MADISON, Wis. - Between the homework and extracurricular activities, bus rides and social time, a teenager’s after-school hours are a precious commodity. It might come as a surprise that adolescents from the Boys & Girls Club are the ones serving the homeless every week.
Rain or shine, they pack up the organization’s signature van with a meal. Sometimes that’s brats and burgers. Other times, it means assembling tacos. Along with that, they bring bottles of water, donated clothing and toiletries, and sandwiches that stores handed over instead of throwing out. Those all get set up on top of a pop-up table at the top of State Street. People start lining up almost immediately.
Alexis Liggins is the first to admit that initially, this wasn’t how she pictured spending one afternoon a week.
“At first, probably not, but now, I like it,” Liggins said.
Jackie Wells is the associate director of teen and recreation programs with the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County. She’s the one who makes and organizes all of the food distributed to those in need during these outings.
“The more people we can get that means that we're reaching more numbers,” Wells said, “so it could be 10 people and I would be just as excited as the 50 that we get.”
Wells was inspired to start this weekly effort after Uly Williams retired last fall.
Williams was a janitor at the Boys & Girls Club for a number of years. His kindness didn’t stop at the kids.
This man inspired a movement in Madison... one that's led by kids he used to clean for. The Uly Project feeds the homeless once a week at the top of State Street. Have you seen it in action? More at 5. #dosomethinggood #news3now pic.twitter.com/AxnVPYebgY— Dannika Lewis (@DannikaLewis) June 6, 2019
Three times a week, Williams would leave his custodial shifts and go downtown with food that was going to be thrown away. Sometimes, he brought water, blankets and pillows, as well. It would be 8 or 9 o’clock before he finally got home.
“It's what I do. Let's just put it that way,” Williams said.
Williams made the commitment because he once lived on the street, wondering where he would sleep or eat. He never shared his personal experience with the Boys & Girls Club participants, but they were clearly inspired by what he did.
“It makes a big difference,” Williams said.
Even post-retirement, Williams isn’t home much. He still volunteers for various organizations that help the homeless and sits on committees that address issues pertinent to that community.
The Boys and Girls Club now calls the donation collections and weekly trips downtown the Uly Project. Williams says he hopes the kids connect with people different from themselves and learn the value of caring.
“They're getting to know the homeless now too,” Williams said.
“I just want them to learn to give back. Anything can happen in life that can wind you up in this situation, so I just want them to realize that there are a lot of people out here less fortunate than them,” Wells added. “They make me proud every week.”
The Uly Project continues to grow and will continue into the summer. Starting June 20, the group will be at the top of State Street on Thursday afternoons with food and water.
If you want to contribute to the Uly Project, you can drop off food, bottled water, and toiletries at the Boys & Girls Club on Allied Drive. Please specify those items are for the Uly Project.
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