By Jeff Randall, Eastside News
Situated where the beloved Ella’s Deli once stood, Muriel’s Place, 2844 E. Washington Ave., will open to sell mentor-student produced baked pizzas and salsa starting in May. Off The Block brand salsas and frozen pizzas are already selling retail at Metcalf’s Market and Willy Street Co-op North and are available by preordering to pick up at Muriel’s Place.
Off the Block is the social enterprise of Mentoring Positives, a nonprofit that operates the storefront and engages young people in the production of products, as well mentoring young people with skills for future successes.
Young people, some of whose older siblings once worked at Mentoring Positives, start fairly raw producing pizzas and making salsa. Eventually they can work up to promotion and advertising. Kids learn to manage interactions and themselves. They earn money for work performed and can move on with a resume of work history and confidence from having built and delivered a product, as well as a promise to themselves or others.
While Muriel’s Place straddles six neighborhoods, it has its start just across busy East Wash in the Salvation Army gym where Mentoring Positives started. Founder/CEO Will Green established the nonprofit nearly 20 years ago after working from within the juvenile justice system. Green realized that to gain trust and do the work of mentoring young people growing up in unstable homes, neighborhoods and/or schools, he needed to step outside the top-down administrative role and work bottom up.
Raised by a loving single mom, he never knew his father, only learning of his father’s name — Ronald Brown — after his father had died.
“I should be Brown, instead of Green,” Green chuckled.
Growing up in Gary, Indiana, basketball became a cornerstone of his life. Coach Carl Traicoff was the male figure who taught him the fundamentals of life, not just the game. Giving lessons about looking people in the eye, delivering on commitments.
“First dude in basketball and life,” Green said.
Mentoring Positives and Muriel’s Place both stem from and are nods to Green’s mom, Muriel Pipkin. He lost his mom when she was quite young after she struggled with cancer. He sees this work as carrying on her legacy, turning pain into passion.
“I want kids to understand being a good person can go a long way,” Green said.
Green found his way to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire to play basketball (shooting and point guard), where he studied criminal justice and psychology. It’s also where he met his wife and partner Becky. For Will and Becky, personal and professional are one.
“This is not work, it is a lifestyle; not what we do, (but) who we are,” Green said.
“Hook is the key,” is his motto. He gets kids in the door with the promise of activity, moving their bodies, and along the way moves their minds, too. For kids who have or are experiencing trauma and are vulnerable, developing trust is essential. For Green, patience and forgiveness are critical to learning and growing from struggle. He believes his work is to spread his belief in people.
Mentoring Positives is looking to help younger people learn life skills around “decision-making and resilience, how to be an adult but first (learning) how to interact with adults,” he said.
It seeks to meet vulnerable young people where they are and during the too often vulnerable times when school is out. As a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit, Mentoring Positives has many stakeholders: the youth and the community — and also funders. So, Green’s organic approach of discussion, life skills and activity has become more formalized.
For more information, visit offtheblock.store.
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