Goodman Community Center | 70 Reasons

At the Center of Our Success

70 things we've learned in our 70 years of strengthening lives and securing futures.

The center has grown and changed so much in 70 years.

New buildings. New staff. New programs. But our growth has always been driven by something that will never change — our commitment to helping this community become a place where everyone has what they need to create a meaningful life. A secure future.

And we keep getting better at doing just that. We compiled a list of 70 things we’ve learned over the years WITH our community: staff, volunteers, program participants and our supporters. Together we are creating the kind of community we can all feel proud of.

The last of our list, “We nurture the ubuntu spirit.” That kind of sums it all up. Ubuntu (oo BOON too) is a Zulu word Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela shared with the West, often translated as “I am because we are.” It speaks to the fundamental responsibility we have to each other — to be generous, hospitable and compassionate — because every interaction we have with each other touches and shapes who we become.

Our hope is that everyone who walks through our doors is able to contribute to, and benefit from, connections made at Goodman. Those are gifts we can give each other.

Everyone is welcome at Goodman.

Kids are the creators of their lives.

Staff tell them, “Your voice and your time are precious resources. Value that by making your words and actions reflect who you are. Life is about the choices you make.”

Empathy is a muscle worth strengthening.

4. Older adults are important people.

Gayle Laszewski manages our older adult program and is clear about its importance. “For some of our older adults, our noon meal and the companionship it offers is their reason to get up. And we want them here. When people get isolated, they spiral down.”

5. Everyone deserves a life worth loving.

Exposing kids to all kinds of experiences makes their world bigger so they can imagine careers, lifestyles, and relationships. If they know their choices, they have a better chance of creating a meaningful life they love.

6. Engagement predicts long-term success.

Youth who attend the Goodman Community Center have a higher level of school engagement than the general population of students at our partner schools. Research has shown that school engagement and the youths' perception of themselves in the future are better predictors of long-term academic success than their academic performance in any one moment in time. So, getting A's is less important than the students' connection to the school and staff and their ability to see themselves in college or in a professional career in the future.

10. We're richer when we welcome everyone.

"Goodman is a good place for all the kids like me who could be swayed easily into good — or bad. Any idea you have — they’ll nurture it. Fitness and health, homework and knowledge, creativity — we value it here." Former LOFT participant Journey

11. ALL families need access to quality childcare.

A surprising thing happened back in 2008 when we moved into what was then our beautiful new home in the former Ironworks building. Soon after moving in, we noticed a change. We'd always served low-income families, but people with higher incomes were signing up their children for preschool and afterschool. It was great that they wanted their kids to be a part of Goodman, but at the core of our mission was ensuring folks who didn't have access to quality child care could get access here. We quickly developed policies to ensure at least 75% of the participants in every Goodman program are from low-income households.

Volunteers take us from good to great.

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Our community wouldn't be complete without the wonderful volunteers who give their time and talent.

Veggie love is a thing worth cultivating.

Veggie love is a thing at Goodman. Kids learn about gardening at places like Troy Garden and Madison School Farm: how to grow veggies (and fruit), tend a garden, cook tasty veggie snacks — and devour them.

Seniors need community and we need them.

15. We begin with the end in mind.

Every Goodman program defines who the program serves, the short- and long-term outcomes they are working toward, and the strategies they'll use to achieve them. And every program integrates the three building blocks that help create secure lives — learning, health and life skills.

16. Kids who act out are simply screaming for help.

When Jaden first started 4K, Jaden screamed whenever he didn't get his way. Sometimes until he got nosebleeds. Ms. Sunshine told him, "We are going to help you do better. We will always let you know what to expect, and when we tell you something is going to happen, you can trust that it will happen." Soon he was rolling with changes with ease. Weeks later, Ms. Sunshine saw Jaden scribbling fiercely all over a huge sheet of paper. He looked up at her and said, "This is all the anger in me leaving my body." He became a relaxed, light-hearted kid. And ready to learn.

17. Kids win when we partner with their schools.

Kaya was bright, but her mom's struggles with substance abuse meant Kaya got plopped in front of the TV. Way. Too. Much. She never had any enriching play time or bedtime stories read to her. So her grandma enrolled her at Goodman when she was in first grade. Her teachers at Goodman and Lowell Elementary worked together. They brought in a school psychologist who worked with her. By third grade, she was calm enough to learn, was engaged in and curious about the world. And given a choice, she would much rather play outside or read a book than watch TV.

Our food pantry provides groceries and respect.

"I am eating more healthy foods and a new variety of fruits and vegetables than I could ever afford on my own. Thank you for always being here for me and my family." - Food Pantry Customer

Remarkably talented staff fuel every success.

Food first.

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The Goodman program kitchen balances nutritious and delicious so kids can learn and older adults get the nourishment they need.

21. Play is a super power.

Deborah Crabtree, former GCC STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — specialist, saw the stress in her elementary students in afterschool. "Lots of our kids have big burdens on their tiny shoulders. But, with disguised learning, our goal is to make activities fun, so kids can just be kids," Deborah explained. "When they get engrossed in a fun activity, you can just see the weight of those stressors lifted off of them." Afterschool programs are filled with disguised learning — like building catapults to learn about physics, rubber band propelled boats to learn about energy, or making ice cream in a bag to study salt and freezing.

22. Measuring our outcomes helps us improve.

"We've grown in so many ways, but what I'm most proud of is our implementation of research-based tools to measure and assess what's working. And what's not. That's what's allowed us to be even more effective, and ultimately resulted in our tremendous growth." - Becky Steinhoff, former executive director, in 2008

Family-style meals nourish good things.

Serving themselves teaches our youngest learners practical life skills, while eating together builds community and connection.

Families are a vital part of our team.

It takes a village, and for families with kids at Goodman, our center is a part of their village. We work to create a school-home-community connection for every student.

TEENworks kids earn much more than a paycheck.

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"Anything you want to do, staff here will help you figure out how to learn more about it or meet an expert in that field." - Julian, former TEENworks participant

26. Students and neighbors grow in gardens.

Over the years, youth have tended the gardens right outside Goodman, harvesting what they've grown and learning to make delicious meals with the bounty. The community grows here too, in the many community garden plots that line the bike path between Goodman and Dunning Street.

27. We can help student athletes stay eligible to compete.

East High School had a problem: Too many of their student athletes weren't eligible to play because their grades were too low. Goodman introduced Study Tables, after-school homework help that ensures these young athletes can reap the benefits of team sports while continuing to learn and grow academically.

31. Indifference is the enemy.

Exposing kids to a world of experiences helps them discover what they're good at. What they love. Goodman staff let the kids' interests drive activities — and they introduce novel things the kids wouldn't have thought of too. When kids get the chance to explore things they're passionate about, the world will change. And we can tell you: based on what we've seen, the future is bright!

32. Every Thanksgiving we give thanks for you.

You pull out the stops so we can provide thousands of families with groceries to share a traditional holiday meal with their loved ones.

Equity begins at home — with living wages.

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In July 2023, we made a big announcement: our internal minimum wage became $20/hour. In the fall of the same year, we announced financial empowerment classes and a 1% retirement contribution for all employees.

Equity begins at home — with senior pictures.

Traditional senior portraits are a rite of passage, but a professional portrait is expensive — not in the budget for many families. So for the last few years, Goodman staff have partnered with Four Lakes Photo to take portraits of our graduates. It's a gift to the youth, and to their parents.

Equity begins at home — with summer fun.

Summer at Goodman is all about exploration and access. Youth who might not normally get to try canoeing? They give it a go at Goodman. They also explore state parks, the city's bike paths, the UW campus and so much more.

36. Equity begins at home — with swimming lessons.

Everyone needs to learn to swim, but access to lessons is challenging — costs, schlepping kids to the pool, etc. At Goodman, little ones through high school students take swimming lessons so they can SAFELY enjoy all kinds of water fun — swimming, boating, canoeing, fishing. And enjoy the health benefits, too.

37. The easy kids aren't who need us most.

By third grade, Danny was already on track to fail in school. His social worker at Lowell Elementary referred him to our afterschool. He had learning problems and picked fights. He often ran away. He needed help. In another setting he might have been suspended. But at Goodman that’s not an option, so our teachers created a “chill zone” in the classroom with squishy balls, LEGOs and other hands-on activities where he could quiet himself down when he needed to. When that didn’t work, staff took him to help sweep sidewalks or shovel snow until he calmed down and was ready to be back in class. Danny responded to the consistency and structure. Danny had two brothers and a sister — all with similar learning disabilities and challenging temperaments. We saved spots for the whole family to come to our summer camp. Not because they were easy kids, but because they were the kids who need us the most.

38. Planning helps us reach our goals — together.

Goodman is in the first year of a three-year strategic plan, and we like the future we're imagining. Over the years, we've gone through several strategic planning processes. Each has helped us grow and evolve as we work to serve our community more effectively and efficiently.

39. Kids can't want what they don't know.

So if you have all kinds of talent, but don't know that college or an apprenticeship, a career, travel are possibilities for you, what hope do you have of ever achieving any of that? Our LOFT Teen Center once had a student named James. He had a 3.4 GPA, loved science and was downright hilarious on an improv stage. He had talent. But also he had absolutely no plans for his future. College never crossed his mind. In program, our staff watched James open up. They toured UW-Whitewater first. Then UW-Milwaukee. And Edgewood College. They toured EPIC and Noodles & Company and peeked into the big world of work. After it all, James was imagining himself as a comedian — and a scientist! Isn’t that great?

So many of our students are just like James. They are bursting with potential, but no one has ever opened up a world of possibilities. Goodman staff aim to help kids dream for their futures.

43. Vacations and weekends add stress if food is scarce.

And the kids will be home — needing to eat. For many parents, summer means more mouths to feed. Free breakfasts and lunches come to a grinding halt when school ends. Enter Goodman Groceries, a program that provides families with kid-friendly food to get them through the weekend.

44. One of our favorite words: YET.

Yet. It’s little. And yet, no less than life-changing. Carol Dweck, a world-renowned psychologist from Stanford, said this: “I heard about a high school in Chicago where students had to pass a certain number of courses to graduate, and if they didn’t pass a course, they got the grade ‘Not Yet.’ If you get a failing grade, you think, I’m nothing, I’m nowhere. But if you get the grade ‘Not Yet’ you understand that you’re on a learning curve. It gives you a path into the future.”

Don’t you love that?! This describes how Goodman staff approach everyone — small to tall, young to old. Most of our programs don’t give official grades, but our staff are always paying attention to — and measuring — whether they are succeeding at helping people do better. Yet!

45. A little help and encouragement can be big.

Our staff often help students with essays and application forms for college, scholarships, and jobs. Having a little support and encouragement is the difference between applying — or not. And often succeeding — or not.

We can be the change we want for the world.

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A group of middle schoolers worked together to make a crosswalk safer. It may seem small, but this group of students learned that they can make change in their community. And that's HUGE.

Everyone loves Family Fun Nights.

These nights are a snapshot of community in action. Families come together for a meal with other program families, then they play games, laugh and enjoy one another's company. It's a great opportunity for parents and teachers to connect, and for parents to get to know other parents. Building that village one party at a time!

Sometimes, food is medicine.

Our program kitchen is able to provide special meals for those who need gluten-free or vegetarian, ensuring older adults get the nutrients they need in a tasty lunch. Our food pantry strives to stock foods that meet special dietary needs as well. And the community that is built around food is also medicine, fighting of loneliness and building connection.

49. Partnerships harness the power of community.

From other local organizations to local businesses, groups who give their time and others who give financially or gifts of goods: our work is fortified by the generous and energetic partners in our community.

50. We're always learning new things.

No really. Always. Keeping up with the changing slang of young people is like learning a new language every few years. Our littlest learners show us new ways to see the world with their inquisitive questions. And our older adults offer stories from years ago that somehow always shine a light on our modern times. And that doesn't mention the wealth of knowledge and expertise coming from staff, volunteers and members of our community.

51. Hands-on learning is key for many students.

Years ago, Adolfo was recommended to the old Seed to Table summer program — a program that taught youth urban farming — by his ADOA counselor. He needed something different. The year before, his attendance in high school was 47%, so he didn't earn even one credit. His first summer with Goodman, he earned 1.5 credits and the volunteer hours he needed to meet community service required by court. He missed only two days — both planned and with permission. For the first time, Adolfo was experiencing what success feels like. He liked being a welcome part of our community.

52. We believe in second chances. Third chances …

We understand that we're working with human beings, and human beings make mistakes. Sometimes big ones. Grace and understanding are so important as we navigate this world, particularly for our young people. At Goodman, we aim to ensure we give our community both.

56. It's okay to not be okay.

After George Floyd was murdered, the Goodman staff came together — remotely, because we couldn't gather back then. Like the rest of our country and the world, our staff were shaken, particularly our Black staff. Howard Hayes, a Goodman staffer of many decades, said it so well in that meeting: "It's ok to not be ok. Because none of this is ok."

We teach our youth that it's important to recognize and embrace every feeling, even the uncomfortable ones. In saying that simple bit of advice, Howard so wisely invited every person on the Zoom call to recognize whatever it was they were feeling and just feel. And that was healing.

57. Sometimes, trust needs to catch up to change.

In its current strategic plan, Goodman is working on laying a strong foundation. We found that we grew so rapidly in the last 10 years that some staff were left feeling out of sorts, unsure of how they fit into the bigger picture. So for the next three years, we're going to build trust internally so we can work more effectively and intentionally with our program participants and our community.

58. Volunteering should be mutually beneficial.

We love our volunteers, and we're so grateful for their gift of time and talent. And, they tell us so frequently that they get as much from Goodman — or more — than they give. They're grateful for how they have learned and grown in their time at the center.

Middle school boys are worth getting to know.

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Just ask our leaders of MAScK (Men Alwasy Seeking Change and Knowledge). They work with middle school boys and nonbinary youth daily, helping them explore what "masculinity" means.

Kids need the great outdoors. Go often.

Outdoor play has a litany of benefits for kids: creativity, motor skills, physical and more. For that reason, at Goodman getting outside is a key part of our preschool through high school programs.

Older Adults hold our community together

They volunteer. They raise their grandkids when parents can't. They offer skills, talents and experience we need.

62. If you're curious you can't fail.

Curiosity is growth, and when you're in a state of growth even failures are successes — because they teach. We aim to foster this value in every participant who comes to Goodman, and our staff too.

63. Belonging is everything.

DIVERSITY is a fact.

EQUITY is a choice.

INCLUSION is an action.

BELONGING is an outcome.

- Arthur Chan

Innovative programming is worth the effort.

Planning and collaboration takes time. It's time that could be spent with participants, yes. It's also time that must be taken to ensure the way Goodman engages with participants is of service to those neighbors' needs.

Everyone deserves beautiful space to gather.

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Celebrations matter. Affordable space to host those celebrations can and should be beautiful.

Our participants make our community rich.

We believe our whole community thrives when everyone in it has what they need to be successful. Every person has a gift to give, including the young people who spend their time after school with us and the older adults who gather here.

67. What matters? Fostering connection.

Our programs foster connection, courage, and curiosity so our diverse community feels celebrated, supported, and empowered to thrive the way they want.

We believe every one of our program participants should feel as though they are cared for and contribute to our community.

68. What matters? Fostering courage.

Our programs foster connection, courage, and curiosity so our diverse community feels celebrated, supported, and empowered to thrive the way they want.

Courage comes from confidence. Through our work with youth and older adults, we aim to help them see that they are important and achieve great things.

69. What matters? Fostering curiosity.

Our programs foster connection, courage, and curiosity so our diverse community feels celebrated, supported, and empowered to thrive the way they want.

You know what curiosity is? Hope. Hope for the possibilities that lie ahead.

70. What matters? Nurturing the ubuntu spirit.

Staff, volunteers, program participants and you — our supporters — together we create the kind of community we can all feel proud of. Ubuntu (oo BOON too) is a Zulu word Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela shared with the West, often translated as “I am because we are.” It speaks to the fundamental responsibility we have to each other — to be generous, hospitable and compassionate — because every interaction we have with each other touches and shapes who we become. Our hope is that everyone who walks through our doors is able to contribute to and benefit from connections made at Goodman.