A Safe Harbor on the Northwest Side
When youth on Milwaukee’s northwest side needed a safe place, one local organization set out to create one.
Risen Savior Lutheran Church on Milwaukee’s northwest side wanted to counter the negativity taking place practically on its doorstep. For a time in the early 2000s, the low-rise apartments along the neighborhood’s curved streets were tough places to live. The drug trade was open and 911 calls were frequent. For the church, the main focus was the 1,300 children in the neighborhood who were growing up with too many negative influences, and too few amenities nearby. Risen Savior sought to become a safe harbor for local children.
Risen Savior began its outreach a decade ago when it created a food pantry and health screening programs. Over that decade, immigration and job trends led to an increase in Latino residents. The influx created one of the more unique cultural mixes in the city, with a nearly 50/50 split alongside African American families on the same blocks. Risen Savior approached Bader Philanthropies about continuing their vital programs, but with the void in programming in the neighborhood, we felt there was much more they could do.
Our support enabled Risen Savior to launch a planning process with its neighbors on how to serve the community’s changing needs. The clearest need identified was to directly serve teens. Risen Savior’s limited gym space meant that its summer and after-school programming had been limited to age 13 and younger. An early goal was to create “Let’s Talk Girls Talk,” a mentoring and peer-support group that addresses life goals and healthy personal relationships. But, with a lack of space for teen programming, the more formidable challenge was to finance, purchase, and renovate the somewhat neglected former retail property across from the church on Brown Deer Road. It took more than two years of groundwork, but Teen Haven opened in 2012. It was the first step in making the programs more accessible to teens.
With a strong start and plans to continue its growth, Risen Savior is beginning to attract a lot of positive attention from local families and the broader community. In 2011, it had more than 20,000 contacts with the neighborhood’s youth over summer and after school, and it’s looking to do more.
“Our main goal is to instill respect in the children,” said Craig Mayfield, who directs its youth programs. “In all the years church has been here, even during the real wild years, we’ve never had a broken window. This is a place they respect, and we want that spirit to extend to every person he or she reaches.”