Operation Fresh Start celebrates 50 years serving opportunity youth

MADISON, Wis. — A Dane County nonprofit is celebrating 50 years serving opportunity youth.

Since 1970, Operation Fresh Start has served more than 8,000 young people who are disconnected from school or work. Through education, mentoring and employment training, OFS provides a path to self-sufficiency. Graduates earn their high school diploma and driver’s license — the top two most required qualifications for employers. They also learn employability and leadership skills that can lead to high-paying careers.

OFS is hosting an online 50th anniversary kickoff series to look back on its history, hear from participants and highlight the organization’s impact on Dane County. The video series runs from Friday through Sept. 24. You can watch live at noon each day on the OFS Facebook page or YouTube channel.

Along with working to earn their diploma, participants are paid for working on a construction or conservation crew. OFS construction crews have built 250 affordable homes in Dane County. OFS conservation crews work to restore and maintain the natural beauty in city and county parks.

Operation Fresh Start participants are 70-percent youth of color, who may be falling through the cracks for a number of reasons: systemic racism, struggles with the criminal justice system, mental health challenges, a difficult home environment or homelessness.

“We address institutional racism and other factors that have held young people back, and work with them to recognize their strength and endurance to overcome these things,” said OFS Executive Director Greg Markle. “Another factor is we engage them in community-building activities: building affordable housing and natural areas. By doing that, it shifts their perspective on their role in the community to one of someone who can give back, who has a positive impact on the community.”

Operation Fresh Start has a 76-percent success rate of participants who attain their diploma, enroll in post-secondary education or gain employment. OFS programming also helps reduce recidivism.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi calls Operation Fresh Start an important asset to the community. “We invest in [OFS] because it works. It tackles the core issues that people need to deal with in order to move forward,” said Parisi. “I’ve actually increased funding for Fresh Start because of the return we get on it as far as human capital and the difference it makes in people’s lives.”

News 3 Now and Channel 3000 are sponsors of Operation Fresh Start. To learn more about how you can support the mission, visit operationfreshstart.org.

In honor of its 50th anniversary, OFS is working to raise $50,000 to expand programming and provide more young people a path to self-sufficiency. Click here to visit the Charity GoFundMe page.