The squad car honked its horn and gave a brief flash of its lights. It was nothing major. Just the “get out of the way” statement police cars give when they’re running a red light or trying to get somewhere quickly.
In this case, the officer was just trying to get up the street and out onto their merry way. A group of people were in the street jostling or tussling or wrestling over something. Some object. In a street across from the Salvation Army gym in the Darbo Worthington neighborhood of Madison, something like that is always going on, it seems.
As the squad rolled by the officer probably got a closer look at what it was these guys were tussling over.
It was fresh, hot pizza.
Well, what’d you think it was going to be? That just shows what you really think about that neighborhood and area and those people. But upon a closer look, you might find the guys hanging out on the corner in Darbo are just like everyone else late on a Saturday night. They want some pizza.
For Will Green, fresh pizza is exactly the type of thing he’d like to see more people in his neighborhood stepping over one another to get to.
Green leads a group called Mentoring Positives, an organization that bears the initials of his mother who passed away tragically. The Darbo neighborhood and area has a reputation around Madison that he has spent the last 14 years sweating, bleeding and crying trying to change.
Several years ago, Green began helping youth through an after-school program making homemade salsa which they called Off the Block. Now, Green has a new venture. Well, a new food item anyways. Off the Block will now make pizza as well.
“We have 200 pizzas that we’re going to be making in the next two weeks,” Green said. “We’re going to be using a feed kitchen on the north side. Healthy Food For All is gonna help us with some fresh vegetables. We’re kind of working on the recipe and cost analysis too.”
The pizza-making program is allowing at-risk youth to participate in learning business and leadership skills, just as Off the Block Salsa has over the last few years.
“Any kids in the program right now would have the opportunity after 90 hours of volunteering to be able to earn a leadership certificate from the Department of Public Instruction,” Green says. “Even after completing 45 hours, if they’re high school aged, they could potentially get a quarter credit. They could potentially earn up to five high school credits while in our program. That’s pretty significant for some of the kids I work with.”
Mentoring Positives wants to sell 200 pizzas when they officially open for business in mid-August. But Green says he is hoping to have people pre-order the pizzas to save storage space for the program, which doesn’t possess mass-production facilities and freezers.
“The problem is we’re not gonna have enough freezer space for the pizzas,” Green said. “So we’re gonna try to take pre-orders for the pizza so we don’t have to sell all 200 that opening day. So right now we’re putting a plan together for how we’re gonna have people pre-order the pizza.”
Green is aiming at having Off the Block Pizza in full flight by August 24 when Mentoring Positives will be hosting the Darbo Peace Walk and Block Party. This year, there will be a Peace Walk along the bike path from the Darbo Neighborhood to Bridges Golf Course. It is about a 3-mile walk and Green wants to have a block party as well with music and food. Green said it’s a perfect launching pad for selling the pizzas the kids have worked hard to make.
“What’s happened really is I’ve been trying to put a positive vibe and spin on the neighborhood,” Green said. “It’s been 14 years that I’ve been working in this neighborhood. I have a friend in Darbo who wants to help raise money for the Block Party and suggested I have some people who help donate for the party also buy the pizzas.”
Green also said when the Public Market opens he hopes to be selling hot pizzas there and have a station at which customers can order right there on the spot.
“We’re going to try to have a couple tasting events that we can hold and serve the pizza hot to people and try to get some support around the project. So we’ll make like 20 pizzas and invite kids that have wanted to try the pizza.”
Green has been a staple in the Darbo-Worthington Neighborhood for 14 years. He has put it all on the line for the youth of that area. Mentoring Positives does not receive large donations or headlines or city funding. He has scratched out on his own nearly everything that program has been able to achieve.
Green says that being in a kitchen making pizzas or standing in a grocery store selling salsa is taking an active role in kids lives and breaking the stereotypes many around the city have of the Darbo-Worthington area.
“People want to feel productive. People want to get up and figure out how to make it happen,” Green said. “We can’t sit around and have meetings all day. People want action. So what can we immediately do to change the landscape of how people are living. We can do that by giving people the opportunity to feel like they can be successful, like they can build a business.”
Anyone interested in pre-ordering the pizzas should contact the mentoring positives office at (608) 819-6200.