“If the goal is to help people either gain employment or to move into an educational or vocational or secondary tract, we can say that by all means, we were successful with this class,” says Diana Shinall. “I feel in a day when our climate can be somewhat troublesome, I feel like in this corner of the northside of Madison that people are investing in themselves and they are taking things seriously.”

The Northside Early Childhood Zone (NECZ)’s Ready, Set, Go! program hosted a graduation ceremony for its 2nd graduation class on Saturday, March 30, at Lakeview Lutheran on Madison’s north side. Fifteen graduates made the journey and were committed to a seven-week transformation that the Ready, Set, Go! program provided. There were over 75 people in attendance at the event.

Ready, Set, Go! is an important new employment and training program from the Northside Early Childhood Zone open to all Northside adults that focuses on communication skills, goal setting, confidence building and conflict resolution. The program helps participants with the soft skills needed for employment and provide them with the tools be more successful for the long-term in the workplace.

“The weather was so inclement when we started this class in February and I was calling my students and telling them, ‘It’s going to be 50 below zero’ and they were saying, ‘It’s OK, Ms. Shinall, I’ll be there!’ I was thinking to myself, ‘Well, you might, but I’m not’ and everybody laughed,” Shinall, the Ready Set Go! coordinator, tells Madison365. “But to see that type of commitment level that even though the temperature was dangerous, they were still willing to get to class because it was important to them and important to change.

“If anything else, that just really touched me to say that the work that I’m doing – that I’m honored and humbled to do – that people are taking advantage of it and they are using it for their advantage and they are changing their lives from those classes,” she adds.

Partners of the program include Dane County Human Services, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Community Action Coalition, RISE, Public Health Madison Dane County, Reach Dane, and Forward Service Corp. Sponsors include United Way, Dane County Human Services, City of Madison, Cairasu Home Care, Old National Bank, the North Side Willy Street Coop, Lakeview Lutheran Church, St. Luke Lutheran Church and the Rennebohm Foundation

Ready, Set, Go! ia based upon Shinall’s innovative Madison Apprenticeship Program (MAP) that has been successful in the Allied Drive area. MAP is a 12-week life skills course where people learn conflict resolution, soft job skills, language arts and money management.

“We knew it worked because we saw it worked on Allied,” Shinall says. “We saw it work before and now we’re seeing it in a similar way and we see that it does still work.

“Oftentimes, when people don’t make good decisions or people find themselves in a place where they are struggling, it’s because, number one, there’s the possibility of some type of informed trauma that occurred that’s never been addressed and number two, they’ve never had anybody to teach them just the simple skills in life,” Shinall says.

(L-r) Martinez White, Diana Shinall, and Edlando Watson

The magic of MAP and Ready, Set, Go! was creating an environment where peers could both hold each other accountable and support each other in really healthy ways.

“If we can take away those barriers and give them some instructions, we can help them to start to heal,” Shinall says. “If we give them connections and networks and support, then they start to feel better and they start to feel like ‘I can do something’ and that ‘I am, indeed, valuable.’ They feel like that ‘even though I made a mistake, I can turn it around.’”

This was the second graduating class for the relatively new program. Last Dec. 1, the students of the Ready, Set, Go! program celebrated the first graduating class. The keynote speaker for the event was Martinez White, a 2010 UW-Madison who graduated with a degree in communications and is currently a financial advisor at Northwestern Mutual, an entrepreneur and a dee-jay.

“Matinez just has a way with words and he spoke to the students about being accountable for their lives and taking care of their own business,” Shinall says. “It was a phenomenal speech and I think everybody walked away feeling a little different.”

Former MAP graduate Edlando Watson also spoke to the group from a graduate perspective.

“The students have actually already started – midway through the class – to turn some things around in their lives,” Shinall says. “I’m proud to say that out of the 15 graduates, nine have gotten employment. And five or those nine students gained jobs at or above living wage – living wage for the County being $13. Some of them are making $14, $15, $16 an hour.”

The students who are not moving to employment are moving into an educational track, from GED to entering into college.

“One of the students is even starting her own business,” Shinall says. “It’s great to highlight the work that I do – I do appreciate it – but what I hope is that we highlight the stories of these students are able to be told. These will be great stories.”