Nonprofit Spotlight: JustDane adapts social justice programs during pandemic
by Samantha Haas
on Monday, December 14th, 2020 at 5:04pm.
When we put out a call in our last newsletter and blog for recommendations of another local nonprofit to spotlight, we were pleased that the word traveled quickly in our networks and beyond. Several people connected us with the incredible work of JustDane, whose mission is to help transform individual lives and social systems to create a just and equitable community.
The name “JustDane” was at first unfamiliar to me, and I soon learned why. The nearly 50-year-old faith-rooted nonprofit, originally named Madison-area Urban Ministry (MUM), recently emerged from a rebranding effort this summer. A phoenix with a north star has been selected as JustDane’s new logo to better reflect its inspiring and hopeful vision of a community where everyone can succeed, as well as a tagline that encompasses the broad reach of the social justice organization’s work: “Changing Lives. Changing the Community.”
The colorful image is a beautiful reflection of the values of inclusion, compassion, forgiveness, and courage that JustDane embraces, as well as its celebration of diversity and overcoming obstacles. “People love the phoenix rising from the ashes because we really are trying to help our clients find their true north,” said Kathy Eckenrod, JustDane Development Director.
JustDane supporter Susan Heneman said she has been impressed with the “great staff, great mission, and excellent programs. With the organization’s new name, some people may not recognize the long history of services and the work they have already accomplished.” Many of these programs help address social justice issues, including homelessness, poverty, and employment, particularly for individuals and families involved in the criminal justice system.
“Over the years we’ve focused on many things and have spun off about 25 nonprofits,” including the Madison Senior Coalitions, Project Home, and Transitional Housing, which later merged with another organization to form Porchlight, said Kathy. “It was essentially, OK, there’s a need in the community and no one is doing anything about it -- we’ll do something about it.”
The common thread tying all of these programs together was and still is to “build a more just and equitable community,” Kathy said. “We are a resource for you no matter where you are in Dane County. We also collaborate with other organizations and support a lot of smaller nonprofits to help them get funding, because it’s all about us working together to make a better community.”
Here is a glimpse of a few of JustDane’s programs and how they have adjusted during the pandemic thanks to the community’s support.
Just Bakery is a 12-week baking, sales, and marketing training program that works with people who are experiencing significant barriers to employment and can help them earn college credit to start their career in hospitality and restaurant management. All proceeds from Just Bakery sales (including pies, scones, and cookies available for purchase online) are reinvested into the program, allowing the program to hire back its own graduates in the future. Just Bakery also makes 5,000 cookies per week for UW Hospital. When the training kitchen was briefly closed this spring, Just Bakery produced 200 loaves of bread each week to supply area pantries (totaling more than 10,000 loaves for the year).
Healing House in Madison opened in 2019 and is the first of its kind in the nation set up to provide safe shelter for families experiencing homelessness who have a family member being released from the hospital to recover from childbirth, surgery, or other treatments. JustDane partners with The Road Home for case management services to help end the cycle of homelessness and locate permanent housing. During the pandemic, Healing House implements advanced safety protocols and continually secures PPE for staff and residents who are medically vulnerable. Healing House, which costs about $450,000 per year to run, is fully funded by donations.
JustDane has several different reentry programs (Journey Home, Circles of Support, and Peer Support) that have continued to serve individuals returning to the community from prison by helping them break down barriers and find residency, employment, support, treatment, transportation, and education. Because the person-to-person connection is so important, especially during the pandemic, meetings are being held virtually, outside, or in colder weather in a large classroom space where social distancing, PPE, and other safety protocols can be enforced. According to its website, since 2006, the two-year recidivism rate (return to prison for either a new crime or a violation of supervision rules) for JustDane’s reentry services participants is between 5-14% as compared to the statewide recidivism rate of 67%.
Continuing these and other JustDane’s programs (such as youth, family, and reading connections) is critically important, “because people are still being released from jail or prison, people are still hungry, still looking for job training and employment. Children still must cope with a parent’s incarceration, and during a pandemic, their worry and stress is even greater,” writes JustDane Executive Director Linda Ketcham.
“But like so many organizations, our financial support took a hit since we could not have our normal fundraising events,” JustDane board member Phil Haslanger shared online during GivingTuesday. “That is why this end-of-the year giving time is so important. Thanks for considering a donation to JustDane.”
To learn more about the organization and how to get involved, visit justdane.org.
Is there a local nonprofit that is doing great things in our community but may need an extra boost to better fulfill its mission? Contact Samantha Haas, Mad City Dream Homes marketing and community outreach specialist, at 920-248-2676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.