“When people need housing, education, workforce training and development … we want it so that they think about the Urban League of Greater Madison right away and that they know that the people are in very good hands over here,” says Mariam Maldonado. “It’s exciting for me to have this new role and I’m looking forward to really getting at it. We don’t just want to help people get jobs, we want them to have livable wages. We train people to get jobs that can help transform their lives and hopefully, one day, transform the community.”

Maldonado is settling into her new role as the Urban League manager of outreach and intake. “Part of my new role will be working on and setting up events in the community that will let people know that the Urban League is here and let them know about all of the things we do here,” Maldonado tells Madison365. “We want to make sure that if there are people who are interested, that they become members of the Urban League.”

Maldonado not only wants the community to know more about the people, programs and events of the Urban League of Greater Madison (ULGM), but also that the potential employers in the area know about the work they ar doing in training a diverse group of people for a variety of jobs to be in their workforce.

“I just started in the new position so the first week or two I’ve been really touring the neighborhood and introducing myself,” she says. “There were plenty of people who weren’t quite sure what we do and it has been interesting to learn about other agencies, too.”

In the small area on the south side that surrounds the Urban League, there is the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, Access Community Health Center, Literacy Network, Madison-area Urban Ministry, Mt. Zion Church, One City Early Learning Center, Centro Hispano, the Catholic Multicultural Center, Omega School, Fountain of Life Church, and more.

“I love the new position because it’s going to give me more chances to go into the community and build relationships with people who are doing things similar to what we are doing,” says Maldonado, who is familiar with the area having previously volunteered at the Catholic Multicultural Center for six years. “I think we need more collaboration, especially in this area [on the south side] and sometimes we just don’t talk to each other. So my goal is to form constructive partnerships.”

Mariam Maldonado talks to community members at Juneteenth 2017 on June 17 at the Labor Temple.
Mariam Maldonado talks to community members at Juneteenth 2017 on June 17 at the Labor Temple.

Maldonado’s responsibilities also include bringing west and southwest side residents to the new Urban League Employment and Training Center on Gammon Road across from Elver Park.

For three years prior to her transition, Maldonado was an employee training specialist for ULGM where she helped people with work readiness skills. “There are a lot of talented people who just don’t have the resources, the skills, or the connections that they need to get into the workforce and so we helped with that,” she says.

Maldonado says that she is still doing some of that work as she transitions to her new positions and that it is very rewarding. “I am able to wear different hats at the Urban League,” she says. “My job involves meeting a lot of different people and there are a lot of great agencies and non-profits right here [on the south side]. The good thing is that we all have similar missions so I think there are many ways we can help each other.”

Maldonado says that it is all about building important community partnerships.

“Being from the Dominican Republic, I’m from a place where people build community because they don’t have a lot of resources. That’s how they grow … by helping each other,” Maldonado says. “Here, because everybody has their own resources, that doesn’t happen as much. So that’s what I will bring to the role. See how we can help each other, see how we can build together. How can we make something big happen?”

Maldonado is originally from Dajabon, in the western part of the Dominican Republic on the border of Haiti. “It’s about 6 hours from Santo Domingo (capital),” she says.

She came to the United States about 13 years ago but still goes back about three times a year, many times with an organization that she started 5 years ago called Help4Students, whose goal is to create a scholarship fund for youth in rural areas of the Dominican Republic.

She is also an executive board member of Dominicans in Wisconsin, an organization that aims to connect Dominican individuals and communities throughout the state, particularly in larger areas such as Milwaukee or Madison. Like most immigrant communities, Dominicans create networks to help one another adjust and thrive in a new culture.

Dominicans in Wisconsin executive board members Alberto Santos and Mariam Maldonado
Dominicans in Wisconsin executive board members Alberto Santos and Mariam Maldonado

“There are very few of us here in Madison relative to other immigrant groups,” she says. “Dominicans are sort of new to Wisconsin. What usually happens is somebody moves here and then they tell their family and other families how great it is. Then they spend a few winters in the cold and they go back. So there are people coming and going to Madison, but we have maybe 6 or 7 families that have been here a long time.”

Maldonado knew very little English when she first came to the United States 13 years ago, but quickly learned the language. Being fluent in Spanish, however, has been very handy for her on Madison’s south side. “I told people that I’m going to be outside and out in the community a lot and people are going to get to know me … we’re going to bring a lot of Spanish speakers to the Urban League,” she smiles. “There are some people who have the stereotype that the Urban League only serves African Americans, and that is not true. We serve everybody here.”

Wayne Strong, the director of Workforce Development at Urban League of Greater Madison, tells Madison365 that he is excited to have Maldonado in her new role at the Urban League.

“Mariam is a tremendous asset to the Workforce Development team. She is dedicated and hard working. Her commitment to the Urban League is unwavering,” he says.

Maldonado, for her part, says that she really enjoys working under Strong, a long-time dedicated south side community leader.

“He is fairly new to his position but he brings a very positive vibe to what we do here. This is very refreshing,” she says. “We deal with a lot of problems here and he keeps things upbeat and focused on what we are here to do. He is incredible at meeting people where they are at and communicating and seeing the big picture.”

Maldonado is excited about a new computer training class on July 10 – six weeks of classes. “If they are there for four classes, they will get a computer,” she says. “That is big.

Last year's Urban League Unity Picnic (Photo by Hedi Rudd)
Last year’s Urban League Unity Picnic
(Photo by Hedi Rudd)

“We are looking forward to the Unity Picnic coming up,” Maldonado continues. “That’s right here in the parking lot. We bring the entire neighborhood in and it’s a great time to build relationships with people. People come and relax, listen to music, have some good food, and tour the facilities if they like.”

Maldonado says that what she loves best about her job is getting to see people grow and to transition into different careers.

“There might be people who didn’t have a job for two or three years and they come to the Urban League and get the skills and training they need to not only just get a job, but to get the skills and training they need to succeed at the job,” she says. “I love the work we do here … it’s very amazing.”