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Providing Spaces for Youth to Thrive

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Success can take many forms and be achieved in many ways, but opportunities for success continue to be elusive for many of our emerging adults. Operation Fresh Start (OFS), a local non-profit organization serving Dane County, Wisconsin, strives to support these youth as they transition to adulthood and achieve self-sufficiency. Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of working with them as they renovated and relocated to a larger space that support their continued growth.

Fifty years ago, retired Madison police officer and juvenile detention counselor Jack Osteraas developed the Operation Fresh Start model: provide paid work opportunities to participants so that they can learn basic work skills, achieve a high school education, transition to self-supporting employment and contribute to the community. Today, OFS provides a path forward for emerging adults through a variety of mentoring, education, and employment training programs. An OFS participant can earn a high school diploma, a driver’s license, certifications in the construction and conservation fields, and gain college and career readiness skills.

Having outgrown their former location in Madison’s Schenk-Atwood neighborhood, OFS was looking for more space in an easy-to-access location. They selected a collection of former church, school, and gymnasium buildings located near a busy intersection for their new headquarters and hired EUA for the design. Since OFS was both the owner and the general contractor, the project team was able to move swiftly through the interior alteration design process to find the best balance of accessibility, renovation work and cost effectiveness. Many local companies partnered with them during construction and donated specialized services while maximizing the construction experiences of OFS’ own participants.

Their new location allows OFS to serve twice as many youths as their previous location. The former church nave became tutoring and computer lab spaces, the balcony was repurposed into administrative offices, and the gym was transformed into training and tool storage space. Retaining many of the iconic church elements, the design respects the facility’s history, while maximizing the repurposed space to accommodate current and future needs.

I was fortunate to learn about OFS through a family friend, and even more fortunate to be part of their renovation and relocation project. It’s been extremely gratifying to see this noble organization grow in participants and programs offered, providing more and more support to emerging adults. With the increase in space and resources—and an expanded donation base—OFS is adding new programming – Drive, CareerScape Counseling and this fall Conservation Graduate Crew.  It’s amazing that they’ve helped over 8,000 young adults in their first 50 years, and EUA is proud to contribute to their mission through our expertise and financial giving. OFS believes all young people ages 16-24 are assets in our community, and I believe OFS continues to be a great asset to Dane County.

Jon Robelia, AIA
Senior Project Architect : Associate

Jon Robelia, AIA, is a Senior Project Architect and Associate for Eppstein Uhen Architects (EUA). Jon is based out of our Madison office and focuses on the workplace, living and entertainment markets.