United Methodist Children’s Services (UMCS) strives to make significant differences in the lives of children and families in Milwaukee’s Washington Park Neighborhood.
Milwaukee, WI – On any given Saturday or Sunday morning, residents of UMCS’s properties at 3940 West Lisbon Avenue in Milwaukee are likely to see a familiar face picking up trash around the building. UMCS staff like to joke with Executive Director Bill Schmitt that picking up trash is his favorite thing to do.
“Well, I live close by. I am usually on my way somewhere on my bike and like to swing by to check on things.” States Bill Schmitt. “And if you see a little trash on the ground, you can’t just ride past it. You gotta pick it up.” Continues Schmitt.
This is the type of dedication and commitment that is commonplace at UMCS and why Forward Community Investments (FCI) is proud to call them a partner while providing patient capital and resources so they can address the needs of low-income families living in poverty in the Washington Park neighborhood. UMCS’ programs and services can be classified into four interrelated categories.
- Housing – With 72 units of safe, affordable housing, individualized case management, and a positive living environment, they help individuals, and families create stability for their everyday lives and set goals for their future
- Childcare – The Growing Tree Children’s Center offers childcare for children aged 6 weeks to 12 years which allows parents and guardians time to hold family-sustaining jobs, attend school, and accomplish other basic needs.
- Resources – The Family Resource Center includes an Emergency Food Pantry, Senior Stockbox Program, and winter clothing/hygiene product distribution. In addition to these services, they also provide access to Food Share representatives, health care professionals, volunteer legal assistance and other community advocates that assist residents in accessing available resources.
- Community Engagement – Throughout the years, UMCS community organizers have built strong partnerships with a wide array of community-based organizations, schools, businesses, government entities, and other institutions that are united in their commitment to supporting the neighborhood and helping residents put down roots and develop connections.
FCI and UMCS began their partnership in 2008 to assist in their financing of affordable housing units which was part of a larger multi-phased neighborhood development project. As a result of the financial assistance and flexibility provided by FCI, UMCS provides 55 housing units that are designated for low-income families heading for self-sufficiency, and an additional 17 units that are supported through partnerships with Milwaukee County Housing Division (15 units) and Hope House (2 units) and that are reserved for families transitioning out of homelessness. Taken together, these units account for the 72 available units UMCS provides.
“FCI has been a constant partner with us as we work towards fulfilling our mission. We feel a sense of mission alignment with FCI. They came to us and asked, ‘what can we do to help.’ Our work is very difficult and to do it well, we need a partner like FCI.” Explains Bill Schmitt.
In addition to their existing services, they made the necessary decision to take property management services in-house, which allows them to create a more involved relationship with their tenants. Previously while working with third-party property management companies, tenants didn’t feel heard or supported and their living experience wasn’t what UMCS intended it to be.
“It is very difficult but vitally important work to provide quality property management services. This way we can work with the individuals and families to support them in many ways. This type of property management service is something that is lacking massively throughout the city.” States Schmitt.
The additional workload that came along with the property management duties was something that UMCS staff embraced to showcase the care and empathy they had for their tenants. This included hiring some additional staff such as a general property, facilities, and maintenance manager, but it also included additional job duties for existing staff. One shining example of this is Receptionist Rebia Taylor who became a Housing Assistant.
“Rebia is the true testament of what we are trying to accomplish. She addresses any concerns existing tenants have and also provides assistance to potential tenants with intake paperwork to ensure it is completed accurately and comprehensively to help put them in a better position to receive assistance. Her knowledge of each individual and/or their family’s situation allows her to be an advocate for them in a way that may have not been provided for them in a long time or even ever. She is most certainly one of the main reasons why we are able to harbor a safe, communal living culture for our tenants.” Comments Leah Laven-Wilson, Director of Housing and Social Services at UMCS.
While the services at UMCS have changed and expanded throughout the years, their foundational goal has remained the same to make a significant difference in the lives of children and their families.
About Forward Community Investments
FCI is an investor, connector, and advisor for organizations and initiatives that reduce social, racial, and economic disparities in Wisconsin communities. We envision an equitable and inclusive Wisconsin built on cooperative social action. In its capacity as a statewide community development financial institution (CDFI), FCI infuses capital into economically underserved communities and neighborhoods. www.forwardci.org; www.facebook.com/forwardcommunityinvestments