Since 2005, Madison-area Urban Ministry (MUM) has worked with over 9,000 men and women returning to the community from prison and jail. That is not only making a difference in many individual’s lives, says Nasra Wehelie, but also in the overall community.

“Seeing that our programs are really having a positive impact on individuals is really something that I like about working here at Mum,” Wehelie tells Madison365. “I really love what I do and look forward to working with MUM. We’re celebrating 44 years of inspiring social good and investing in the community. When people or an organization invest in MUM, they are investing in the community.”

The upcoming MUM Partners for Change Luncheon on April 27 at the Concourse Hotel in downtown Madison will be a chance for MUM to present awards to outstanding community members. The keynote speaker will be Judge Everett Mitchell, circuit court judge at the Dane County Courthouse. “He will be inspiring the guests. As you know, he used to be our associate director at MUM,” Wehelie says. “He worked with MUM back when they developed the Journey Home program. He’s always a great speaker. He will shake the room.”

Everett Mitchell, here with his wife, Dr. Mankah Zama Mitchell, will be the keynote speaker at the MUM Annual Luncheon
Everett Mitchell, here with his wife, Dr. Mankah Zama Mitchell, will be the keynote speaker at the MUM Annual Luncheon

In June, Wehelie will be celebrating two years as development director of MUM, which offers an array of direct services programs for individuals and families impacted by the criminal justice system. For 44 years, MUM has been making an impact on the community focusing on fair and affordable housing, homelessness, economic justice, poverty, racism, quality education, health care reform, and criminal justice system reform.

“The MUM Annual Luncheon is about bringing community leaders together who care about social justice and it’s a chance for the community to see the work that MUM does,” Wehelie says. “MUM empowers those individuals who are coming from prison into the community. We make a profound impact in their lives in terms of employment and in housing and in support. MUM fills those gaps.”

MUM is a very unique and important agency in the city and is the only Dane County provider of reentry services that tracks recidivism through the WI Department of Corrections.

“Here at MUM, we tracks recidivism and it is less than 10 percent compared to the statewide recidivism rate which is 67 percent,” Wehelie says. “So, if you can imagine … 2 out of 3 individuals are going back to prison. For us, our success rate is 90 percent. If somebody comes to MUM it’s very unlikely that they will go back to prison.”

From left: john Givens, Claude Gilmore, Dennis  McClain, Gwen Jones, Greg Jones, and an unidentified guest at last year's MUM Annual Luncheon
From left: John Givens, Claude Gilmore, Dennis McClain, Gwen Jones, Greg Jones, and an unidentified guest at last year’s MUM Annual Luncheon

How difficult is it for somebody who has spent time in prison to be successfully reintegrated back into society?

“The first thing that they need is employment and in order to get employment, some organizations are really not open to employing somebody with a criminal conviction record. But we’ve been very privileged to have some organizations – Like Zimbrick, UW Health, Two Men and a Truck – who have opened those doors for our clients,” Wehelie says. “So we have a lot of good organizations who are really into the process of partnering with us in terms of hiring.”

There is a certain trepidation of living an independent life for people who have spent a considerable amount of time behind bars and have no family safety net.

“Finding housing, finding employment, paying rent, building you credit – these can be tremendous challenges the people will face in society where MUM can help give them the support they need in the community,” Wehelie says.

MUM helps find housing and transportation and other important social services. “Some of our clients are homeless so we work with groups like The Healing House and we help those individuals and families who are homeless find a place to recuperate for up to 28 days,” Wehelie says.

“We take our work very seriously,” Wehelie adds. “Our Journey Home program provides four elements focusing on the areas of residency, employment, support and treatment.”

The Journey Home program also focuses on transportation and education, program staff assesses the needs, potential barriers and strengths facing individuals newly released from prison (returning citizens). Among the most common barriers: homelessness and housing issues, employment skills or discrimination, addiction and/or mental health needs, education/training and transportation.

“When you wrap around all these services to individuals, it’s very unlikely that they will go back,” Wehelie says.

MUM’s Circles of Support is a re-entry program that matches formerly incarcerated individuals with volunteers in the community to provide the social support and positive community.

“In our Mentoring Connections program, we match mentors with kids who have parents who have been impacted by the prison system,” Wehelie says. “A lot of time the children become the collateral for what the parents have done so we mentor those kids to give them the self-esteem they need and the empowerment”

MUM’s Just Bakery is a 16 week educational and vocational training program. The program works with individuals who are experiencing significant barriers to employment (homelessness, criminal conviction history, lack of education, and/or a lack of work history or skills) and who have an interest in baking or culinary arts as a career pathway.

Just Bakery
Just Bakery

“One of our most successful programs is the Just Bakery program. Now we have organizations calling us looking for employees and asking us if we have graduates that are ready,” Wehelie says. “The good news is that we get a lot of requests for Just Bakery so the students end up sometimes leaving the program to get employment. That’s a good problem to have. They always come back and finish up the program.”

Participants completing the Just Bakery program learn how to operate commercial kitchen equipment, obtain a certificate of completion from the Wisconsin Baker’s Association, and can enter the job market offering valuable knowledge and experience to employers.

“[Just Bakery Director] Carmella [Glenn] and Ken [Johnson] … they are very into the program and they are so passionate about what they do. And the students really take the program seriously,” Wehelie says. “And their products – they make people happy. It’s win-win. The program sustains itself. That’s great news.

Delicious Just Bakery products will be served at the luncheon.

“The annual luncheon will be a great chance for people to learn about the many programs of MUM and how we’re making a difference in the community,” Wehelie says. “We have been very privileged to have had the support of the community and of many organizations here in Madison.”

“I love seeing our clients have a positive outcome but I also love meeting with our donors one on one and sharing our stories of MUM. We have a great environment here at MUM – it’s very inclusive and a very inviting environment to work at,” Wehelie says. “We still have room to get tickets for individuals or groups. It’s a great opportunity to see the impact MUM is making on our community.”

Get your tickets here for the MUM Partners for Change Luncheon.