I went into this internship thinking, wow, this is exactly what I wanted. I was going to be working at a nonprofit that works with people. I loved the mission. It was a small nonprofit so I could get a more comprehensive understanding of how it runs. I was going to be getting course credit. I was going to be getting experience and learning new things. For the first time, I didn’t need to be working multiple jobs at once. Honestly, it kind of felt like the perfect way to spend my summer. What I didn’t know is that Hope Street was going to be exactly what I needed.
For the last year at school, I didn’t feel safe in my own apartment. I had a roommate that drained my energy, made me fearful, and didn’t align with my values. It was a long year and I was ready to get away from Madison. However, coming off of that experience I was anxious to be stepping into a new place, regardless of how perfect I thought it would be. I had lost a lot of faith in people that I had cared about so deeply, so it was hard to justify having faith in people I didn’t know at all.
On my first day, Coop brought me into his Monday morning Bible Study and introduced me to some of the members. Upon first meeting me, every person around that table shared their stories with me without fear of judgment. I thought, well, if everyone around the table trusted me, a 19 year-old white girl from the suburbs, I sure don’t have a lot of room not to reciprocate. I never thought I would be in a position to say I feel so much safer on 26th and Capitol then I did in my beautiful apartment in downtown Madison, but from there that quickly became the case.
I went into this summer wanting to learn about how this place runs, fundraising and development tactics, how Hope Street interacts with members, donors, and volunteers. I was interested in the board’s involvement, Shechem’s development, and other future plans. I wanted to get my hands on databases and know what is collected and why. I wanted to know what happens here on a day to day basis. I was excited about having an opportunity to connect with people. I got all of that. None of that compares to what I have learned about this community.
I wasn’t blind to the reputation of this area. I liked Hope Street because it addressed that brokenness head on. Still, I came in with optimistic eyes, that everyone who was coming into Hope Street was coming out the other end with a sense of healing. But I soon learned that growth isn’t just this continuous upward path. I spent a lot of time with Rhonda, I listened to her story that held so much pain. So when I saw her join in on this community and find a job, I was excited for her. However, as her sister got sick, I could see she was focusing less on her own growth and she left Hope Street without warning. Without proper care and attention, flowers wither. People can too.
I have listened to endless stories this summer and have learned about the often toxic, unsafe environment outside these doors. I was going on a run one morning before work. This was just another run starting at my house in the Village of Pewaukee, but my thought process changed. I usually run past the lake, but the shade was calling me so I decided to run into Simon’s Woods. As I turned the corner onto Capitol I got increasingly mad; mad that I could go on a run down Capitol with complete security. Meanwhile, miles down the very same road, Ashonti, our resident track-star, doesn’t have the same ability. Mad. Mad. Mad. Then, I remembered how this community has gathered around Ashonti, sponsoring her so that she could join a summer track team and be able to run freely.
Despite a bad reputation, there are positive things happening in the 53206 and that positivity can quickly turn anger into hope. The community at Hope Street is like no other. It’s sincere. People know each other. People care. People support each other and hold each other accountable. This is a place where people aren’t told what to do, but where people can decide how to join in and work towards self made goals. This is a place where people celebrate each other’s accomplishments, where members cook for each other, and where kids feel safe. This place just makes a lot of sense, and I’m glad to be a part of it.