Will Green is co-founder of Mentoring Positives.

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Mentoring Positives, a local grassroots organization devoted to mentoring youth in Darbo-Worthington, has remained strong and busy during the pandemic. It has expanded its scope as of late, thanks to financial support and contributions from other organizations. And organizers are ready to celebrate this Thursday, with the return of the Darbo Block Party in Worthington Park. 

A peace walk as part of the events feels particularly timely. Gun violence has been prominent during summer 2021, including a shooting on Thursday night in the Darbo-Worthington area. The level of gun violence in Madison over the past two years has become a concern to residents across the city.

“We just have had some incidents with shootings,” said Will Green, founder and CEO of Mentoring Positives and organizer of the Block Party. “Often it is cars driving by shooting. Some homeowners have been having meetings about cars coming in and speeding out.”

Darbo is essentially a circular neighborhood with a large Black population who live in apartments surrounding Worthington Park. Those apartment buildings are themselves surrounded by single family homes.

Many of these homeowners support movements like Black Lives Matter, and the greater Darbo-Worthington neighborhood is comprised of a progressive and racially diverse community. But there remains some unspoken tension between the people who rent within Darbo and the homeowners who do not want the crime or violence of Darbo to spill into the larger surrounding area.

“We want to get people out for the peace walk and connect as neighbors,” Green said. “We have to get past this ‘renters surrounded by homeowners’ thing. We can just connect as neighbors. We’ll do it right in Worthington park at the basketball courts and just connect with the community.”

Toward entrepreneurship

Green has been running Mentoring Positives for 17 years. MP’s biggest goal is to steer children away from the streets and toward entrepreneurship. Green has grown famous for his Off the Block salsa and frozen pizzas, which have been a vehicle to teach kids how to run a business.

Earlier this month, Mentoring Positives received a $100,000 grant from the UW Credit Union in conjunction with United Way.

“What UW Credit Union really tried to do from a racial equity standpoint was break down barriers of applying for grant funds,” Green said. “Through the United Way they had a very seamless grant process. … We hope to hire some staff here to help implement bringing new kids into the program and landing the kids jobs after they’ve met a few metrics in the program.”

After years of back and forth with the Salvation Army, Green has been able to bring Mentoring Positives back into the gymnasium located at 3030 Darbo Drive. Right now, Mentoring Positives has about seven or eight kids in the Black Zone, which is the highest level of the Mentoring Positives program. The White Zone and Red Zone are entry levels, where kids learn financial literacy and other business skills. In Black Zone they implement those skills.

Kids with budgets

Thanks to another big donation from Colorcoded, an IT career and technical skill development program geared towards girls and other youths of color, Mentoring Positives was able to provide kids with laptops for this summer’s financial literacy programming.

“I gave them a little budget that they would need to use their money for,” Green said. “Some were able to save and some were in the hole.”

Green laughed. “We had to deliver some financial literacy to the kids,” he added. “We’ve been doing that over the course of the summer. One of my board members who works with Wells Fargo just came in to talk to the kids about saving money, and how to put money away. “

Overall, things seem positive in the world of Mentoring Positives. Being recognized by United Way and being able to provide kids with ever-growing levels of exposure to the world outside of Darbo has Green feeling good.

“We do a lot of work that goes behind the scenes in Madison,” Green said. “A lot of people still don’t know who we are and I look forward to expanding ourselves. It was nice being able to partner with them (Colorcoded, United Way, and UW Credit Union) and bring more equity into the fold.”

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