Justice Castañeda has always loved working with the community.
He spent a long time working with the Youth Services of Southern Wisconsin (formerly CAP). As a teenager involved with the programs, they gave him a sense of community, something that was missing from his life. He said in an interview with On Balance in 2014 that those programs “became the building blocks for future success.”
After he served with the United States Marine Corps in Iraq in 2004, he wanted to give back to the larger community. In the same interview, he noted that he appreciated the help he received, positive outcomes and the growing pains as keys to his overall development as a responsible adult.
Castañeda was hired as the new executive director at community development agency Common Wealth Development last month. In his new role, Castañeda hopes to help the Madison communities grow.
Years ago, he did a research project in Madison based on adult-to-youth mentorship, but decided not to publish it. Instead, he wants to build on his research and apply what he learned to his work by engaging and working with neighborhoods in terms of housing and youth development.
As for shaping his programs, he wants to first learn from the people working because they have “a wealth of knowledge.” They have already been kind and supportive to him. Next, he wants to reach out to the communities and organizations to find out how Common Wealth Development can help. He hopes they can partner with organizations and people who are doing amazing things.
In addition to affordable housing and financial literacy programs, Common Wealth Development also operates two strong and active youth employment programs. Through those programs, Castañeda says he wants to see more synergy between those and other employment efforts, and more capital funding.
Castañeda notes that not many people focus on the youth who are at risk, or who come from difficult backgrounds. He says that should change, because he was one of them. As a person who has had many interactions with the police, Castañeda knows that bringing young students like him into such programs helps give a sense of community and also build the program into something better.
“I know for me, having youth programs really helped me become the person I am today, and bringing that to other people will likely help them as well,” he says.
Castañeda is excited to be working in Madison again, because it lets him see Madison in a new way, and it also allows him to put work into a city that he loves. “I’m really happy to be back,” he says. “When I think about my research, I was looking at Madison in one way, and now I get to see new things about this city.”
Although there are many challenges awaiting him, like figuring out if the tax credit and housing resources are up to date, or making sure that the southwest side of Madison location is able to help residents just like the east side location, Castañeda is ready and willing to take them on.