The first-ever Wells Fargo People’s Choice Awards were presented to three programs that address the disparate needs of city residents: Guest House of Milwaukee’s Cream City Gardens and Rain Harvesting Project; Benedict Center’s Sisters Diversion Project; and Express Yourself Milwaukee. More than 1,600 members of the public voted online in the People’s Choice Award contest, which was housed at the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service website. Winners each received $1,000.
The Benedict Center’s Sisters Diversion Project, which also won the PNC Trail Blazer Award, offers an alternative to incarceration to stop the cycle of prostitution, working with police and prosecutors.
Guest House of Milwaukee’s Cream City Gardens and Rain Harvesting Project is a rainwater pavilion in the gardens across the street from Guest House, 1216 N. 13th St., which enables formerly homeless residents to grow food and learn marketable skills.
Express Yourself Milwaukee reaches out to youth in residential facilities, treatment shelters, juvenile detention residences and urban schools, offering healing and transformation through the arts.
The winners were announced at the Milwaukee Awards for Neighborhood Development Innovation (MANDI) gala at the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino on April 15. The awards ceremony is an annual event hosted by LISC Milwaukee and sponsored by U.S. Bank. More than 800 nonprofit, corporate and public-sector leaders attended. Its purpose is to call attention to individuals and organizations that work to revitalize Milwaukee’s most distressed urban neighborhoods.
Candidates are nominated by their peers and reviewed by a selection committee of 40 private, public and government volunteers. The committee chooses finalists and, except for the People’s Choice Awards, selects the winners.
HOME GR/OWN’s Ezekiel Gillespie Park received the Brewers Community Foundation Public Space Award, which recognizes public space efforts that contribute to the community. The park was developed in partnership with Walnut Way Conservation Corp. This multi-use park—the first of the city’s HOME GR/OWN strategy for transforming vacant lots—features native plants, fruit trees and sustainable water systems. Other finalists were The ARTery and Holton Bridge Swing Park.
Rotary Club of Milwaukee received the BMO Harris Bank Cornerstone Award, which recognizes an organization for its community commitment and effectiveness over time. The club has been active in revitalizing some of the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. Other finalists were Express Yourself Milwaukee (a People’s Choice winner) and the Pan-African Community Association.
Venice Williams of Alice’s Garden won the Northern Trust Navigator Award, which recognizes an individual for leadership and collaboration. Williams’ work at Alice’s Garden allows people to exchange gardening knowledge and to engage with one another. Other finalists were LaKetta Caldwell of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee and Todd Hutchison of Impact Seven.
Benedict Center’s Sisters Diversion Project received the PNC Trail Blazer Award along with the People’s Choice Award. The PNC Trail Blazer Award recognizes an innovative approach to a community problem. Other finalists were Cream City Gardens and Rain Harvesting, Guest House of Milwaukee (also a People’s Choice winner); and Mobile Bike Hub, Layton Boulevard West Neighbors.
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Joseph J. Zilber School of Public Health received the State Farm Building Blocks Award. The award recognizes a real estate project that benefits the community. The Zilber School of Public Health transformed a 100-year-old cold-storage warehouse in the Pabst Brewery and anchors a historic area.
Leo Ries, who is stepping down as executive director of LISC Milwaukee, received the Vision Award from Mayor Tom Barrett to a standing ovation. The award recognized his efforts in building partnerships among city stakeholders to help rebuild neighborhoods.