program, staff and teens work together to build a strong community

The Lussier LOFT at the Goodman Center helps students find their own path to success, with the support of local businesses like TruStage

May 29, 2024 |

Nyawer Biel, a senior at East High School and a student of Madison College, has been connected to the Goodman Community Center since she was in seventh grade. During that time, she says she grew and evolved to become more confident and capable, skills she attributes to Goodman’s staff. Arthur Morgan, Goodman Family Advocacy Manager, has known Biel for as long as she’s been coming to Goodman, and he says he’s learned as much from her as she has from him.

In January, Nyawer braved a snow storm, along with members of our hospitality team and other TEENworks teens, to represent Goodman at the Wedding Expo.

This is the beauty of Goodman’s Lussier LOFT teen program. Staff and students build bonds that help form a stronger community for everyone involved. Local business TruStage and its Foundation see the value in this work and has provided a generous grant to support staff mentoring students in Goodman’s youth programs.

“Goodman has helped me because it has so many programs I could get involved in,” said Biel. “During Covid, I wasn’t isolated. I was able to be around people. I really appreciated that. If I had been isolated, I wouldn’t be as out of my shell as I am today.”

Biel is among the graduating class of seniors who started their high school career in the midst of the Covid pandemic. Like her fellow local freshmen, the majority of her first year of school was experienced remotely, isolated from her peers. For students like Biel who came to the Goodman Center throughout the pandemic, however, there was an opportunity to not only bond with fellow students but also build relationships with trusted adults, like Morgan.

“Youth like Nyawer are why we had programming during Covid,” said Morgan. “We knew that if we had classes here, we could stay in touch with the teachers and stay connected to the kids and their families.”

“Nyawer wasn’t a loud kid when she first came to Goodman, but that never meant she wasn’t self-assured. The confidence was always there on the inside, and I love seeing it on the outside now too.”

The summer before her freshman year, Biel joined Goodman’s TEENworks program, which is designed to provide employment opportunities and on-the-job training for youth. Throughout her four years in that program, she did every job available to youth, including shifts in the center’s food pantry, working with kids, catering and more. Youth in the TEENworks program also develop a sense of camaraderie and teamwork with peers and Goodman staff.

These bonds are evident as Biel recounted staff who were influential on her growth at Goodman. She listed several names who helped her transition from a quiet kid (“My coworkers didn’t know I could talk for the first few months of working with TEENworks.”) to a leader in the community.

“Nyawer played a big role in reminding me why I work with young people,” said Morgan. “During Covid, I took a summer off to recenter myself and figure out if I still have the drive to do this work. When I came back, Nyawer checked in with me. She noticed I was gone and asked what’s up. Not just any kid could have done that. Her warm and welcoming demeanor is who she is.”

Morgan has been working with Goodman youth programs for more than 30 years. “We get to see youth be youth every day. Other adults see the news, but not the everyday. I’ve seen the kid who thinks he’s the toughest be vulnerable and be a kid.”

In the fall, Biel will begin studying biology at UW-Madison’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She plans to become a physician’s assistant. Her parents, immigrants who moved to Nebraska from South Sudan in the late 1990s, move their children to Wisconsin to pursue strong academic opportunities.

“We don’t have any family here, but they heard the schools were better so they moved,” said Biel. “They just wanted my sister and me to succeed academically, and I’m glad I’m making them proud.”

In addition to graduating this spring with her high school diploma, Biel will also graduate from Madison College with an associate’s degree this summer. During her high school career, she was an active and regular participant in Goodman’s teen program, was a member of the board of directors of Madison College’s volunteer center, worked for MSCR, participated in UW-Madison’s Information Technology Academy program, and became a member of National Honor Society.

“Nyawer wasn’t a loud kid when she first came to Goodman, but that never meant she wasn’t self-assured,” said Morgan. "She was always taking care of what she needed to do, always had direction, motivation and focus. The confidence was always there on the inside, and I love seeing it on the outside now too.”

The Lussier LOFT teen program at the Goodman Community Center can do the important work of mentoring youth thanks in part to a generous $200,000 grant from TruStage Foundation. Funding like this helps staff like Morgan and youth like Biel work together to strengthen lives and secure futures in our Madison community.

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