"When I started at OFS, it felt good, like this is where I needed to be."
-Gloria Nelson, OFS Operations Director
Fresh Start Focus
October 2019

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Our Mission: Operation Fresh Start provides disconnected youth a path to self-sufficiency.

OFS: Harvesting Seeds
Harvesting Futures
By: Melissa Behling, OFS Volunteer
At Brigham County Park in Blue Mounds, you’ll find hiking trails, campgrounds, and a natural prairie area. Many residents enjoy its beauty but wouldn’t know how it came to be that way.

Operation Fresh Start members work to harvest compass plant seeds in the fall. The mature compass plant resembles wild sunflowers in its overall size, shape and structure. It takes nitrogen from the air and puts it back into the soil through its deep roots. The compass plant is easy to maintain, resists drought and can handle competition from other plants. No tall grass prairie is complete without it. 

“The different varieties of these flowers and grasses is what makes these prairies keep coming back year after year,” said Andrea Rieck, OFS conservation crew supervisor. “[Dane County] relies completely upon us and other volunteers to help harvest these seeds so they can keep making these parks beautiful.”
The seed harvesting process is shown in the video below, taken by OFS volunteer, Melissa Behling.
Members collect the seeds and dry them out in a storage unit. The seeds are kept in containers until the spring, when they’re ready to be spread in other parks that aren’t flourishing as well as they could be.  

By harvesting and spreading the seeds, OFS members and other volunteers save the county on average $300,000 per year.
The video below shows the import drying process.
Brandon H., an OFS Legacy participant, is part of Rieck’s crew. He says the experience has helped him learn what conservation is all about. 

“In the winter you cut trees, burn the wood, clean up the trees you don’t need there anymore so you don’t start a wildfire,” Hernandez said. “And then in the summer you basically just clean up old sticks, invasive plants and seeds. It’s pretty fun actually, if you get to know the people you work with.”
Brandon said he was able to show off his crew’s work on Festge Park when his family was there for a cookout. “I showed them everything we did and they were kind of amazed,” he said. “It was pretty cool.”
“We try to tell these guys: the work we’re doing now, you can see it immediately, but it’s really not the goal,” said Rieck. “The goal we’re looking for will be in 10 to 20 years. We’re not just making these parks great for us right now; we’re making them great for our kids and grandkids.”

Brian V., also an OFS Legacy participant, describes conservation as making parks look better. “We take out plants that don’t deserve growing and it feels pretty good — like we are saving the good plants,” he said.
Brian said Rieck is a good boss who has helped him through a lot of problems. “She told me I have to keep focused and never give up.”

Operation Fresh Start is helping Brian get his high school diploma so he can go to college to become an auto mechanic. He has loved cars since he was a child. 

Brandon says he didn’t like high school, and Operation Fresh Start is giving him a second chance to get his education the right way. “You come here and they give you a chance to work and go to school at the same time,” he said. “And they discipline you a little bit so basically you grow up faster. I think it’s a good idea for people like me.”
“A lot of young people stay home, playing video games and watching TV; they don’t get out as much and don’t even know these parks are here,” said Rieck.  

After getting to know their crew members and other volunteers, she says they feel like they’re part of the community. “It’s not just another park anymore; it’s people’s homes, places people go every day and appreciate the work they did.

“That translates into them wanting to take care of this community, wanting to take care of the city and caring about what happens to it.”

That becomes a cycle. Some of the members have children and take them to see the work they’ve done. “Hopefully [their children will] appreciate these parks and want to work on them and take care of them.”
Matching Gift Support
We thank Second Market Capital Economic Opportunity Foundation for their generous matching gift support!
We are happy to report that between June 27 - October 15, we have achieved the match goal of $22,000. During that time frame, we raised $27,710 in gifts through our marketing efforts, $22,000 of which will be matched by Second Market Capital Economic Opportunity Foundation !

We are gracious for organizations like Second Market Capital who believe in the Fresh Start mission and continue to give our young people the opportunities and tools they need to become self-sufficient members of our community.
OFS Winter Wish List
Fresh Start crews and teachers are in need of a few items as winter approaches.

Please help us with our wish list items below!
Donation arrangements can be made by emailing
OFS Staff Focus - Gloria
Gloria Nelson is Operation Fresh Start’s longest-serving employee, approaching 30 years with the organization in November.
By: Julie Donagan, OFS Volunteer

Nelson grew up on a farm in Iowa County. She attended school in the River Valley School District, graduating from River Valley High School in Spring Green. Nelson described her young self as a “music geek,” playing music starting in fourth grade. She played the clarinet, and participated in marching band, jazz band, and community theater band in high school. Her interest music led her to study music education at the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire directly out of high school.

While Nelson still appreciates music today, she changed her course of study during her sophomore year at Eau Claire, changing her focus to special education. She graduated in 1978 with a comprehensive major, which allowed her to teach K-12 special education with a focus on cognitive disabilities, as well as regular elementary education.

After graduation, Nelson spent a few years working in restaurants before moving to Madison in the early 1980’s. Nelson got a job as a teacher’s aid for the Madison School District, working with high school students with severe physical handicaps. Over the course of a few years, she worked at Madison East High School and James Madison Memorial High School.

After working a few years as a job coach and case manager for a community-based organization serving adults with developmental disabilities and not feeling that it was the right job for her, Nelson saw an advertisement for a teaching position at OFS. A friend who worked with the foster care system was familiar with the organization and encouraged her to apply. At the time, OFS had an office in Sun Prairie as well as a Madison office on Winnebago Street. Nelson was hired to teach at the Madison location in November of 1989.

As a teacher, Nelson taught all the GED-required subjects, as well as independent living skills and interviewing skills to prepare people for their job searches and next steps after leaving OFS. She described it as “a little bit of everything.”

After Nelson had taught for 10-12 years, a job became available at OFS focusing on data collection and reporting for the organization.

“I had reached a point that I recognized that I maybe needed a change,” Nelson said. The timing was perfect. She was approached by former Executive Director Connie Ferris Bailey asking if she would be interested in the position. Nelson also knew of a former OFS participant who had gone on to get her teaching degree and was interested in working at OFS.

“I knew she was ready, and I just felt like, ‘Karen wants to come and take over my teaching job and I can leave my classroom in good hands,’” she recalled.

The new data-focused position was a good fit for Nelson.

“I’m a detail-oriented person and I love messing around with paperwork and numbers,” she said. She worked in this role for 7-8 years before moving into the operations director role in 2012, when OFS’s grant writer switched roles and encouraged Nelson to take over.

Throughout her time at OFS, she has seen the program grow and evolve.
“It’s just worlds different,” she said. When Nelson began work with OFS in the late 80’s, high schools referred students to the program to get their GED’s. At the time, a GED was the only option; it was not until later that OFS received funding to spend more time working with each individual to help them work toward a high school diploma.

Nelson recognizes that she has grown as well over the course of her career with OFS.
“When I graduated from college, I was really immature and really sheltered, and when I went to Fresh Start, it was the first time in my life I was exposed to diverse backgrounds and cultures ,” Nelson said. Despite her lack of exposure to diversity growing up, Nelson was drawn to working in a diverse environment at OFS.

“When I started at OFS, it felt good, like this is where I needed to be. These are the things I need to learn, and this is how I need to challenge myself,” she said.

Nelson’s favorite part of her job is seeing young people succeed—to “have them come back or call or whatever, and to have them be healthy and happy and confident, and think ‘I played a part in that.’”

She recalls favorite experiences where she got to watch students grow, with one student in particular whom Nelson described as “a wonderful, smart, talented young woman … but she was bossy.” Nelson shared that this student was a caretaker, having been required to take care of her parents growing up and extending that into other relationships. “She was always taking care of them and not taking care of herself,” Nelson described.

This student joined the military, and later got married. Nelson received a card from her with a photo of her family, saying, “Thank you Gloria—You always told me I didn’t have to take care of everybody, and now I found these are the people I need to take care of, and they take care of me.”

“That’s one of my favorites—just seeing a young person grow, thrive, and figure out who they really are. There are a lot of stories like that, ” Nelson said.
Congrats to OFS Participant, Greg!
It's a proud Day at OFS as Greg Lee completes the Legacy Program and moves into his next career path as part of our Grad Crew. Grad Crew is a construction training program that gives young adults experience, skills & work pace to successfully transition into construction apprenticeships!

Great things are to come from this young man because he put in the hard work and did what he needed to do to change for the better. With the help of our OFS staff, his crew leader  Cory Rich  and community leaders, like Jim Hartlieb, Greg's former football coach, OFS supporter and President of First Business Bank, Greg has the positive role models around him for continued support.

Thank you for your support!
Operation Fresh Start is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Operation Fresh Start | www.operationfreshstart.org