We love the ways in which we hear about local nonprofits doing great work in our community. This month’s spotlight is on WayForward Resources, formerly Middleton Outreach Ministry (MOM), which provides access to nutritious food for people throughout Dane County and support that helps people stay in their homes in Middleton, Cross Plains, and west Madison.
We first learned about this organization last fall from Shelley Lazzareschi’s client Taylor Rozman, who is the organization’s Housing Stability Director. She informed us that MOM (which was established in 1980 by members of local Middleton churches and transitioned to a community-based nonprofit organization in 2007) would be rebranding as WayForward Resources in 2023. We agreed that it would be wonderful timing to help spread the word about the name change to help remove barriers people may face in finding or accessing their services.
Like many of the nonprofit’s staff and volunteers, Communications Manager Jenny Price was invested in the mission and drawn to working with the organization “to try to bring stability to everyone in the community.” She said that the challenges throughout the pandemic really shone a light on issues that were already there for people, as well as highlighted the importance of resources such as food pantries.
WayForward Resources offers a food pantry, a mobile food pantry that visits two apartment communities in Middleton, and food delivery for more than 600 people per month who may struggle to shop in person if they have a disability, are immunocompromised, or lack reliable transportation. Unfortunately, the additional FoodShare benefits put into place during covid have recently been reduced and rental assistance has fallen away, while the prices of food and rent have increased. Their food pantry has seen a 40% increase in visits since February (more than 60,000 visits per year), and a 110% increase in meals (more than 110,000 meals per month) distributed from this time last year – the most in their history.
”There’s just a lot of factors that are making things much more difficult for people. So, it’s why we’re here. And it’s why we value the community’s interest and support so much, because our community does better if everybody is stable,” Jenny said.
Also open to residents of Dane County is a clothing center housed in the same building as the food pantry at 3502 Parmenter St, Middleton, that provides donated in-season clothing for babies up to adults – for free. “That’s an interesting piece to the whole puzzle of stability,” Jenny said. “So if you’re not having to spend money on a winter coat for your kid, for example, that means you have more money for groceries or rent.” Nearly 500 households use the clothing center each month.
The organization’s housing stability programs, geared toward residents of the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District and some portions of West Madison, are aimed at preventing eviction and helping people maintain their housing through financial assistance and case management. “The stability spectrum looks different for everybody. Maybe it’s help with a security deposit, or assistance with rent, or paying a big utility bill, or paying to get their car repaired,” Jenny said. She shared that 603 households received housing stability funds in the last year to help families and individuals stay in their homes, and 98% of participants in their housing stability program maintained housing and avoided eviction for a year or longer.
WayForward Resources also has a grant through the United Way that focuses on families with children aimed at reducing school mobility. “We’re helping them maintain their homes so that children can stay in the same school, because we know that even when kids move around within a school district it isn’t helpful for their stability or performance,” Jenny said.
A newer program called Connections works with families in doubled-up housing, which means they are living with another family, so they can move into their own housing. “This situation can present risks, not just for the person that doesn’t have permanent housing, but also for the person they’re with, because a lot of leases specify you cannot have multiple households under the lease,” Jenny said. “There’s not a lot of specific help for that outside of this program, because people in that situation do not meet the federal definition of homelessness.”
There are about two dozen families in the Connections program at any given time. Jenny said that their stories are so impactful. “A couple who were newer to the community and the country looking for work were doubled-up, and they had a school-aged child and the mom was expecting a new baby. Thanks to the program, they were able to move into their own apartment before she had the baby. Could you imagine what it would have been like to bring a new baby ‘home’ to someone else’s space?”
Another aspect of WayForward’s work is its senior program for older adults who live in their own homes. In addition to the food, clothing, and housing services previously mentioned, seniors can also take advantage of housekeeping and other help with chores, getting rides to doctor appointments, food delivery, and signing up for friendly phone visits meant to reduce isolation. Last year alone, WayForward provided more than 1,700 of these services.
WayForward also holds seasonal programs, including a Back to School supply drive for nearly 600 local preschool to college students, a Thanksgiving basket drive distributing about 1,200 meals, and a Winter Wishes program providing more than 1,700 holiday gift cards to people in the community. “We really focus on the dignity of choice, both in our food pantry and other aspects of our programs,” Jenny said.
“All of these programs hinge on our volunteers,” Jenny said, also noting that there are 18 staff members who together serve about 6,600 people each year. During the most recent fiscal year, 1,151 volunteers logged close to 25,000 hours supporting WayForward’s programs. “They’re unloading the truck from Second Harvest, packing groceries for delivery, assisting people who come to use the food pantry, communicating with people for whom English is not their first language, greeting donors, harvesting in the gardens, organizing donations in the clothing center…they’re helping with all kinds of things,” Jenny said.
Volunteers are welcome, whether you can commit to a one-time opportunity or a six-month or longer period. Monetary, food, clothing, and seasonal program donations are always needed, too. “Although our name has changed and our service area has expanded, the original vision of the organization has not changed,” Jenny said. “We’re evolving to try to meet the community’s changing needs, and we could not do it without the community’s support.” To learn more or help, visit wayforwardresources.org.
Listen to a podcast episode
In this episode of Follow the Leaders podcast, WayForward Resources Executive Director Ellen Carlson speaks with host Jamie Gale about her journey into the world of leadership and about how she recently guided her organization and the community through a major change. Ellen shares how she balances curiosity, questioning and confidence and how she has learned to listen to her gut as she navigates her work.