This is a story about a marriage of 2 people who first met at Grand Avenue Club. They are our colleagues Golisa and James Underwood. Today at lunch, they told a table full of friends about their story of endurance and romance. This led to the group of 8 colleagues—members and staff—reflecting on several couples who have met at GAC, and are still enriching each other’s lives.


Golisa was born in 1968 in Marks, Mississippi and came with her mother, 7 sisters, and 1 brother to Milwaukee when she was 4 months old. The family lived on the corner of 28th and Meinecke and she graduated from John Marshall High School. As a young woman, she experienced many psychiatric hospitalizations and yet she refused to accept that she had a mental illness and was totally isolated. She did attend the Milwaukee Business Training Institute and found work as a business assistant and word processor. Eventually, she also worked for the Milwaukee County Warmline and as a Peer Support Specialist.


James was born in 1962 and raised in a large family in the Cabrini-Green Housing Project in Chicago. In describing his early life, he says "everything in my childhood was chaotic." He joined the U.S. Navy in 1979 and served for 1 year. He came to Milwaukee in 1987.


James struggled mightily with both mental illness and addiction and learned about GAC at Milwaukee’s Veterans' Administration Hospital. “At GAC I liked all the work units but immediately joined the Culinary Unit. Right away I felt that I was needed and wanted at GAC. Eventually I did the Group Placement at Redeemer Lutheran Church. After that, I was able to say to myself, 'I'm going to make something of myself and mental illness won’t stop me.” In a few years, with an enthusiastic letter of recommendation from GAC, James landed a job as a City of Milwaukee laborer. He worked for the City for 9 and a half years. He takes great pride in that job and now has a good pension.


Golisa and James met at "Ain't It Grand," where Golisa was working. (“Ain’t It Grand” is the shop that restricted its sales to GAC colleagues. It eventually led to the founding of "Water St. Boutique.") Today at lunch they appeared to enjoy revealing to us that on that day they stepped out into the hall for their first kiss!


Then they arranged for their first date: dinner at a restaurant and a church service. After taking time to get to know each other, they became a couple. James and Golisa also worked together on Milwaukee County’s Warmline…and then they married in 2015.


Their appreciation and devotion to each is apparent to their GAC colleagues. Golisa says, “Since I have been together with James, I have not been hospitalized. I have even become a bit of an achiever.” James says, “Now that my parents and my many siblings are gone, Golisa is my only family. That’s okay because Golisa is everything I want.”


Golisa adds, “I’m glad about that, but a long marriage takes a lot of effort. What really keeps us together is hard work and our shared belief in God. We were drawn to each other by God and it is no accident that we went to church together on our first date. God helps us with mental illness as well. We can count on each other and, at this time, ours is an unbreakable bond.”


The couple is still active at GAC. Golisa says, “GAC is a place where we can be together among friends. If not for GAC, we never would have met. I’m grateful to GAC for that.”


James adds, “GAC enhances what our home life is all about. Being GAC members has taught us how to be together and how to stay together while still being involved in things outside our home. I met the love of my life in this building.


We wish Golisa and James many more years of caring. We thank them for sharing their story with us!

Above: James with two of his colleagues making outreach calls.

Above: Golisa working a Transitional Employment position at Derco Aerospace in 2011.

Above: Golisa (on the right) preparing a salad for, and with, her colleagues.

Grand Avenue Club

The Colleagues of Grand Avenue Club