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Full circle: Goodman Center youth program alum shepherds donation of van from Smart Motors to Meals on Wheels


Justin Jackson’s life has come full circle. When he heard about Goodman Center’s need for a van to accommodate its community Meals on Wheels program, he jumped at the opportunity to give back to the place that helped shape him.

“Our marketing manager came and talked to me and asked if there was any interest and anything we can do,” says Jackson, general sales manager for Smart Motors. “And it just started the conversation. I told him my story and talked to a couple other people within the company and we came to the decision to help them out.”

And help they did. Goodman just received a 2020 Toyota Sienna, generously donated by Smart Motors.

Jackson’s childhood experiences at Goodman are central to the story. In seventh grade, he moved into the Madison school district—a tough age to be the new kid. Jackson says he immediately found his footing in a boys’ group, a partnership between Atwood Community Center (now Goodman) and O’Keeffe Middle school, where Jackson had transferred.

“Fast forward to now, there’s a lot to do, but back then there really wasn’t much,” he says. “We’d hang out at O’Keeffe and play basketball and then we’d go and have conversations, do our homework. We’d participate with other community centers and do projects and community outreach. That’s what we did all through middle school. It was really just sports and boys’ group.”

Jackson went on to graduate from East High School in 2004, attended Iowa Lakes Community College before graduating from Ashford University. He played basketball for both college programs, then stayed on to coach at Ashford and complete a Master’s degree.

After Jackson and his wife’s oldest son Jaden was born, the family decided to return home to Madison, where Jackson got a job at Smart Motors. Twelve years later, a father’s story become’s a son’s as well.

Last summer, Jaden started participating in Goodman’s summer day camp. When Jackson walked into Goodman the first day of camp, he was stunned to see his boys’ group leaders—Arthur Morgan, Barry Davis, and Howard Hayes—still working at the center.

“To see them still making an impact on the community—that was another big reason why it was so easy to try to figure out a way to help out any way I could,” says Jackson.

Jackson says the boys’ group was a lifesaver for him and his friends, who saw other kids getting into trouble without that kind of support.

“At that age is when puberty is hitting, with a lot of feelings and emotions, and there were times when we just sat in a circle and talked about how we felt,” remembers Jackson. “We were predominately minorities and that’s something big that didn’t happen back then. We were focused and we kept busy, and I think that was something that helped us develop to who we are.”

The group has kept in touch over the years. Their kids play sports together. And Jaden is now part of two Goodman activities: the NESYB Hoops youth basketball program and summer day camp.

“It has really helped him grow,” says Jackson. “The biggest thing for me was seeing him take up fishing and kayaking—stuff he hasn’t done with me but now he likes to do because of going to Goodman.”

The new van will start delivering meals as soon as next week.

“I’m just happy to be able to make an impact,” says Jackson. “Meals on Wheels is very important and I’m glad that Smart Motors is able to help out.”

Goodman Community Center’s “Be the Good: Celebrating Kindness in Our Community” storytelling event is Thursday, April 27, at the Brassworks building, 214 Waukesha St. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Hear stories from Goodman CEO Letesha Nelson, other local leaders, youth and neighbors. Click here to get your tickets on a “pay what you can” basis.