Operation Fresh Start will be celebrating 50 years next year.

“We’re here to help young people figure things out. We look at our programming as transformational,” says Operation Fresh Start Executive Director Gregory Markle. “We get young people to start thinking that they can succeed and to realize that they have a bright future.”

For almost 50 years, Operation Fresh Start has been making a difference in young people’s lives in the Madison area by providing disconnected youth a path to self-sufficiency. Communities members will have a chance to meet some of these young people at the grand opening for Operation Fresh Start’s new home at 2670 Milwaukee Street this afternoon at 3:30 p.m.

Operation Fresh Start’s new home is at 2670 Milwaukee Street.

OFS youth that have been active in building the new Operation Fresh Start Education and Training Center will be answering questions from the community and giving tours of the facility at the grand opening today. The event will be a chance for Madisonians to interact with OFS staff, learn more about future programming, and to tour the brand-new Education and Training Center.

“The community is welcome to come in and check out the new space,” Markle tells Madison365. “They will meet young people who will be giving tours who will be stationed around the place and who will be talking about how Operation Fresh Start has been meaningful in their lives. It should be a lot of fun.”

Today’s celebration is the culmination of Operation Fresh Start’s “Building Futures” $4.5 Million Capital Campaign that has turned the former Holy Cross Lutheran Church on Madison’s near east side into a cost-effective learning and training center.

This Capital Campaign is the only ever in Dane County where the new facility was largely completed by youth engaged in the organization’s programming.

“Our young people did much of the building at the new Frest Start. So that’s really awesome,” Markle says.

Student Kevin Gutierrez works at the new Operation Fresh Start Education and Training Center.

“The old spot served us really well; but we really outgrew it,” adds Markle, speaking of Operation Fresh Start’s old headquarters on Winnebago St. “It was a good time for us to move. We really needed more space.”

Markle says that Operation Fresh Start will now be able to help twice as many youths get on a path to self-sufficiency.

“This past year, we were able to serve 225 youth. So the new building we hope will help us serve 450 youths,” he says.

Operation Fresh Start (OFS) was founded back in 1970 to provide young male offenders and youth who had dropped out of high school with a paid, 30-hour/week opportunity to learn basic work skills, prepare for the high school equivalency examination, secure and retain employment at the end of training, and contribute to the community by renovating sub-standard housing into safe, energy-efficient, affordable homes sold to low-income families.

“We help young people ages 16-24 who either haven’t completed high school or who have just barely completed high school but are barely engaged in education and not engaged in work,” Markle says. “We help them, through our biggest program, obtain their diploma and the get some job skills and career exploration. We help them figure out what’s next in life.

“While they are doing that, they get to engage in the community building affordable housing and doing major conservation project,” he adds. “We are building community while they are building their futures.”

Construction is booming in Madison right now. For some of those students, those futures could very well be in construction.

“About 20 percent of our young people end up going into construction and conservation,” Markle says. “We actually have a really great partnership with Findorff where our young people end up landing a job with them.”

Operation Fresh Start youth break up concrete on a building.

Markle says that 75 percent of the young people in the Operation Fresh Start program are people of color, including 55 percent African American and 15 percent Latino. Over the years, OFS has served 8,000 young people ages 16-24 and has expanded its target population to include women, single parents, and in-school youth. They have also diversified their funding.

The Grand Opening celebration will begin at 3:30 p.m. today with grand opening remarks to all attendees starting at 4:45 p.m. This will be followed by a very special and symbolic key ceremony involving OFS youth.

“It’s a great chance to celebrate the generosity of our community and the dedication of Fresh Start youth,” Markle says. “We will be doing a key ceremony instead of a ribbon cutting. We think of this as providing the keys to the youth of Dane County – the keys to a brighter future through this building.”