Serving the south side Madison community since 1946, the Catholic Multicultural Center has been an important part of Madison for decades.
The Catholic Multicultural Center (CMC) provides an empowering social ministry to meet the needs of the whole person, works to foster multicultural unity, and works to cultivate collaboration among the local Catholic Church, other faith-based organizations, and community entities. CMC serves a very diverse clientele of Black, white, Latino, Hmong, and most recently Bhutanese refugees.
“It started as an interracial community center and then evolved over time,” says CMC Director Andrew Russell in an interview with The Madison Times. “I don’t have proof of this but a few people have told me that they used to have boxing at the center and that Cassius Clay as a youth came up here to Madison and boxed in the old building at the center. Now, I don’t have proof of this…. But it makes for a good story.”
The organization was founded under the name Blessed Martin House to help meet people’s basic needs, provide educational opportunities, and fill spiritual needs for those interested. Centro Guadalupe began working closely with St. Martin House in the 1970s, and now the two are one organization: the Catholic Multicultural Center.
“We have a few people here who have been founding members and others who are volunteering who have been here since pretty close to the beginning,” Russell says. “That’s kinda cool. There is a ton of great history on the south side. We have one volunteer who grew up in a farm pretty much in that neighborhood.”
The Center, now under the leadership of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish, offers many services to the south side including a free meal program, food pantry, health program, numerous educational classes, and shower and laundry facilities.
“We’re now the only free community meal program in Dane County that serves meals seven days a week,” Russell says. “The food pantry has been very busy, too.”
Many CMC programs
The CMC employment program offers important assistance to job seekers. On any weekday, a staff member and trained volunteers are available to work one-on-one with job seekers, in English or Spanish, to shape résumés, fill out job applications, or offer suggestions on where to apply for jobs.
“We help with all aspects of helping people find jobs, helping with resumes, and teaching computer skills,” Russell says. “We have a retired human resources executive who volunteers at the center that will work with people and do mock interviews; help them with their résumé and look over their stuff.
They also have a Personal Care Pantry with things like soap and toothpastes and toiletries that are expensive to buy. It’s important that people are looking and smelling good as they try to find those jobs, Russell says.
CMC’s relatively new Culinary Creations course trains enrolled students in food safety and food prep. When students complete the training, they walk away with hands-on experience, certification, and job references. “Basically, we’re training people to work in a commercial kitchen and giving people an opportunity who otherwise might have barriers to employment,” Russell says. “It’s been very successful. We’ve been working with REAP [Research, Education, Action and Policy on Food] to do that.
“One guy kept looking for a job and looking for a job,” Russell adds. “Two years later he was still unemployed and getting depressed and down about it. He had nowhere to turn to but he kept trying. But after going through our [Culinary Creations] program, within two weeks he had a job. His confidence soared.”
Also at CMC, Catholic Legal Immigration Network volunteers help answer general questions, register and direct applicants, and fill out and review forms. “We’ve hired [attorney] Ramona Natera to come and work at the center and she’s been just great,” Russell says. “She does so many different things and she’s been so busy because of the DREAMers. Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect with that.”
CMC also recently got a grant for over $80,000 from Susan G. Komen to do educational activities with Latinas and breast cancer. They’ve partnered with Monona Libraries and Dane County on breast cancer information initiatives to help increase breast cancer outreach to the Dane County Latino population. The CMC’s goals are focused on improving education, increasing screening and overcoming language and social barriers, focusing solely on the Spanish speaking community in Dane County.
“Preventive health is something that is very important to us and giving people the means to do preventative things is so important,” Russell says.
This year, six breast health forums will be conducted in Spanish, and survivor support groups will be formed to reach out to Hispanic women of Dane County. They will partner with Wisconsin Well Woman program to help uninsured and underinsured women access appropriate breast health care. A breast health library with Spanish resources will be established at the Center in collaboration with Monona Library.
CMC also has children’s programs and free childcare is available to parents attending classes. Homework club runs through the academic year in addition to a variety of programs and events just for children.
CMC also just wrapped up its fall 2012 food pantry garden. After a long season, the garden has provided thousands of pounds of produce. “We wanted to give people healthy choices. Vegetables we got from stores would go bad quickly. Now, we had fresh vegetables available. It was very, very successful,” Russell says.
Planning for the future
Three different churches — St. Bernard’s in Middleton, St. Francis in Cross Plains, and St. Thomas Aquinas in Madison — will be raising funds for CMC specifically to put up solar panels for the Center. “With that and with incentives from Focus on Energy in Madison, they will help us get this done. We’ll be able to provide 16,000 meals with the money we save,” Russell says. “We’re always thinking towards the future [and] our long-term [plans].”
With all of the programs going on at CMC, they are still experiencing some growing pains.
“Our budget has tripled over the last three years. Our staff is growing,” Russell says. “But we definitely see it as a positive thing. I think we’re more well-known than we were three years ago and I think that’s a good thing. We’re getting a ton of hits on Facebook, for example.”
In the near future, there will be a RadioThon at LaMovida Radio 1480AM to help raise funds and the CMC and the Center will continue to recruit the important volunteers that make the CMC the agency that it is. “We have over 800 volunteers a year that makes the center run. We have a full-time staff of just five people so we rely on our great volunteers to make the place go,” Russell says.
Russell was a VISTA volunteer himself with the Schools of Hope Literacy project when he first became involved in the CMC in 1999. Back then, he taught English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, helped with the food pantry, and assisted with maintenance. Russell has been the director for the last 7 years and he loves working for the CMC now as he did on that very first day.
“I love the people — both the guests that come to the center as well as our donors and volunteers,” he says. “The people that come to the center are all such different, interesting people. Everybody has a story of why they are coming. “
And Russell loves to hear the CMC success stories. “Yesterday, a gentleman stopped in who had been homeless for about three years. He was living in his van for most of those three years,” Russell recalls. “We were able to help him get a job and he’s now working at UW as a driver since July and working at Meriter [Hospital] doing cleanings since April. He’s been successful and has paid off some credit. He has his own place for the first time in a long time. Hearing these kinds of success stories is very uplifting. A lot of the stories here at CMC can be very inspiring.”
The future for CMC looks bright as they continue with their many programs and work on developing new programs, creating new partnerships, and serving more people.
“We’re getting into grant writing more than ever before and we’re thinking about potentially expanding to another site,” Russell says. “The solar panels are a big goal for us in the near future, too. We want to fine-tune our current programming — what we should do more of; what we should do less of. That’s part of our growing pains of figuring things out to best serve our guests.”
There’s only two days out of the year that the CMC are closed — Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
“We always have plenty of people coming in so we always have to be improving in how we can meet their needs and be the best Center we can be,” Russell says.
For more information on the Catholic Multicultural Center programs, contact Andy Russell at 556-2344 or email@example.com
Interested in volunteering? Contact volunteer coordinator Laura Green at firstname.lastname@example.org