Member achievement at Grand Avenue Club is typically associated with our workday and paid employment. This week we will focus on GAC's Supported Education Program, which began in 1994.

The first GAC member to pursue post-secondary education earned a bachelor's degree in nursing at Marquette University in 1995 and has been working as a nurse for the past 26 years. Since then, GAC members have earned vocational certificates and associate degrees at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) in the Culinary Arts, Welding, Human Services, Legal Assistance, Early Childhood Education, and Nursing. Members have also earned bachelor's degrees at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in Social Work and Biology.

Last week, we celebrated the achievements and anticipated graduation of Jose Carmona. Jose is the 2021 recipient of the Siegel-Gordon Scholarship for GAC students from money invested by the late Marty Siegel and his wife Judy Gordon, both of whom have served on our board of directors.

This past Friday afternoon we honored Jose, handed over the check, and listened carefully as Jose spoke compellingly of his educational journey and encouraged other GAC members to go to school.

This is Jose's story:

"Taunted by anxiety and depression, I followed my therapist's advice and joined GAC. I was desperate and had been in bed for 7 months. Joining GAC's Administration Unit, I did a lot of cashiering and computer work, which I enjoyed because I was always good at and liked math. One day I heard members talking about GAC's weekly Students With A Purpose (or SWAP) meetings, a support group for GAC's students. I asked about it and went to a meeting. When I heard other students talking, I decided it was time to do more with my life. GAC encouraged me to enroll at MATC. My goal was clear: to acquire enough training to land a job that I could do independently, perhaps as a freelancer working from home.

I am currently a candidate for an associate degree in Web Design and Media. I have already studied coding and web design and I pride myself on my innate skills in these areas. My studies in this area are actually FUN. However, not everything has been fun. For my assignments in a required English class, I was able to count on guidance about doing research, tutoring, and editing from GAC colleagues--members and staff-- Maria Elena Lepesquer, Darren Griffiths, Rachel Forman, and Nikki Lelinski.
I still have some social anxiety and this year has been particularly challenging. I do not like on-line learning. I much prefer face-to-face learning and classes with other students. Now my relationships with my professors are based solely on e-mailing and that's very hard. I am doing ok though and look forward to my graduation one year from now, in the spring of 2022.

I am very grateful to GAC and to the Siegel-Gordon Scholarship Fund. I am going to use the money to develop a website that will contain a permanent portfolio of my work and all the projects I have done. I will be able to upload my projects throughout my life. I will also be able to use the portfolio to market my talents and develop the business that I have been thinking about for such a long time. I will offer my services at market rates, but....if GAC needs me for a project that requires my skills, I will gladly do that as a volunteer."

All of us at Grand Avenue Club are very proud of Jose. These days he mostly studies at home. We love seeing him here when he comes down periodically to our third floor Student Suite to work. We all hope that our new members not only be inspired by his journey, but reassured by the educational support that is available at GAC.

Jon Broskowski, Interim Director of UWM's Accessibility Resource Center and long time friend of GAC, pictured below, has this to say about GAC's Supported Education Program:

"My name is Jon Broskowski, and I've worked at the UWM Accessibility Resource Center (ARC) for 21 years with a focus on mental health services. For a majority of those years, I have had the privilege of developing a working relationship with many of the members and staff of GAC. There have been a number of GAC members who have attended UWM, and have used ARC services, and for more years than I can count, I have made presentations and represented ARC at the GAC Educational Expo.

I enjoy attending the Ed. Expo every spring. It is an inviting experience that perfectly offers not only the opportunity to learn more about the resources available in the post-secondary educational environment but also fosters a connection with members to help promote successful navigation throughout the educational experience. It has been a great partnership between GAC and ARC and I look forward to ongoing collaborations as we move into the future."
Grace Lelinski, a senior at Ronald Reagan High School, created a Student Suite for her IB Personal Project for GAC colleagues to study, have internet access, tutor, and meet for weekly SWAP meetings.
Shoshana Elias and Lori Green supported each other through their educational journeys. Both received an associate degree from MATC.
Eric Smedstead, an MATC graduate with a degree in IT Computer Support Specialist, has used his education to update GAC's current computer system and create several programs for GAC.
Jon Broskowski and Tawney Latona, both of UWM, at GAC's Education Expo, typically an annual event at which area schools set up information tables in GAC's 4th floor Gallery to present information and respond to questions from members interested in returning to school.
GAC's weekly Students With A Purpose (SWAP) meeting offers GAC students and potential students a time and place to offer support, advice and tangible assistance, including tutoring and mentoring.

The Colleagues of Grand Avenue Club