88Nine Radio Milwaukee

The Marcus Center brings holiday cheer to hospital patients and staff

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Life during the pandemic can be hard, especially if you’re a patient at a hospital this holiday season. The Marcus Center is using music to uplift  hospital staff and patients.

Heidi Lofy, vice president of experience and engagement at the Marcus Center, says that as she and her team heard about a potential winter increase in Covid-19 cases they started to worry about what patients and hospital staff could be facing.

“My programming and outreach team said, ‘Wow, we’re starting to feel bad again about people who are in hospitals,’” Heidi says. They wondered, “‘Is there something that the Marcus Center could do to bring some joy through the arts into those facilities during this holiday season?’”

So the team decided to produce a video holiday concert series that staff, patients and their families can watch on demand.

“We all know that arts and music in particular can be healing for people,” says Heidi. “It impacts people and it takes them away from their everyday cares and worries.”

Rana Roman performs a hit from “Frozen” for the Marcus Center | Courtesy of Marcus Center

There are four performers for the series, Paul Helm, Rana Roman, Chris Crane and Cynthia Cobb. On the Marcus Center stage, they sing a variety of songs and holiday favorites. The video series is a way for people to feel as if they were at the Marcus Center watching a performance.

Heidi says the pandemic has been hard for the arts. Like almost every performance venue, the Marcus Center has had to stop holding in-person events. 

As vaccines for the coronavirus have people looking forward to being out and enjoying gatherings again, the events of 2020 leave behind a lot to process.

“I think we all are reacting to all of everything that’s happened with the uprising, Black Lives Matter, and reassessing how we are focused on equity and being anti-racist,” says Heidi. “How do we take those messages and really use art to heal and move people forward? I think this time, while it’s been incredibly difficult for artists and people who want to enjoy art, there’s going to be this explosion of amazing creativity that kind of comes out on the other side.”

For now, Heidi says that the concert series can hopefully heal people alongside hospitals that are doing the same.

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Riverwest Food Pantry finds new purpose amid the pandemic

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“Back when the pandemic started, we had a dramatic switch within our pantry operation,” explains Amanda Farendorf, the Mission Advancement Associate for the Riverwest Food Pantry. “It required a lot of creative thinking and quick thinking of like, how are we still able to serve our community best, especially in the beginning, where there’s a significant amount not really known about Covid-19 and how it could spread.”

Riverwest Food Pantry is located at St. Casmir Church’s basement. Normally, the pantry operates as a place where people could meet each other while eating brunch on Saturday or shopping for food, but due to the pandemic the brunches have been suspended and the shopping has shifted to an outdoor drive thru.

To keep the community connection, Amanda says the pantry started curbside chats where volunteers and staff talk with people as they drive up to get food. She credits some of the conversations she’s had for helping her get through the pandemic. 

“I was having a super down week of Covid,” says Amanda. “I went to the pantry, we were just starting to close, and a woman came racing into our parking lot asking for food.”

Amanda says they grabbed her some food and as she talked to the woman, she burst into tears.

“She’s like, ‘I’m so done with Covid, I’m so done with this,’” says Amanda. “She really poured her heart out to me about a lot of her struggles.”

Photo courtesy Riverwest Food Pantry

Amanda says she listened rather than trying to solve or fix her problems.

“I remember her looking in the mirror and being like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m a mess. My makeup is everywhere and I’m just a mess,’” says Amanda. “I just started laughing and I was like, ‘You know what? I looked like that yesterday.’” 

Those moments have reminded her the pantry is a place where people can build relationships..

Amanda says the pantry has helped some 4,800 households since the beginning of the pandemic. That’s a little more than 12,000 people. The pantry has given out nearly 87,000 pounds of food — an enormous amount for just one pantry primarily serving the neighborhood and surrounding zip codes.

Volunteers at the Riverwest Food Pantry bag fresh fruits and veggies | Photo courtesy Riverwest Food Pantry

When the pandemic first hit the number of people who came to the pantry decreased below what they normally serve pre-pandemic. Amanda says it’s because people wondered if the pantry was still open and operating as normal. The pantry’s numbers also dipped a bit when government assistance with the pandemic became available to people. She says people sought out the pantry a little less in those moments. As circumstances have changed over time, people have returned.

The pantry gets its work done thanks to volunteers who are out in the rain and now snow as the colder, darker months roll in.

Amanda says staff would ask volunteers if they were tired or fatigued as some come in every week. Their response?

“They’re like, ‘This is my life,’” says Amanda. “‘This is the only thing I see outside my house.’”

Running a pantry during the pandemic isn’t easy, but it has its rewards.

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A farewell to a Milwaukee smokestack

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Normally we talk about the history of Milwaukee buildings on 88Nine and OnMilwaukee’s Urban Spelunking podcast, but this week we’re talking about a part of a building.

And we’re saying goodbye, too, to an iconic smokestack.

Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo/OnMilwaukee

You’ve surely seen it rising above its Walker’s Point rooftop — visible from the High Rise Bridge — painted with the Sprecher logo on a white background. The logo has been there since the mid 1980s.

If not instantly recognizable from memory, this photo may help.

Photo via OnMilwaukee.com

Recognize it now?

The smokestack was demolished last week for structural reasons and is “the last remaining bit of a power station adjacent the building at 730 W. Oregon St. where former Pabst brewery Randy Sprecher launched the city’s first craft brewery in 1985,” writes OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo.

He gave us one last look at the smokestack, plus he shares how three modern day Milwaukee “pioneers” share a connection to the deconstruction.

Listen to this week’s podcast below and read more at OnMilwaukee.

Alverno College’s Girls’ Academy fights Zoom fatigue with science kits

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 “We wanted to make science relatable, something that the girls are excited about,” says Elizabeth Gamillo, Program Coordinator for Alverno College’s Girls’ Academy. “We know that there’s a lot of science that goes into creating products and creating makeup that is safe for consumers to use.”

For about 10 years, high school girls have been attending Alverno College’s Girls’ Academy learning STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) through hands-on experiments. In the statistics department girls create solar powered robots and in the chemistry division girls create lipsticks and lotions.

Elizabeth says that since classes went online because of the pandemic, however, attendance has fallen by roughly half.

When Elizabeth saw the girl’s attendance dip, she needed a way to keep the girls engaged, so she came up with math and science kits that fit in with their course work. The first kit is going to be bath bombs. The kits come with everything they need to complete an at home experiment.

Elizabeth Gamillo holds up a science kit that girls will receive.

“We have little containers that will have ingredients that they need to make the bath bombs,” says Elizabeth. “Like powder, citric acid, baking soda.”

And maybe the kits will address Zoom fatigue.

“Since they already are Zooming online, because of their regular school activities, it’s not appealing for them to go online again on Fridays and continue to be on Zoom,” says Elizabeth.

It’s not just attendance that has been a challenge for online learning. Lauralee Guilbart is the chemistry instructor for the Girls’ Academy and she says she’s seen her and her student’s work styles change since the pandemic began.

“I find myself working continuously,” says Lauralee. “In the past, I’ve always had students who have emailed me late at night but I get a lot more now.”

Lauralee says that Zoom can also pose some challenges to live experiments.

“I’ve noticed that if I’m in the lab and I’m watching what somebody’s doing, I can ask a direct question, ‘Did you really think that that’s where you, you’re supposed to end that first to that and that much?’” says Lauralee. “Whereas if they’re doing it on their own somewhere else I’m not there to catch errors.”

Another issue with Zoom is that conversations can get stuck in the chat bar. Elizabeth says that is the hardest part about Zoom. Teacher’s assistants will try to keep the dialogue synced but it’s not quite the same as being in person.

Lauralee and Elizabeth think that with the kits, there can be more classroom discussion and things can flow a little more naturally, making Friday Zoom calls a little more fun.

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LGBTQ youth of Courage MKE share the holiday spirit

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By the time you’re reading this, toys have been dropped off to some 130 kids in Milwaukee who may not have gotten presents this year otherwise. They have a few of their most wanted items sitting under a tree or tucked away until it’s time to receive them. Those toys were donated by the kids who live at Courage House, where LGBTQ+ youth who have been homeless or in some cases have been in juvenile detention centers live.

“We know that with the pandemic it’s taken a toll on all of us,” says Brad Schlaikowski, executive director of Courage MKE. “They wanted to do something to make sure that at least the children have something to smile about.”

Brad says that the foster children and teens who live at Courage House came up with the idea to donate gifts to children in need.

The holidays, he says, can be hard for some of the kids living at Courage House. They’re away from their family or perhaps they have bad memories associated with the holidays, so giving to other children can be uplifting for them.

Car full of wishes that have been delivered to kids who might not have gotten a present otherwise. | Photo courtesy of: Brad Schlaikowski

“This project has brought them together on what the idea of a chosen family looks like,” says Brad. “Because it’s removing that distraction of what was or what happened in the past and says look at what we can do or what we’re going to do in the future.”

As the director, Brad says that he’s pretty proud of the kids for what they have come up with and are doing to help those in need.

“In theory, a 17-year-old can process a lot more than a 12-year-old but I still can’t imagine being 17 and having to process the things that these kids are processing,” says Brad. “So, I am beyond proud of them for this.”

Courage MKE is decked in Santa masks ready to give out toys to kids. | Photo courtesy of Brad Schlaikowski

The kids and teens of Courage House put up flyers asking for those who need help to sign up and have asked the community to help them in granting some of these gifts. 

“Like anything with this house, the community has shown up and shown out when we’re opening it and for this project the community once again has opened their hearts,” says Brad.

Their basement is full of presents wrapped and organized by family, the kids have wondered about it almost every day.

“Are we going to wrap presents now or does this family have everything that they need?” Brad says they asked.

He says that the kids really want to do this from the heart. “Some days it’s a struggle to get these kids out of bed,” says Brad. “They’re teenagers, but to see them excited makes it all worthwhile because that means that they too are enjoying what the meaning of the holiday is.”

While toys have been delivered, Brad says that if you know a family or are one that may be in need of a little help this winter, check out their Facebook page. There may still be time to sign up.

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Milwaukee’s Kayla Lewis-Allen talks Black relationships with TV shows

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Kayla Lewis-Allen is a Milwaukee native who produces videos for her television channel Full Circle Television. Kayla now lives in Madison with her husband Marcus Lewis-Allen, who is also a co-founder. They launched in January 2020. 

I talked with Kayla as Full Circle Television is her brainchild.

Kayla says Full Circle Television has a focus on romantic, platonic and familial relationships and next season they’re adding in co-parenting as it’s something that appeals to her.

She got the idea to discuss relationships when she was engaged to her husband.

“I used to watch an old show,” says Kayla. “It’s super old but it was with a husband. He came home every night and he’s like, to his homemaker wife, ‘beer!’”

She snaps her fingers as she’s telling me this.

“It was super snappy,” Kayla says. “Where’s my dinner? Where’s my beer?”

Kayla and Marcus Lewis-Allen, co-founders of Full Circle Television | Photo courtesy: Kayla Lewis-Allen

Kayla said that she didn’t want that to be a part of her marriage at all.

“Even the relationships that I saw growing up, I never wanted to be anyone’s wife, because of the things that I saw being put out there either on TV or in my own personal life,” says Kayla. “So I just had to start searching.”

Kayla used to work at a Black therapy clinic in Madison, so being in that environment prompted her to reflect on her own life. If she was up at 3 a.m. she’d ask herself questions like she was in therapy.

“How did you see love shown in your house growing up? How did you see anger displayed?” Kayla says she asked herself.

Then she started engaging with her husband in these questions, to break out of the fluffy conversations people can get into when they’re freshly enamored in their relationships.

“I mean, yes, it’s cool to know their favorite color because maybe you’ll be able to purchase them blue socks or something like that,” says Kayla. “But that doesn’t help when you are in a very tough place or in a dark place. You don’t know how to work with this person.”

That’s where the idea of Full Circle Television comes around, having discussions and conversations on the things people are going through. Though Kayla says she makes sure Full Circle isn’t like the reality TV shows that focus on the drama. 

“You don’t want to put yourself in a vulnerable place and someone is asking you these questions and badgering you about your intimate relationship with your partner,” says Kayla.

She says their mission is to be more.

“We’re not trying to exploit Black relationships,” says Kayla. “Everything that we want to put out is positive. The name of our network is full circle television, we want people to leave greater than they came. We want people to leave with an ‘a ha’ moment. We want people to feel more full once they finish completing our content.”

Kayla has enjoyed creating content that speaks to the realities people face in friendships and relationships, to get at the things that we might not fully talk about with our friends and loved ones.

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Funky Fresh Spring Rolls is giving away air fryers to people in need

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Air fryers have been pretty popular as holiday gifts over the past few years, with plenty of Black Friday sales offering specials on them. Well, Funky Fresh Spring Rolls likes the trend and is giving them out to those in need.

TrueMan McGee, the owner and Head Roll chef of Funky Fresh Spring Rolls, first started giving away air fryers in the summer. He thought that the air fryer giveaways were a good way to raise business sales.

Initially it started as a straightforward promotion: People would buy rolls in order to enter to win an air fryer.

But TrueMan thought this time around, with the pandemic, it’s a little bit different.

“I thought with how many people are struggling this year, people got busy lives, why don’t we give them away with no strings attached?” says TrueMan.

Funky Fresh Spring Rolls Funky Fresh Spring Rolls / Via Instagram

TrueMan has already given out three this year and he has five more to go.

“At first I tried to figure out who needs them the most,” says TrueMan. “Trying to figure that out is just a headache. Everybody needs one need. I just wish I could give an air fryer to everybody.”

So TrueMan has an app that chooses people at random.

On his Facebook and Instagram pages people can nominate those who they think deserve an air fryer. 

“We’ve had some compelling stories from people who have lost jobs, people who have lost family members, people who were sick or people who were struggling to find healthier options,” says TrueMan.

You may know that Funky Fresh started when TrueMan helped people achieve their fitness goals with his business Getting Tired Fitness. As he trained people, he realized his clients needed help eating healthier along with the exercise, so he conceived Funky Fresh.

And the air fryers that TrueMan is giving away now fits the goal of introducing fresh food as the air fryers are possibly a healthier alternative to deep frying or even grilling.

“I believe in air fryers,” says TrueMan. “I think they’re the new thing, for sure. I think everyone is going to have one in their house, almost like a microwave.”

The air fryers will be given out every Thursday for the rest of the year, which isn’t that long. 

“People are like, ‘win or lose I appreciate what you’re doing,’” says TrueMan. “That means a lot.”

But if you want some spring rolls with or without the air fryer, TrueMan says that for the coronavirus pandemic they’ve adapted to shipping and delivering spring rolls.

It’s worked out pretty well for them, which is why TrueMan says he wants to make sure that they serve the community in addition.

“I feel like every small business that receives support should continue to support the community that supports them,” says TrueMan.

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88Nine’s community panel on gun violence explores how it disrupts lives

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We explore the reality of gun violence and death in these community stories.

The statistics around gun violence in Milwaukee are alarming. And the ripple effects of this violence can last for generations. But there are people in our city who are working to make a positive impact in the lives of those impacted by gun violence.

On Nov. 18, 2020, 88Nine Radio Milwaukee and Mothers Against Gun Violence highlighted stories of the transformation of grief into community action and healing.

Melody Villanueva and Shantell Riley were two speakers who shared their experiences of how gun violence does more than just break a part of someone’s life.

Melody says after her son passed her and her children went from being the three musketeers to losing a member. She’s found comfort in activism and imagining a better place for her son. Take a listen.

Melody Villanueva speaks on the gun violence panel

After her son passed, Shantell Riley has started talking to people about death and how to prepare before it’s a reality. She says she has had to consider how she was going to bury him, something that people aren’t prone to think about beforehand. Shantell has even started hosting death cafes where people could talk with each other about what they’re going through.

The full panel can be found below.

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Stink bombs and rival unions: the surprising history of this old Milwaukee theater

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In our Urban Spelunking podcast, we’re on a never-ending quest to prove every Milwaukee building has an interesting story.

That journey continues this week on Mitchell Street as we explore a duo of unassuming buildings — a former furniture store and an old theater — both packed with history.

The art moderne facade seen from the street. Photo credit: Bobby Tanzilo / OnMilwaukee.

The building site, 723 W. Mitchell St., has recently received some media buzz at OnMilwaukee.com because construction workers uncovered both an interesting piece of retail history and a cool piece of mid century moderne art.

They found an intricate glass facade and a retail sign bearing the name “BILT RITE,” covered for nearly 40 years, as they were removing steel panels above the main entrance. The finding, sadly, was temporary; it had to be removed hours later due to structural issues.

But even more interesting than the facade is the history of the theater that was, for a time, connected to the furniture store. The Park theater opened in 1907 and hosted traveling vaudeville acts, and later, feature films.

With the theater, unfortunately, came a lot of drama.

The resilient building somehow survived a major fire, a bomb threat, a rival union and, no joke, a scheming ring of high school chemistry students.

Chat we chat about the history on this week’s podcast episode below. For more history and photos, visit OnMilwaukee.

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The Way Out combats recidivism by reducing bias during hiring

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“What if we all had to walk around with a sign saying what we have done the worst thing? How many people would not be making $15 an hour,” asks Ruben Gaona, co-founder of The Way Out. “How many leaders would we have? We have leaders that do have criminal backgrounds but being that the stigma is so high, they won’t even speak about it.”

Ruben runs The Way Out along with Eli Rivera. They’ve both been in prison and upon exiting the system have decided to create a tech app that helps place formerly incarcerated people in living wage jobs.

While living in a halfway house upon prison release, Eli saw how many people had trouble finding work which could affect their living arrangement at the halfway house.

Ruben, upon leaving prison in 2017, knew he wanted to be a case manager for others who have been in prison but he says he met resistance.

“Some family members, friends, were like, ‘You’re probably not gonna be able to be a case manager,’” Ruben says. “‘Your life and career are pretty much over due to the fact that you’re a felon.’”

Two weeks after his release from prison, Ruben got offered to be a case manager for a company, though he had to apply through a staffing company.

“The recruiter found me interesting, liked my resume love but I had an employment gap of seven years,” Ruben says.

He explained that he was in prison during the time and he saw that he quickly went from a candidate to being told that the position had a wait list. The recruiter told him he could consider a janitor job for $8.50 an hour instead.

“I already knew that the case management position paid little or $19 to $20,” says Ruben. “You’re asking me to take a three fourths cut on a whole different job, knowing that my kids out here are making $9.50 at Taco Bell and you want me to support a family of five at $8.50? It’s impossible.”

With experiences like these, Ruben and Eli wanted to change that reality for those re-entering.

This is where the app comes in. People who have served jail time can fill out a form on The Way Out’s website. However, on the employer side, the employer doesn’t see name, address, history of incarceration and things that can allow for bias. The Way Out Platform allows an employer to see more context to the person who is applying, like their personality traits, accomplishments and other merits when the stigma of a record is removed.

“To Ruben’s point, we take all of the positive things someone has done and adjust for levels of conviction and figure out what is the true potential of the human being regardless of all of this,” says Eli. “We won’t have that until we have a ton of historical data.”

Hiring someone with a criminal record might sound risky but Ruben points out that there are organizations that provide safety nets for employers like bonding certificates that can help mitigate risk of damage, if it’s there.

“It’s not until we’re having these tough conversations, we’re bringing to light the ugliness of these situations that there’s opportunity,” says Eli.

And as Ruben says, to reduce recidivism the community at large has to treat it as one team one fight to help people get reintegrated.

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