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Fresh Start Focus

February 2023

Conservation Signing Day

On February 2, we celebrated Mitch's graduation from the OFS Conservation Academy program and being hired on with Groundswell Conservancy as a Land Management Specialist.

"I've watched Mitch really develop into a strong worker," stated Cory Rich, OFS Construction and Conservation Manger. "I've witnessed his self-confidence grow considerably, and that's probably my favorite thing that I've gotten to witness from Mitch, the Mitch that sits before you here today. Head held high, shoulder slung back is not the same Mitch that walked in the door a year and a half ago. So I'm really proud of the strides he's taken to build himself up."

While in the Conservation Academy Program, Mitch has earned his credentials and certificates in the following:

* OSHA 10

* CPR/First Aid

* Pesticide Applicator Training - 6.0 Right-of-Way

* Pre-apprenticeship in Conservation and Urban Forestry

* Chainsaw use and safety

* Small engine maintenance and repair

* Wildland Fire - IS-100 and in process of earning S130 and S190

* Plant identification

"When we met Mitch, I could tell that he's the right person to have in a role like this," said Tony Abate, Groundswell Conservancy Conservation Director. "I think about how many people are missing these opportunities, because we've put this arbitrary restriction that people have to have a college education. Whether it's starting at the beginning pulling weeds and cutting stumps, or working on some of the more complex work that we do. It's an arbitrary restriction. The Conservation Academy is such an important program to have in our community."

Mitch also earned $500 by applying to the Conservation Academy Tool Scholarship. He will have the right gear and tools needed to be successful on the job.

Conservation Academy is a paid training program for young people ages 18-24, with a high school diploma, who have an interest in land management opportunities. Click here to learn more or to apply.

Photos by: Maria Drews, OFS Volunteer

OFS receives Grant from

Otto Bremer Trust

Thank you to the Otto Bremer Trust for your support and believing in the programs we provide emerging adults in Dane County. OFS received a $70,000 grant for general operations to provide education, mentoring, and employment training opportunities for young adults.

The Otto Bremer Trust is a private charitable trust based in St. Paul, Minn. Created in 1944 by Otto Bremer, it is committed to supporting a better quality of life for residents of Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. Since its founding, OBT has invested nearly $1 billion in people, places, and opportunities in its region.


Congratulations to Mea on her graduation from Operation Fresh Start Legacy Program and earning her High School Diploma from Madison East High School👏👩‍🎓

“I'm proud of Mea because she's so brave,” said Grace Coleman, OFS Legacy Conservation Supervisor. “She didn't really have a lot of experience with outdoor stuff. Some of her sayings starting out were, ‘I don't think I want to do that... I don't want to... I'm good... I don't want to try that.’ And then later, she would always come back to it and be like, ‘You know what, I'm gonna try it. Let's do it.’ And so eventually, that led to her using brush cutters, chainsaws, starting gigantic piles of fire by herself... just a really brave person and a really big leader on the crew. I think that one thing you really gained during your time here is a lot of confidence."

“So first, I want to thank Grace, because I think that she was the best supervisor I could have gotten here,” Mea expressed. “She's kind, funny, and hardworking and always pushed me to be the best worker I can be on site. And from the get-go, she made me feel comfortable enough to hear about any issues I had on site or in life, in general. And I'm very thankful to her.”

Not only did Mea get comfortable using brush cutters and chainsaws, she loved it so much she is pursing a career in conservation, starting this week in OFS's Conservation Academy training program!

Mea, with the life skills you've learned and the incredible work ethic ingrained within you, you will be amazing at anything you set your mind to! We are so very proud of you.

📸Senior picture provided by: Jim Barnard Photography

Congratulations to Chief on his graduation from the OFS Legacy Program and earning his diploma from Madison East High School.

"Chief has such a big heart and a need and desire to help people that he showed around here and in his life goals," said Grace Coleman, OFS Legacy Conservation Supervisor. "You have worked really hard and showed up almost every day, and when things did come up, you were really good at communicating to me. Chief, you are so persistent and worked hard for this and I am so happy to see you stand up here today!"

Big thanks to all the support Chief received from the Madison East High School staff members, family, and friends. We appreciate you all showing up for this big milestone in Chief's life.

What's next - Chief is heading down to Puerto Rico with his Grandpa to build a house and see how he can use his skills to help others in that community!

📸Senior picture provided by: Jim Barnard Photography


Thank you to the UnityPoint Health – Meriter Foundation for donating four tickets to Operation Fresh Start for their sold out Love is Love fundraiser to support LGBTQ+ youth mental health programs held February 3 at the Overture Center.

(photo l-r) Adrianna, Kas (interns from the UW Madison Social Work Program), Mea and Kaylee (OFS Legacy participants) had a wonderful time and grateful for the opportunity to attend.

Operation Fresh Start Build Academy tier 1 crews have been working on building a home on Deerfield. Tier 1 Build Academy crews are working on industry pace, learning residential construction and working side-by-side with other trade leaders. Special shout out to Fabick CAT for the donation of a telehandler with side stabilizers to help us "raise the roof." Job well done by our crews and we thank the community for the support!

The Website is LIVE!!!

Thank you to Ryan Pope from Out of the Box Advisors for providing extensive in-kind services in the redesign of the OFS website, optimization, and staff training. Check it out at www.operationfreshstart.org 


Want to learn more about Operation Fresh Start programs? Come to our community open house to talk to staff, hear from current participants and take a tour.

Wednesday, March 15


Address: 2670 Milwaukee St, Madison

RSVP: Click here!

Celebrate Women in Construction Week™

In honor of Women in Construction week, WRTP | BIG STEP and Operation Fresh Start will be holding WOMEN IN THE TRADES CAREER FAIR on March 7th from 11 AM to 3 PM. This is a great opportunity to learn and connect with local trades professionals to learn about careers with family sustaining wages. Click HERE to register.

Thank you for helping OFS empower emerging adults on their path to self-sufficiency!


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