Milwaukee community development projects, partnerships earn national recognition

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Milwaukee has garnered three MetLife Foundation Community-Police Partnership Awards, the most any city has received since the national awards program began in 2002.

The awards, distributed by the MetLife Foundation and Local Initiatives Support Corporation, honor effective partnerships between community groups and police who share a goal to enhance neighborhood safety and advance community revitalization.

This year’s awards program, comprised of 11 awards, drew applications from more than 560 police departments and community organizations across the country. Milwaukee winners, who will each receive a $15,000 grant, are the Riverworks Development Corporation, the Holton Youth and Family Center, and United Methodist Children’s Services of Wisconsin on behalf of the Washington Park Partners.

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The Riverworks Development Corporation, a nonprofit organization that works to stimulate economic prosperity for residents and businesses in the Riverworks neighborhoods, received the MetLife Foundation Award for Excellence in Neighborhood Revitalization. The designation salutes the organization’s collaborations with key stakeholders to redevelop much of Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood as well as reduce crime.

“It’s huge for us,” Darryl Johnson, executive director of the corporation, said about the recent award. “It really demonstrates that the work that we’re doing in the community is being recognized and…it sets the foundation for us to actually do more and bring more attention to this neighborhood.”

The Riverworks Development Corporation has facilitated much of its community work through a safe neighborhood team, which includes the participation of area residents as well as Milwaukee police, the Community Prosecution Unit, the City Attorney’s Office, Safe & Sound and LISC Milwaukee. That team has re-energized the Keefe Avenue corridor and, in partnership with the Department of Public Works, created a multi-use Beerline recreational trail and linear park along part of the Milwaukee rail corridor. The safe neighborhood team has also repurposed an industrial facility into 36 units of new housing, demolished 12 blighted buildings and helped develop 24 additional units of housing – on top of other revitalization efforts.

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Among the corporation’s most recent accomplishments is the development of a playground at a dilapidated city-owned park on First Street and Keefe Avenue. The corporation teamed up with the national organization KaBOOM! and the CarMax Foundation to complete the playground in September.

The Riverworks Development Corporation knows that the City of Milwaukee is limited in its resources, Johnson said. So by uniting the economic development corporation with the public and private sectors as well as with business improvement districts, “things can change in this neighborhood for the best,” he said.

The Holton Youth and Family Center has been honored with the MetLife Foundation Award for Gang Prevention & Youth Safety. The center houses a collaborative, comprised of service organizations and institutions including Wisconsin Community Services, Running Rebels, Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, Safe & Sound, and Above the Clouds.

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Together, the organizations have worked to reduce poverty, unemployment, school dropout rates and crime by providing programming focused on academic support, mentoring and positive interactions with Milwaukee police, according to LISC. Those interactions encompass a Youth Leadership Council, an initiative that gives area kids a chance to partner with police officers, promote crime prevention in the neighborhood and devise new strategies to decrease crime.

The United Methodist Children’s Services of Wisconsin has received the MetLife Foundation Award Excellence in Civic Engagement. UMCS, which accepted the award on behalf of Washington Park Partners, has led the Washington Park Partners Sustainable Communities Initiative. The collaborative effort has largely centered on enhancing public safety and engaging area residents with help from a range of community groups including the Milwaukee police, according to LISC.

Additionally, UMCS has focused on making healthier products available at area convenience and liquor stores and rehabbing abandoned properties in Washington Park.

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