Mentoring Positives Inc., the Darbo-Worthington Neighborhood organization that supports African-American youth through a variety of programming that creates a family atmosphere and engages youth in community building, is hopping over to the other side of East Wash with a new home on Madison’s east side.
Many Madison eastsiders have already seen the giant “Mentoring Positives” sign at the bottom of the new Ella’s Apartments on the corner of E. Washington Ave. and E. Johnson St.., where the non-profit will soon call home and will be creating their famous Off The Block salsa and pizza right there in that spot.
“It’s exciting to have a new home. I’m looking forward to the conversations and the camaraderie we will have in that new space,” Will Green, executive director of Mentoring Positives, tells Madison365. “That big sign just got up this week and we have been working with Anne Morrison, [owner] of New Year Investments, for the last year and a half … working through the logistics of trying to make it happen for us and they were able to help in a significant way and we pulled the trigger.”
The official move for Mentoring Positives will happen in weeks to come with a soft opening coming soon as they work out more details and continue to fundraise for kitchen equipment.
“It’s about 8,000 square feet down below, and we’ve got about 2,000 square feet of the space. So we’re going to use it as our new spot to make salsa and pizza and serve some limited hot pizza there in the space. We will have limited seating,” Green says. “We’re going to have a youth space there where we will do some youth mentoring and employment training and we’ll do some conferences with the youth. I’m hopeful to have it as a multipurpose space where we can have different events hosted there.”
Off the Block salsa and the Off the Block pizza, which debuted at the Darbo Peace Walk years ago, are made by the young people of Mentoring Positives in the Darbo community and sold throughout the city. Profits go right back into Mentoring Positives programs.
“The young people did have a lot of input into the space. We did a lot of workshops with them. They gave some very unique ideas on what they would like to see in this space,” Green says. “So it’s going to be an amazing space. Companies like Uniek’s, out in Waunakee, they’re helping with the design. They do a lot of home decor and stuff like that. So they’re helping us design a lot in the space right now.”
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Ella’s offers affordable one- and two-bedroom apartments in its mixed-income housing unit in the exact same location where the beloved restaurant Ella’s Deli, famous for having a giant carousel out front built in 1927, was once located.
“There’s a lot of history with that building and this area and on this side of town, in general,” Green says. “I want people when they come in there to have a good cultural experience and to get some history that we need to be conscious of.
“We also want to inspire our Black kids and people that come into the building,” h/e ads. “So I plan to have a lot of Black history and things that are going on. We got a black/red/green theme going through there and a lot of African prints and things like that. I really want people to come in and have a cultural experience.”
Green, along with his wife Becky Green, founded Mentoring Positives back in 2004, an innovative, referral-based mentoring program that works directly with kids and families in a variety of ways in the Darbo/Worthington area and beyond. He says that one of the important things that Mentoring Positives needs to do right now is to fundraise for kitchen equipment for their new home. “We still need to raise some dollars for that and we’re hoping people in the community will help out,” Green says.
In the meantime, Green adds, the location of the new space is perfect. “Kids can walk across the street from Darbo now to the space to work for us. We’re going to have to figure out a little bit of parking there … that might be an issue,” he says. “But other than that, to be on a major intersection like that where people turn and look to see “Mentoring Positives” in big letters right there… that’s awesome. What a proud moment that is for us because next year is going on our 20th year doing Mentoring Positives … so it’s just a natural progression of where we are at in the work that we’re doing.
“By the way, the new place is going to be called ‘Muriel’s Place,’” he adds.
Muriel is Green’s late mother. Green initially started Mentoring Positives to honor his mother, Muriel Pipkins, who lost her battle with breast cancer at the young age of 46.
“Mom loved cooking. So they are going to get a lot of love as a part of the ingredients of what goes into that space,” he says.