Michael Johnson (copy)

Michael Johnson is the CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, which is planning to open a skilled trades training center for youth. 

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Boosting the skills and opportunities for youth pursuing a career in the trades is the aim of a project from the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, and it’s being helped by significant donations from the community.

The new regional Skilled Trades Training Center will be located at 5225 Verona Road in the former Thermo Fisher Scientific building on the edge of Fitchburg.

Local developer John McKenzie is buying the building and donating it to the Boys and Girls Club to create the training center.

“I’m very aware of the shortage of skilled workers,” McKenzie said. “They’re largely older, white men retiring and we don’t have enough people in the skilled workforce.”

In addition to the building, several large donations have come in recently, and BGCDC is also hoping to boost funding through its annual bike/run/walk event this month, MOVE4BGC.

“This will be the fundraiser of the year,” Boys & Girls Club of Dane County CEO Michael Johnson said. “We’ve been doing this campaign for 19 years, and people are very excited about it. We’ve had over 1,500 contributions already and over 480 people have registered already to ride or walk.”

Johnson said the goal is to raise $1.2 million to support the skilled trades center and because of generous donations, the club is only $120,000 away from achieving that goal. 

“The campaign this year is all targeted,” he said. “This is the first year we’ve designated a specific project like this.”

Skilled trades center moving forward

McKenzie said the idea for the training center grew as he had conversations with Johnson and representatives of the Madison Area Builders Association, which is partnering with BGCDC on the project.

At the new center, Madison Area Builders Association will provide kids with hands-on trades training and kids will be able to earn certifications and job placements.

Because BGCDC serves kids from every kind of background, the training will not only introduce kids to a variety of careers, but it will also diversify what historically has been a largely white workforce.

“It’s nice to have people who have been marginalized be able to participate in the American Dream,” McKenzie said. “If they commit to showing up on time and doing the work… we’ll expose them to various in-demand trades.”

McKenzie pointed out that many kids may not realize how well-paying and available jobs in the skilled trades — as electricians, plumbers, etc. — are.

“Many of the kids don’t have exposure to this as an option,” he said. They “don’t know if they pay really well or how to get them.”

‘A very worthwhile cause’

McKenzie said the long-term goal is to raise approximately $15 million for the skilled trades center and that they are already close to halfway there thanks to generous donations. 

One such donor was his mother, Jean McKenzie, who cleared out an old business account and donated the $140,000 in it to the Boys & Girls Club. 

Jean McKenzie said that she saw the work her son and Johnson are doing to provide avenues to success for area youth, and knew that her donation would be well-spent. 

“I just think it's a very worthwhile cause and the combination of Michael Johnson and John McKenzie will maximize the benefits of any gift,” she said.

“This is terribly important,” she said. “This will give the kids a chance to know that these trades exist and they’ll be educated about the opportunities and trained in the qualifications, if they have that goal in mind.”

Philanthropist Pleasant Rowland also donated over $5 million, John McKenzie said.

“(Rowland’s) endorsement alone was amazing,” he said. “In my opinion, there’s a place for private enterprise to address social problems better than the government can because we can move fast and take it from there without a whole lot of interference from someone. 

“Michael Johnson has built such a great organization. So we know it’s not going to be wasted. All the money is going to go to helping people.”

More events upcoming

On July 17, the Boys & Girls Club will have its annual MOVE4BGC event from 7 a.m.-2 p.m. at McKee Farms Park, 2930 Chapel Valley Road, in Fitchburg. The annual event, which was formerly known as BIKE4BGC, is an in-person event. People can sign up individuals or as part of a team. 

People can register for either 50- or 25-mile bike rides, 4- or 2-mile runs, and a long walk. 

The MOVE4BGC event will be followed by a party where guests are encouraged to wear white. The White Party begins at 6 p.m. at 5225 Verona Road in Fitchburg. It will feature live music, a DJ, food and drinks, and a surprise celebrity guest. 

Johnson hopes that funds raised during both events will help equip and furnish the new skilled trades center.

“We’re asking people to register and donate for the Move event. And then we’re going to have a big party,” Johnson said. “It’s going to be a phenomenal event.”