Pay it Forward: Caraher championed bringing i.c. stars workforce development program to Milwaukee

Bill Caraher (pictured middle, left) with i.c. stars interns Taylor Mack (top left), Ianette Grad, Kenyatta Hayes, Maisem Shah and Miguel Teran.
Bill Caraher (pictured middle, left) with i.c. stars interns Taylor Mack (top left), Ianette Grad, Kenyatta Hayes, Maisem Shah and Miguel Teran. Credit: Lila Aryan

Bill Caraher
Chief information officer
von Briesen & Roper, s.c.
Nonprofit served: i.c. stars
Service: Board chair

Once Bill Caraher saw Chicago’s i.c. stars program in action, he knew it needed to come to Milwaukee.

For 20 years, the nonprofit organization has provided inner-city young adults with training and leadership development to pursue technology jobs through its 20-month program.

Caraher, chief information officer of von Briesen & Roper, s.c., had the opportunity to visit the Chicago operation and observed students as they showcased their work.

“I was blown away by the students,” he said. “Seeing the results of their efforts, I thought Milwaukee would totally benefit from the program.”

Caraher worked with the organization’s president and co-founder, Sandee Kastrul, and area business representatives to lay the groundwork for its expansion north, to Milwaukee. He found a captive audience in Cynthia LaConte, chief executive officer of The Dohmen Co., which signed on with a $1.6 million commitment to provide funding, staff and office space for the organization’s new Milwaukee arm. 

“The stars really aligned,” Caraher said. “Milwaukee had a need; we found a partner with Dohmen.”

The program provides interns with two years of coaching and professional development, and includes a four-month paid internship to help prepare them for technology careers. The organization also works with interns to place them in tech jobs after they have completed the program.

Caraher, who serves as the organization’s board chair, said the program aligns with larger regional efforts to build Milwaukee as an inclusive tech hub, as it works to engage an untapped local workforce and cultivate diverse leaders in the technology industry.

“People talk about the lack of finding and retaining talent in the city,” he said. “Well, we’re all pulling from the same pool of professional existing candidates, (but) we have a pool of candidates who are willing and able, who just need that training and opportunity.”

As i.c. stars Milwaukee is still in its startup phase, Caraher said collaboration with area companies is imperative for its success. His employer, von Briesen, along with Northwestern Mutual, have played important roles in supporting the program, he said.

“We see this as a community program; it’s for Milwaukee by Milwaukee” he said. “All money raised for Milwaukee stays in Milwaukee. This is a business-community partnership, not a handout. This is impacting lives to change the trajectory for a lot of people in a positive way.”

For him, the proof is in the interns’ stories.

“All I have to do is go over there even just once a month to see the transformation that’s happening,” he said. “To touch one life is great, but to see 20 lives impacted … It’s been said that each person in the program will impact 1,000 other people, whether in the business community, their neighborhoods, families, other graduates. That’s really cool when you think about the impact.”

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