We honored 10 Northside Changemakers during NPC’s 25th Anniversary Event. Changemakers were nominated by Northsiders for having a measurable impact on Madison’s Northside and creating long-term, systems-level or organizational-level change.
Any listing of the great outdoor experiences of the Northside includes Cherokee Marsh. Ask Northsiders who makes Cherokee Marsh the great place it is and you’ll get a resounding answer: Jan Axelson. Jan has been the president of Friends of Cherokee Marsh for the past nine years. The group formed in 2007 with 20 members. Today over 200 people participate in the work of protecting, preserving and restoring Cherokee Marsh and the upper Yahara River watershed. Jan works with nonprofits, city, county and state officials to achieve those goals.
Included in her list of achievements for the organization are the creation of the Cherokee Marsh Conservation Fund, funding field trips for school students, environmental programming for adults and children, an active volunteer group that assists in educational opportunities and restoration projects, as well as guiding publication of the Friends newsletter.
One of those who nominated Jan summed up her contributions well: Jan consistently volunteers many hours each week for Cherokee Marsh by utilizing her writing skills, attending countless meetings, pulling weeds, leading tours and advocating for the marsh every chance she gets.
Terri Hatchett was one of the first neighborhood navigators in NPC’s Stable Families, Strong Communities program. She was a natural for the role with her strength, empathy, trust, resilience and optimism. She was a navigator before the position even existed. She’s always thinking of others. When she was in a laundromat and shots were fired, she immediately checked on the safety of everyone there, despite the fear she must have felt.
Terri seems to know everybody, everywhere in Madison. When a family is evicted, when a child needs to go the hospital, when a young woman is being exploited, when youth need constructive things to do, Terri can be found there helping. She willingly walks into challenging situations to be there for others. Despite the various challenges Terri has faced in her life, she is always there, always participating.
Terri finds the silver lining in every situation and works constructively to solve problems. Her positive attitude and her interest in helping systems improve help make those systems much more responsive for countless residents. A gifted writer, she is credited with being able to say things, even hard things, in ways that people can hear them. Terri Hatchett makes the Northside a better place for all of us.
Sharon Kilfoy’s impact on the Northside can be seen all over our neighborhood, beautifying lots of spaces. She is able to meld the skills of many people into works of art. One hat Sharon wears is as community muralist. In that role, she worked with students to paint murals at Lakeview Elementary and Sherman Middle School. She piloted Madison’s pavement painting ordinance with the community painting on Knutson Circle in 2014. If you’ve been to RISE on Fordem Avenue, you’ve seen more of Sharon’s work of combining the efforts of a community in creating artwork.
Sharon’s legacy on Fordem Avenue is much deeper than the artwork she facilitated. For over 25 years, Sharon Kilfoy was the child care program manager at The Respite Center. She developed programming and trained specialists to offer respite care for kids from birth to age 14, giving caregivers options for child care while going to appointments or searching for jobs or housing, as well as emergency care when families are in crisis. This 24/7 resource has given families a safe and beautiful place when they need it. Sharon has made all kinds of positive change on the Northside.
Lauri Lee first brought her enthusiasm and skills to the Northside as advertising manager of the Northside News, a position she held for four years as she got to know all about Northside Pride. She went on to support the newspaper through ad sales and as a volunteer writer and proofreader.
She joined the Northside Planning Council (NPC) board in 2015 and now serves on the executive committee as secretary while also working with numerous NPC projects.
As a champion of business, Lauri sits on the board of the Madison Northside Business Association and was president for two years. Colin Murray, executive director of Dane Buy Local, called Lauri an unsung hero of the Northside, citing her diligence and hard work as one of the reasons she was nominated for a Dane Buy Local – Biz Award in the Business Expert category.
Lauri responds to needs wherever she sees them. She recently set up and ran an online auction to benefit the Sun Prairie explosion disaster relief fund, raising over $10,000. If there is an event to raise money, awareness or celebrate success, you are likely to see Lauri there, putting her artistic touch on set-up, welcoming guests and always seeing things through to the end.
Lauri also sits on the Mendota Community School Committee and has helped for four years in the Adopt-a-Teacher program for Door Creek Church. She deliciously shares her expertise in growing and cooking with herbs. Lauri is a Northside Changemaker in a very big way.
Alexis Middleton has volunteered with Madison Starlings for three years, starting as a team coach and now running the entire coaching program. Madison Starlings has provided free or reduced cost quality volleyball coaching and experiences to over 2,500 girls.
With her record-breaking college athletic career and her obvious coaching skills, Alexis could easily secure paid coaching positions, but she continues to volunteer with the Starlings, supporting her girls to become leaders through the high ideals of the program and her inclusive coaching style. Her practices have been described as having an atmosphere of respect, celebration and joy.
She led fundraising efforts and managed the logistics of getting her team to their first Starlings National Tournament in San Diego this summer — a life-changing experience for the 17 girls who participated that is rippling outward as the girls become role models for younger players. All this positive team building happens at Warner Park Community Recreation Center and in other neighborhoods around the city, thanks to the spirit of Alexis.
Bridget Rogers has been with Joining Forces for Families (JFF) as a social worker for over six years, but worked in the Truax community for at least 15. She’s the housing expert at JFF and has all the answers about financial resources and landlord issues — even though JFF isn’t a housing agency. When NPC launched the Northside Early Childhood Zone initiative, Bridget supported the new staff as they worked with new parents to promote positive parenting, family stability and healthy development of the children. With her experience and successful skills, she’s a mentor to the next generation of social workers.
A member of the City’s Community Services Commission, Bridget is a powerful advocate for residents. She serves on the Northside Neighborhood Resource Team. And she convenes monthly meetings of area social workers, police and other providers to share information and collaborate on solutions. She builds relationships with residents, and they trust her. She brings their voice to policy makers on a regular basis.
Bridget is noted for her authenticity with clients. She is supportive while helping them find their own power to make the changes they need.
Katie Scharf saw and made change during the 20 years she led Lakeview Library as it became the heart of the Northside community. Katie recalled relying on NPC. “We made sure people got the answers they need — a form filed, an application completed, or a referral that sent them to the right agency.” She came to love the Northside. And she changed it – by bringing people together and instilling that spirit of community in library users and staff.
Lakeview was just 4,000 square feet when she arrived, cramped and dark, but heavily used. Today patrons enjoy upholstered chairs in front of a fireplace, since the library was remodeled and enlarged 15 years ago. The City asked the Northside to raise $110,000 for the project; but the community raised twice that, showing its love of the library and an appreciation of Katie and her Lakeview staff.
“People say this library is welcoming, and they couldn’t say anything that would please me more,” Katie said. And a main reason for that welcoming feeling is Katie Scharf, who set the tone with a big smile when people walked in the door – and went the extra mile to help them out.
As executive director of Vera Court, Inc., which includes the Vera Court Neighborhood Center, Bridgeport-Lakepoint-Waunona Neighborhood Center and Latino Academy, Tom Solyst models one of the keys to his accomplishments. A coworker said, “He doesn’t coast, he wants everyone to think about improvement.”
Tom started at the Vera Court Neighborhood Center in 2000 and was the only staff person working at the center in that time – everyone had been laid off due to the lack of funds. That facility has doubled in size under his tenure, and programming has grown to include Girl Neighborhood Power, Life as a Boy, Youth Leadership Program, RISE Middle School, High School Leadership Program and an elementary after school program that serves 50 kids every day.
Folks who work with Tom describe him as having a good sense of humor, being kind, willing to give people the benefit of the doubt, not carrying preconceived notions, being reliable and congenial and very, very committed to the center—always there first, even on weekends.
Tom’s own words show best why he is a Northside Changemaker. He wrote this in Vera Court, Inc’s annual report last year:
“Yes, it’s been exciting to see the growth in buildings, program participants, and staff, but it’s been even more meaningful to see that some things, the most important things, remain the same. Every one of our community members is part of our family, and from the moment they first walk through our doors, their story becomes our story.”
Jacki Thomas started working as a receptionist at the front desk of Packer Community Learning Center when it opened in 1995. When she retired as the coordinator 21 years later, she had made monumental impacts on the lives of thousands of kids. People who didn’t feel like they belonged anywhere found a home at the center.
Part of her success was her belief that the center’s activities should be defined by the interests of the people who used it. If someone wanted to make a video, she started a videographer program; if someone wanted to write music, she set up a recording studio; if a child liked bugs, she set up a science club, and then got other children involved in these programs. That video project turned into six full-length films with original scripts and roles devised for the children involved. She was the facilitator for zines, poetry slams, free-style rap battles and open mics.
Jacki wore a lot of hats at Packer. She oversaw after school tutoring, worked with People Prep and Head Start and ran summer enrichment programs that included everything from philosophy debates and cooking classes to gardening. She was the IT Dept., the PR Dept., the HR Dept. Jacki helped people who were having a hard time fitting in and getting their voices heard.
Everyone knows about the great work of Jenny and Andy Czerkas in building The River Food Pantry. This Northside institution has been achieving the goal of “bringing a message of mercy and hope to those in need by providing nutritional basics and encouragement” for a dozen years. As The River has transitioned to new leadership, after the Czerkas’ retirement, hard work has been done to keep both the day-to-day operations as well as long-term vision appropriate and responsive to the needs of the community.
Jennifer Zisser is a giant in that behind-the-scenes work. Serving as board chair, Jennifer has facilitated a year-long process of updating The River’s strategic planning. She worked with the board, staff and all stakeholders to revitalize the mission, vision, values and guiding principles of The River. Using her skills and insight to lead the board through this process, Jennifer is achieving her mission of giving back to the community.