Neighborhood House


  1916 - 1929early Neighborhood House


  1929 - 19491946 Neighborhood House dance


  1949 - 1966Madison Neighborhood Centers


  1966 - 19901990 band


  1991 - 2015Dan Foley


      2016 - ?Neighborhood House






Comments about this chapter; stories to add?  E-mail Randy Stoecker at

Striving Toward Independence:  1991-2015

As Neighborhood House reached the 1990s, it seemed to settle into a pace that would last into the new millennium.  Much of the credit for that achievement would go to those who provided stable leadership even in the face of continuing problems in United Neighborhood Centers.  And perhaps no one provided more visible stable leadership than Linda Weyenberg.

The Linda Weyenberg Era

Linda Weyenberg photo
Linda Weyenberg6
courtesy of Neighborhood House

Linda Weyenberg first started working at Neighborhood House as a field placement student in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Social Work.  “She had gotten her degree in social work later in life, while she was in her 50’s,” reflected Andy Heidt.1  When UNC cut Neighborhood House down to a half-time director position, and Ed Holmes left, she first filled in through her role as program coordinator2  and then as acting director later in 1991 before she became the full-time director. Linda Weyenberg's leadership helped maintain stability at Neighborhood House into the early part of the 21st century. During much of that time, the community center employed only two full-time paid staff--Linda, and the youth program director, initially Jennifer Classon.3  Weyenberg brought some of the old settlement philosophy with her. Neighborhood House hosted community meals that drew in a diverse group from the community, from the homeless to university professors, in an attempt to bring people together from different walks of life.4 She also channeled some of Gay Braxton's style, as "She could be kind of gruff--kind of a working class woman, but had a heart of gold."5

She took it over in the spirit of Mary Lee Griggs and Gay Braxton and welcomed everybody with the food pantry, clients coming over from legal action who were destitute or of very, very, very low income. Linda would try to connect them to social support services:  Social Security, food stamps, food pantries, housing, or sometimes she would hire them on as janitors.  She opened her arms to them. -Andy Heidt

Linda was pivotal in organizing Neighborhood House’s food pantry efforts. Most of her monthly reports to UNC included some version of the phrase "the food pantry has been extremely busy."7

Linda was passionate and dedicated to the Neighborhood House mission. Her son Sam tells a story about someone who came into Neighborhood House looking for clothes and a shower because he had a job interview the next day. Dismayed that Neighborhood House didn’t have anything like that, she spent the whole evening making calls and looking for options for this man. It was situations like this that kept her motivated to create a place where people could get a shower and find clothes for a job interview. She was driven to provide necessities and opportunities to her community. Her son speaks of her passion for service, and how she was “always very devoted to everyone as a person first, and you treat people that way. She saw this as a real opportunity to put that philosophy and perspective on life into play, and to try and foster that more. And, I think that diversity that she was able to help promote here was really showing by the time she retired.”8

New Traditions and Old 

Through the 1990s, Neighborhood House continued building on new traditions and bringing new groups into its fold.  The center remained a local all-ages concert venue.  In 1995 the noted Chicago Emo bands Cap’n Jazz and Braid played at Neighborhood House.9  The Black Star Reggae Band played a benefit to support the the 21st African Youth Movement's efforts to establish a local African cultural center.10   Neighborhood House even on occasion served as a last minute plan b, such as when the Milwaukee band Compound Red had to move from a private house party to accommodate all the fans.11

Neighborhood House also organized an 80th anniversary open house,12 creating a new tradition that began with the 70th anniversay in 1986.  This anniversary celebration also continued a tradition of an absence of media coverage.  But media coverage prior to the event allowed Weyenberg to note the center's work on "developing leadership skills for users, teaching English, and offering recreational activities."  She also noted that, in 1995, Neighborhood House served more than 5,000 people on an operating budget of only $110,000.13

Those users were quite varied, including fencing classes offered by the Durendal Fencing Club,14 and the summer camp kids who learned how to tie dye--not yet a lost art in the 1990s15--and produce their own newspaper.16  Neighborhood House partnered with Centro Hispano and Olbrich Botanical Gardens to help kids learn how to garden.  And it was more than a select few who were interested--they had 80 kids in all.17  Neighborhood House also worked to bring fresh produce to their food pantry through a network of people including farmers market vendors,18 and was the founding location for the Madison Table Tennis Club.19

Other activities continued some of the oldest traditions of Neighborhood House.  The Neighborhood House garage sale, sometimes called rummage sale and sometimes including a "huge" used book sale, ran every spring from the early 1980s, and continued uninterrupted into the mid-2000s.20  The annual Holiday auction, held every December since the early 1980s, also kept going into the late 2000s.21  And Neighborhood House continued the work to maintain the memory of the Greenbush neighborhood, co-sponsoring a spaghetti dinner celebrating the centennial of Trinity United Methodist Church and the Greenbush.22

The End of United Neighborhood Centers 

All this time Neighborhood House was also managing the challenges created by the continuing troubles of United Neighborhood Centers.  In 1992 Mayor Soglin got involved by advocating for a major fundraising campaign to create even more and bigger community centers,23 potentially adding to the unpredictability of the community center scene.  In early 1994, the South Madison Neighborhood Center again voted to leave UNC,24  but had difficulty coming to agreement with UNC.  Mayor Soglin vetoed a city council resolution giving the center $44,000 to split from UNC,25  and the city council then agreed to keep funding the center through UNC, thwarting the breakaway attempt.26 

UNC also continued to have management issues, as the city challenged its hiring practices,27 and it continued to have difficulties keeping a director. 28  By late 1996 the South Madison Neighborhood Center, the Wil-Mar center, and even the newly joined Vera Court center, were all trying to leave the UNC fold.  The city council was considering a budget amendment that would allow centers to keep getting their portion of city funds even if they became independent.29   The neighborhood centers at the time were giving seven to eight percent of their funding to United Neighborhood Centers, and many of them believed that they weren't getting their money's worth in return.30

UNC headline
image courtesy of Wisconsin State Journal34

Finally, in early 1998, Mayor Sue Bauman and the United Way developed a "transition plan" that would dissolve UNC and provide the individual neighborhood center boards and staff with extensive training to take over their organizations, including gaining ownership of their buildings beginning in 1999.31   With backing from the powerful city Board of Estimates for centers to use CDBG funds to buy their own buildings,32  UNC held its closing celebration on December 15, 1998.33

This change created both opportunities and difficulties for the centers as “the center directors become executive directors, with new roles and responsibilities, and advisory boards become formal governing boards.”35  Not all went smoothly.  Broadway-Simpson-Waunona didn't survive the transition, the South Madison Neighborhood Center got taken over by the Boys and Girls Club, and Vera Court had to close for a while.36

The transition was not easy for Neighborhood House either. Linda Weyenberg noted that Neighborhood House was in a "changing neighborhood" that made fundraising challenging, but the building had space that could be rented out to others if it needed.37  Janet Laube, a board member at the time, reported that “our board was small and always struggling and trying to get more members.” The short-staffed board worked hard at the “keeping-it-alive end of things....  We did get funding from the city that helped, but we were always trying to raise money because we were always in short fall for the budget.”38   But  despite the financial and organizational challenges brought about by the end of  UNC, Neighborhood House was happy to be on its own. As Andy Heidt emphasized, they wanted to be “for and by the community” and "to control their own destiny."39  Being independent of the UNC enabled staff, volunteers and users of Neighborhood House to do just that: to determine for themselves what their future would look like.

Neighborhood House in the New Millennium:  Channeling Immigrant Roots

Neighborhood House was still adjusting to its newly independent status when the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks shocked the United States, leaving the nation at a loss for words and searching for direction.  And, like the anti-immigrant sentiment that Neighborhood House worked to overcome during World War II, some people directed their reactions at innocent immigrants. Muslim Americans across the country became outsiders in their communities as a result of misguided anger from their neighbors.  A group of Muslim women in Madison, Wisconsin felt the direct effects.  Members of the Muslim Women’s Group recalled, "After September 11th we were afraid to go outside. The Neighborhood House was a safe haven not just for the food, not just for the fun, not just for the good, but for the bad, for the support."40  Sadat Abiri realized that they needed a place to come together and turned to the community center that her children had attended. She used Neighborhood House as a way to bring a sense of belonging and stability to the lives of Muslim women and provide a safe haven where they could meet.

From the time of that historical rupture in 2001, the Muslim Women's Group adopted Neighborhood House as a safe place to make friends and, in times of uncertainty, to support one another. Members of the organization feel the people at Neighborhood House "[are] truly there for us. My sisters here are truly there for me [with services like] laundry, cleaning, food, family. I can count on the people here. It's family." The group evolved into one of the central organizations that helped to preserve the purpose and mission of Neighborhood House in the community center's time of need. As the Neighborhood House budget declined, they helped in whatever way they could. "When we first started the rooms were shabby, but we painted and changed the carpet, put in fans, and added chairs." One of the women commented that she was raised to give service to the community. The Muslim women’s group is very proud of their association with Neighborhood house and always tries to make the center better for everyone using the space. This demonstrates the nature of Neighborhood house and shows that the center is accepting and that “everyone is welcome, diverse.”41

TAIKO Drum group
TAIKO drum group 45

The story of the Muslim women's group is but one of many stories of ethnic and cultural communities who found a home at Neighborhood House. The Ghana Association moved to Neighborhood House when they outgrew the member's house they started in.  For Richardson Addai-Mununkum, President of Ghana Association, "We see Neighborhood House as our home, so to speak, where we gather a family meeting. Culturally we have a "family home." And "family home" is where you meet every member of the family. We see Neighborhood House as a family home."  Neighborhood House provides the contrast to the individualism and isolation of U.S. society that can be so surprising to immigrants.  For Richardson, "In [Ghana] the community where you live, it's so common to everybody that you don't necessarily need permission to visit your neighbor, kids don't need permission from their parents to go to their neighbor's house.... If there's a party going on, you don't need an invitation, you just join. So coming here where everything is just so regulated and segmented, that I see people staying in their houses more than interacting with their neighbors. So in that sense we see the Neighborhood House as the community meeting place where people can meet other people. "42

The Oak Apple Morris Dancers reflect an old England heritage that found Neighborhood House.  They started as a student group, and were using the University of Wisconsin Union South until the mid-2000s, "but we kept losing students, and evenually the union twigged to the fact that we were mostly faculty, staff, and alumni of the university and people who had no association with the university, using university facilities and they kicked us out. So we had to find some other place and I thought, ah, Neighborhood House."43

These groups, along with the African Association of Madison, the United Nigerians in Madison Association, Ballet de Folklorico,  the Caribbean Club, the Boliviamanta Group, the Liberian Group, Danza de Todos Los, the Japanese TAIKO Drum group, and Youth Karate are but a few organizations welcomed by Neighborhood House.44

The Growth of Youth Programming

Youth services and activities have always been a core part of the Neighborhood House mission.  And the youth program directors have always been core staff. In the new millennium youth changed, and the role of the youth director became ever more important.  Youth were becoming more sophisticated, more savvy, while at the same time needing all the developmental support they have always needed.

Youth programming took off in the new millennium, though it also resurrected some of the oldest themes of Neighborhood House.  More than half a century earlier the youth of Neighborhood House took what we would today call "virtual trips" to far away places, learning everything they could about those places as if they were actually visiting, because that is what they could afford.  In 2002 Jennifer Classon, then youth director at Neighborhood House, took a group of high school youth on an actual study trip to Madison's sister city, Arcatao El Salvador.  The group included Tehmina Islam,46  who would eventually work at Neighborhood House.  The youth had to raise their own travel expenses, and such expectations might seem lofty.  But Classon had seen what organized youth could do.  In a marathon walk fundraiser for Neighborhood House, the teens obtained $5,000 in pledges--far beyond their original $2,000 goal.  That allowed Neigborhood House to pay off their van and buy new rims and backboards for the gym.47

I remember at the beginning of the school year program, some of the older kids who were involved, they’d been in programming there
since they were old enough to be able and they quickly took me and told me, ‘Here is how you have to do your job, here is the culture
here…’ And it was fantastic. They were teenagers who really had a
genuine interest in having a leadership role to play and wanting that community center to also have a role to play in the larger community, in the city of Madison. And that was really exciting to me, to know that they were confident to be able to do that, that that was acceptable within the community center and that we were able to work together. –Jennifer Classon

The van that they helped pay off was itself an achievement that many would have called unrealistic.  Classon was working to improve the quality of after school and summer camp programs, in order to bring more structure and provide leadership opportunities. But the world was getting smaller, and helping youth make their way in that world required more than what could be accomplished within the walls of Neighborhood House itself. Classon was using her own car to drive kids around to do community work.  But her car wasn't enough. So she led an effort to buy a vehicle to transport youth groups.  It seemed an uphill battle--it wasn't just getting a van, but repairing it, putting gas in it, and insuring it.  So the effort required an ambitions fundraising project that provided one of the bright spots in Neighborhood House's funding history.  Classon says "So we fundraised, got a grant to pay for the van. It increased mobility tremendously. The kids were really involved in [the fundraising] part. We would host community dinners to be able to bring in additional money to pay for those things.” The passenger van that Neighborhood House acquired increased mobility and allowed the youth leadership group to travel to New York City for a cultural experience.48

Tehmina Islam, that youth who went to Arcatao with Classon, also became a summer camp counselor under the direction of Classon.  She remembers fondly the fun and friendship these programs brought to her and the youth of the community. The first word that comes to her mind when reflecting on her time at Neighborhood House is "acceptance". "So many people came in and out of those doors," states Islam, "and there was always a place for them, there was always a place for me, and really consistently a place for our voice to be heard." Islam used her work as a camp counselor to continue Neighborhood House's rich tradition of acceptance by passing it on to the young people of Madison. For the youth of Neighborhood House, summer not only involved swimming and bike lessons and trips to museums and the ice cream shop, but also team-building exercises in the center's gym and human rights lessons and activities.49

One of Islam's most memorable moments from these programs involved writing letters with her students to President Bush Jr. to stop the appalling killing of women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. "One girl wrote, 'Dear Mister President, stop sitting in a chair" recalls Islam. "That was her idea of what leadership in the US did; she did not understand why people weren't acting on behalf of human rights. I really loved her ability to say something really simple and have it mean so much." Islam, Classon and the rest of the Neighborhood House staff successfully organized the center's youth programming to develop independent and globally-minded future leaders.50

The next youth director, Alexis London, would continue the spirit of innovation.  In 2004 she organized a group of Neighborhood House after-school youth to write, direct, and star in their own movie "The Real Neighborhood," a fictional production about seven people who lived in Neighborhood House.  They worked with  WYOU Community Television representative Whitney Wilcox, who provided technical support.  From all accounts, it seemed like a grueling process, but  their labor resulted in a premier at the Orpheum theater.51

Alexis London's time at Neighborhood House also saw the creation of a new mural for the Neighbhborhood House gymnasium. London and the Neighborhood House youth got together with artist Lance Owens for the massive project.  While Owens was the artist in charge of the mural, he was adamant that "Everything is directed in some respect by the youth. Everything was drawn exclusively by the youth or executed by the youth". The kids involved were not without lack of instruction, however. Lance stepped in when necessary to teach painting techniques and how to execute such a large piece of art.52

A panorama view of the Neighborhood House mural
The new Neighborhood House mural53

 The mural is "almost a fantasy walk through the history of Neighborhood House", showcasing not only what has gone on at the center but also how the Greenbush Neighborhood has developed and changed around it.  These include images such as kids playing in Vilas park, or the enormous Greenbush doughnut looming in the background.  Cultural groups then meeting at Neighborhood House are represented in creative ways, like "the kite shaped like Africa float[ing] above Henry Vilas Zoo" that symbolized the presence of the African Association of Madison at the center.  The process by which the mural was created reflects the beauty and importance of Neighborhood House in the community. As Owens described, "I think that’s what’s so different about this [mural] versus some other types of murals. People who were here working on the mural had a huge amount of control over what got painted when they painted it. If you were here working on the mural and you wanted to paint a certain thing in a certain place, you could. That really did happen."54 

Neighborhood House also never became shy about supporting alternative educational practices seeking space in its building, regardless of their long-term prospects.  This time it was a Waldorf-style pre-school that would incubate until it grew large enough and strong enough to move into its own space,55  Neighborhood House also hosted Horizon High School, for youth recovering from addiction.56 They opened up their space to Mark Wagler and his students from Randall School to study the history of the Greenbush neighborhood,57 and to the Madison TechShop project that paired University of Wisconsin students with area nonprofits wanting computer and Internet technical assistance.  Overall, university students remained an important part of the mix, with an estimated 200 University of Wisconsin-Madison students involved at Neighborhood House in 2006.58

Times of Celebration and Sadness

As the years had passed and newer, shinier, and bigger community centers rose up in Madison, the media became fond of referring to Neighborhood House as "one of the smallest community centers" in Madison, as well as the oldest.  Whether that impacted how people saw Neighborhood House is unclear, but the mid-2000's were not fiscally kind to the organization.  A community survey also showed that not many people had heard of Neighborhood House--less than 30%, the second lowest of all the community centers included in the study.  And while 81%  of people living in the Atwood community center area knew about that organization,  69% of people living around Neighborhood House knew about it.  And only 31% knew about the programs in it.59

The early warning signs of the 2008 national economic collapse were also showing, with the food pantry having served 2,500 people in 2005 and Weyenberg saying that Neighborhood House needed $100,000 to meet the growing needs. As a result, the Neighborhood House board formed a finance committee.60  Fundraising got increasingly creative, with Neighbohood House leasing out 32 parking spaces at $20 each when the University of Wisconsin football Badgers played in town.61  But these efforts would fall well short of the funds needed.

Linda Weyenberg award
Linda Weyenberg receives award,
courtesy of  Capital City Hues66

Linda Weyenberg was also facing increasingly serious health difficulties, with Brian Benford, who had moved up the ranks from youth director to programming director,62  taking increasing responsibility for the overall operations of the organization.

In this context Neighborhood House celebrated its 90th anniversary on October 21, 2006.63  While once again ignored by the mainstream media, the alternative media reported a large turnout that included mayor Cieslewicz and Linda's fellow community center directors from across Madison who took a moment during the event to surprise her with an award for her service and leadership64

Linda Weyenberg would formally retire in 2008, the longest legacy of any Neighborhood House director after Gay Braxton.  Her popularity catalyzed the "Acorn Fund" which quickly attracted initial contributions of $7,200.65  She would prove difficult to replace. 

Times of Struggle

In 2008 the Neighborhood House board hired Zanna Majerle as the new director.67 She arrived in the midst of a national economic collapse producing depression-like circumstances for many of Madison's residents, and for the organizations that served them.  But, unlike the Neighborhood House of 70 years previous, the Neighborhood House of 2008 did not have the connections to wealth and power, or the presence of a strong community to hold it up. 

In the midst of the crisis, Neighborhood House continued supporting alternative and diverse activities to the extent it was able. Neighborhood House provided the venue for the "Back in the Day" Drag King Show.68  On Thanksgiving of 2009, it was the site for the Alliance for Animals free vegan feast.69  And when a hip-hop artist's request for a space to teach hip-hop to kids was turned down by another organization, Neighborhood House welcomed him.70 By April of 2010 Neighborhood House was serving about 4200 people per year, up 600 from three years prior, and food pantry demand was up 50-percent from the previous year to 60 families a week. All while the Neighborhood House budget was $30,000 in the hole.71

And fundraising wasn't filling the hole.  In desperation, Neighborhood House briefly considered running a beer garden on University of Wisconsn Badgers football game days, but abandoned the idea because of the contradictory messages it might send.72  Neighborhood House tried to partner with the for-profit Gus Macker basketball tournament fundraiser, hoping to bring in a large amount of money with a single event in May of 2010. Unfortunately, the strategy fell short when the money it earned didn’t meet the very high hopes nor even cover the costs of the event.73   And a lack of funding meant a lack of programming and building maintenance, and declining memberships, which of course hurt funding even more. The number of dance groups at Neighborhood House declined as groups had trouble maintaining their own membership during the economic collapse and Neighborhood House's financial woes required deferring maintenance that accelerated deterioration in the building. The community center's infrastructure reflected the trying financial times Neighborhood House was experiencing. Many members, including Cecilia Miranda, describe the state of the facilities as "cruddy" when they first walked into Neighborhood House. Miranda described hosting events at Neighborhood House as requiring days of cleaning and prep work to get the room clean and presentable.74

The stress was beginning to show on the organization itself. The board was forced to confront the terrible fiscal realities facing Neighborhood House, and  by 2010 the board was down to six members.75   By 2010, the problems were becoming apparent to the city.  As city staff did site visits they saw the decline in both numbers and quality in the youth programs in particular, and they began pressing Neighborhood House to improve both the numbers and the quality, but to no avail.76  By 2011 the City of Madison had withheld $84,000 of their funds for Neighborhood House, leaving only a $37,000 operating grant to keep the doors open and the lights on.77   The board was forced to let the director go and one board member took on the role of "community coordinator" in an attempt to fill the administrative gap78   Neighborhood House members were devastated to find out that the organization was on the verge of shutting down. For Cecilia Miranda “Coming to Neighborhood House is my outlet; I just forget what is happening outside in the crisis of life… I would have felt homeless [if Neighborhood House closed] because this is my second home.”79

Most organizations would have collapsed at this point. Even Chicago's famous Hull House--the grandmother of all settlement houses--closed  its doors and filed for bankruptcy in 2012.80   But not Neighborhood House.

Planning for a Change

From the days of urban renewal, when its neighborhood was wiped out, Neighborhood House had struggled to reclaim its space and its image.  The common wisdom in the media was that Neighborhood House no longer had a neighborhood, was too small to be a powerful player on the community center scene, and the word "oldest" was used in such an ambiguous way by the media that it wasn't clear whether the organization's longevity conferred status or decrepitude. 

Neighborhood House had been trying to find the path forward ever since and in 2008, sensing the dangers ahead, the board redoubled its efforts.  In the summer of 2008, Janet Laube sent an email to fellow board members with her five-year vision for Neighborhood House. Her vision included a new or refurbished building with more distinction from the surrounding community facilities, greater outreach to youth from more neighborhoods,a revitalized and more diverse board, and an expanded image for Neighborhood House across the area communities.  Laube's e-mail was the first known record of the start of strategic planning at Neighborhood House in the new millennium.81  That fall, the Neighborhood House board conducted focus groups with its members.  One board member compiled the results and sent them out to the others, including lists of possible goals, missions, purposes, and identities for the community center, along with strategies for funding such as partnerships with local businesses and hospitals.82  In February 2009, an unknown author floated another plan with short term goals, goals for building an identity in the community, attracting funding, developing various communication strategies, and constructing a new building.83

Also in early 2009, Tehminia Islam, who had gone from high school student to summer camp counselor, to now a board member at Neighborhood House, sent a "Strategic Planning Request" to current and prospectve board members asking them "What is your dream community center in 10 years? Please include what you might see/hear/smell/taste/ feel literally and figuratively." Islam compiled the responses, de-identifying them, and sent the results to the board.  Many thoughts touched on the facilities themselves, expressing both an interest in a new building or expanding the current location. All discussed expanding the programming available at Neighborhood House, with many interested in it being a multi-generational center with activities for youth through seniors. Others stressed the importance of welcoming a wide variety of groups and cultures to utilize the space and programs at the center. A few also emphasized partnerships with major players in the community, such as hospitals and businesses, to improve funding and meet fundraising goals.84

In a report to Neighborhood House from the Greenbush Neibhborhood Planning Team, the Greenbush Neighborhood Association made several recommendations to the board at the center based on a community survey they had conducted. The first of these was more noticeable signage, as their survey revealed that few people in the neighborhood knew what Neighborhood House was. The community also widely thought Neighborhood House was for "disadvantaged people" and did not have a good impression of the place. To correct for this, the association recommended better publicizing volunteer opportunities and activities in the neighborhood newsletter, to get the local community more involved. Though few in the neighborhood used Neighborhood House, many expressed interest in utilizing the gym and attending youth programming and other activities at the center.85

Strategic planning became more intense in February 2010 when the board met with a community development educator from the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension to discuss needs and goals for the strategic planning.  In the notes from the session, board members established that they recognized that the constituency of the center had changed and Neighborhood House needed to re-establish who the organization did and should serve. Board members considered both a high demand with high support scenario--with a new building offering more programs and receiving more support--and a high demand with low support scenario--with all of the demand but no new resources.86  Janet Laube recruited Nate Warnke and Stephanie Johnson to join the board, both of whom would be integrally involved in the next steps of this planning process and take turns as board president.87

One suggestion to the board was to sell the building and close down for a year or two while we reorganized - become a virtual center and eventually look for a new location. We weren't going to do that. In a way, staying open may have seemed irrational, but that was the resolve of the board. That was the emotional attachment we had that lead us to want to fix this, despite some of us not having been there very long.
-Nate Warnke


In early 2011, the board submitted a proposal to the city for a strategic planning grant, and got a consultant to help shepherd them through the full strategic planning process.  It was not easy. A Friends of Neighborhood House group formed, and tensions between that group and other Neighborhood House supporters created challenges for the planning process.88  The City of Madison got involved, as Neighborhood Services Coordinator Lorri Wendorf began attending board meetings for about a year and a half to do board development, and had to overcome some resistance to do so.89

Some might think it would have been smart to just maintain the status quo of user groups hosting meetings and events at the space while the center’s leadership kept the bare essentials going and tried to find a new path. Or, maybe find a graceful way to close. But Neighborhood House had faced this before--in 1949 when the Vocational School withdrew its funding; again and again in the 1970s when United Neighborhood Centers tried to sell its building.  It had weathered a Great Depression, a World War, the turmoil of the 1960s, and budget cut after budget cut after budget cut.

Once again, the Neighborhood House spirit honed over nearly a century of experience took over. The first thing that happened is that Amy Roundtree decided to focus on providing a summer camp even though there was no city money coming in to fund it. Amy organized the curriculum, wrote grant proposals, and recruited volunteers who dedicated their time and energy to make the program happen.90

Dan Foley
Dan Foley95

And the board started searching for a new executive director, despite the advice of their strategic planning consultant, who encouraged the board to wait until after the planning was completed. While over 40 applications were submitted and numerous very qualified candidates applied, Nate Warnke, who led the search, described Dan Foley as the "next shining light".91 Formerly of the YMCA in Madison, Dan Foley took the position of executive director in 201192  hoping to secure Neighborhood House's commitment to the community and rebuild its programming. Andy Heidt had extreme confidence in Dan: "this is a dude with skills; he turned Neighborhood House around financially."93   Dan Foley felt that the key to keeping Neighborhood House alive rested in returning it to the basics of business. He pushed a strategy that would show the community that failure and closing were not options. Dan exclaims, "Being a not for profit 501(c)(3) does not mean you lose money! You need to keep the front doors open just like any other business." As a result of this strategy, he attracted private donations, which rose to six times their previous levels. In addition, he worked to showcase to the city where money was being spent and on what programs, convincing the city of Madison to reinvest in the community center. He led the organization to examine the various avenues of revenue as separate entities in order to diagnose how to boost revenue from each avenue. In doing this, he accomplished what he set out to do by increasing grants, funding from the city, and other revenue sources.94

Neighborhood House also hired Amanda Ryan in 2011 to take on the role of program director. She , too had a big job ahead of her. The summer program was the only thing that was running at the time she joined the team. Through lots of thought, and some trial and error, Ryan begin developing Neighborhood House's programs. Starting a mentoring program was her main goal and she accomplished it by accessing the University of Wisconsin's Aspiring Nurses Association, channeling back to Neighborhood House's oldest origins with Miss Mary Saxton, the Attic Angels' Visiting Nurse.  She started with six mentors to be a support and resource to six youngsters in the community. Ryan also worked with multiple interns including Ben Tolle, who started at Neighborhood House around the same time as Ryan did in 2011, and is still is involved today in 2015 in a more independent role ensuring after school programs are running smoothly.96

The Neighborhood House spirit showed in the 2011 edition of the long-standing holiday auction.  When veteran Neighborhood House member Andy Heidt took up the microphone to start the auction, little did he know his performance as auctioneer would go down in the memory books at Neighborhood House. The event was a record breaking success, bringing in over $6,000. While the success of the auction is memorable, the overall Holiday Party organized in 2011 was described by Nate Warnke as “a really successful Christmas party…it was the best auction we’ve ever had. It was the most well run scenario as far as everything goes. It was the best attended fundraiser we’ve ever had.”97

The success gradually gathered steam. For board member Stephanie Johnson "I honestly was feeling hopeful because I felt confidence in Melissa with the strategic planning process… I was feeling hopeful like we’re on a path and we’ve got a direction now. I was so impressed with Amy’s chutzpah in getting that curriculum under way and really taking the leadership of developing the summer camp. I was hopeful to have a new executive director who had an experience and a skillset to bring us really solid leadership."98  The growing confidence among the staff and board helped them organize a presentation in front of the city's Citizen's Committee that would help determine their funding fate.  Perhaps most important, leaders from the cultural groups using Neighborhood House gave passionate testimony.  In the eyes of Lorri Wendorf, "that was crucial."  The Citizen's Committee vote was close, and Neighborhood House was refunded by a slim margin.99

A moment of sadness visited Neighborhood House when, on November 25, 2013, Linda Weyenberg passed away at Agrace Hospice.100  Imbued with her spirit, Mary Lee Griggs' spirit, Gay Braxton's spirit, and the spirits of all those living and passed who had brought Neighborhood House to the cusp of a new century, the momentum built. 

As finances improved, the board of directors, which had dwindled in numbers through these traumatic times, reorganized. By 2013, the board was back up to eleven members, restoring the leadership structure of Neighborhood House.101  A new German school had started,102 recalling those early days of Neighborhood House where a few brave German immigrants were welcomed even in the midst of two world wars that branded them the enemy. By 2014, the financial books at Neighborhood House were secure. Dance groups began coming back and, with them, the livelihood of the community center. Cecilia Miranda was proud to see Neighborhood House again become presentable, with a waxed floor she now would walk barefoot on.103   User groups were still meeting, summer camps ran throughout the summer, children danced to the latest music in the community room, and the center’s operations were functioning at full swing. Movie and meal nights, with Chinese food provided by the nearby Hong Kong Cafe,104 or jerk and curry spiced chicken provided by the Caribbean group to raise funds for steel pans used in calypso music105  brought welcome aromas and tastes back to the building. The rummage and craft sale returned.106   Once again, you could walk into Neighborhood House to hear the music of all parts of the world, feel the floor shaking, and see the smiles on the faces of the dance groups in the gymnasium.

In 2015 Dan Foley, hoping to retire for real, passed the director's  mantle on to Andy Millman, who arrived with an appreciation for, and experience with, "small, scrappy nonprofits."  With two extended stints in the director's chair of such small scrappy nonprofits, he also brought with him a track record of working with youth and people with disabilities, the latter of which would add a new diversity dimension to Neighborhood House's work. "107

To be continued...



1. Andy Heidt interview, 2014.

2.UNC board meeting minutes January 10, 1991, United Neighborhood Centers of Dane County, Inc. Records, Wisconsin Historical Society archives.

3. Andy Heidt interview, 2014.

4. Sam Weyenberg interview, 2014.

5. Jonathan Gramling interview, 2014.  Gramling was Neighborhood House's first accountant when it became independent from UNC, and came to know Linda well.

6. Photo from Neighborhood House archives.

7. Neighborhood House monthly reports to UNC, United Neighborhood Centers of Dane County, Inc. Records, Wisconsin Historical Society archives.

8. Sam Weyenberg interview, 2014.

9. Braid, posted April 14, 2013,; Stephen Thompson, City punk fans add spunk to concert scene, The Capital Times, March 25, 1994.

10. Neighborhood News, Wisconsin State Journal April 7, 1993 .

11. In the Basement, Wisconsin State Journal July 18, 1996.

12. The Works, Wisconsin State Journal June 6, 1996.

13. Gail Perry-daniels, Neighborhood House to celebrate 80 years, Madison Capital Times June 7, 1996.

14. Escape Calendar, Wisconsin State Journal July 12, 1992.

15. Just for Deadheads? Knot! Wisconsin State Journal August 19, 1993.

16. Kids do newspaper with help with fund, Capital Times December 10, 1997.

17. Project helps children grow, Wisconsin State Journal August 10, 1993.

18. Anita Clark, The Gleaners, Wisconsin State Journal September 15, 1996.

19. Madison Table Tennis Club gets a boost with a new space, Bob Jacobson, October 10, 2013,

20. The Works, Wisconsin State Journal Thursday, March 30, 1995. The last garage sale listing in the papers was Wisconsin State Journal March 31, 2005.

21. Community center sets 26th annual holiday auction, Wisconsin State Journal December 5, 2008.  There is no 2009 holiday fundraiser listed, and the last year it is listed is in the Wisconsin State Journal December 1, 2010.

22. Church News, Wisconsin State Journal May 12, 1993.

23. Joel Broadway, Neighborhood programs get a boost, Wisconsin State Journal May 2, 1992.

24. Rochelle Denise Thomas, South Side center splits from 'family', Wisconsin State Journal January 14, 1994.

25. Opinion: Center not Neighborly, Wisconsin State Journal April 14, 1994.

26. Joel Broadway, Family center funding approved,Madison Wisconsin State Journal April 20, 1994 .

27. Joe Schoenmann, Neighborhood centers hit over hiriing, The Capital Times July 19, 1994.

28. Pat Schneider, time to close a broken umbrella?, The Capital Times November 15, 1996.

29. Jonnel LiCari, Future unclear for neighborhood centers, Wisconsin State Journal November 17, 1996.

30. Dean Mosiman, On the verge of independence, Wisconsin State Journal February 6, 1998,

31. Dean Mosiman, On the verge of independence, Wisconsin State Journal February 6, 1998.

32.. Dean Mosiman, Panel adds money for social projects, Wisconsin State Journal October 27, 1998.

33. Dean Mosiman, UNC bids itself goodbye, Wisconsin State Journal December 16, 1998.

34. headline image from: Dean Mosiman, UNC bids itself goodbye, Wisconsin State Journal December 16, 1998.

35. Learning to Make it Work on Their Own, by Dean Mosiman, Wisconsin State Journal, December, 31, 1998, Pages 1,3.

36. Dean Mosiman, Center hurt by money problems, Wisconsin State Journal December 16, 1999.

37. Dean Mosiman, Learning to make it work on their own, Wisconsin State Journal December 31, 1998.

38. Janet Laube interview, 2014.

39. Andy Heidt interview, 2014.

40. Muslim women's group interview, 2014.

41. Muslim women's group interview, 2014.

42. Richardson Addai-Mununkum interview, 2014.

43. Patricia Sanford interview, 2014.

44. Neighborhood House Community Center, Inc., 2005 annual report, Neighborhood House archives.

45. photo from Neighborhood House archives.

46. Sandra Kallio, Teens head for sister city , Wisconsin State Journal June 26, 2002.

47. Teens walk for a cause, Wisconsin State Journal May 2, 2002.

48. Jennifer Classon interview, 2014.

49.Tehmina  Islam interview, 2014.

50. Tehmina slam interview, 2014.

51. Roger Anderson, Scenes from a Neighborhood , Wisconsin State Journal November 12, 2004.

52. Jonathan Gramling, "Neighborhood House Mural Dedication A Touch of Old and New" Madison Times, 2004.

53. photo by Randy Stoecker and Nadia Carlson.

54. Jonathan Gramling, "Neighborhood House Mural Dedication A Touch of Old and New" Madison Times, 2004.

55. Sandy Cullen, OakSong School may move, Wisconsin State Journal December 10, 2006 Maggie Rossiter Peterman, New way of learning, Capital Times April 12, 2004.

56. Richard Scheinin, Spotlight on young addicts , Wisconsin State Journal August 22, 2006.

57. Mark Wagler interview, 2015.

58. Help center thrive another century, Wisconsin State Journal April 27, 2006.

59. Neighborhood Centers Survey: Neighborhood House Data Resource Book, April 2004, gene Kroupa and Associates, Neighborhood House archives.

60. Gina Kittner, Neighborhood House Struggling, Wisconsin State Journal April 21, 2006.

61. Pat Schneider, Neighborhood centers seek elusive cash, Capital Times June 9, 2006.

62. Kate Schuman, Center Seeks Funds, Wisconsin State Journal February 19, 2007.

63. Neighborhood House 90th Anniversary Celebration, Wisconsin State Journal October 19, 2006.

64. Neighborhood House Community Center Serving Madison for 90 years. Heidi M. Pascual, Asian Wisconzine, 2006.

65. Acorn fund carries on Weyenberg's Greenbush legacy, Wisconsin State Journal July 25, 2008.

66  Photo from

67. Announcements, Wisconsin State Journal April 22, 2008.

68. The MadKings - "Back in the Day" Drag King Show, Postby themadkings05 » Tue Jul 07, 2009, Isthmus,

69. Kristian Knutsen, Madison eats agenda: Thanksgiving, pies, Norwegian smorgasbord, and holiday shopping, Isthmus, November 23, 2009,

70. Joe Tarr, No room for hip-hop?, Isthmus, February 4, 2010,

71. Neighborhood House Faces Cuts. April 9, 2010


73. Neighborhood House Faces Cuts. April 9, 2010; Nate Warnke and Stephanie Johnson interview, 2014.

74. Celilia Miranda interview, 2014.

75. Janet Laube interview, 2014; Nate Warnke and Stephanie Johnson interview, 2014.

76.  Lorri Wendorf interview, 2015.

77. Grass Roots: Neighborhood center still struggling to find its way, February 02, 2011 8:07 am • By Pat Schneider Cap Times

78. Warnke, Johnson Grass Roots: Neighborhood center still struggling to find its way, February 02, 2011 8:07 am • By Pat Schneider Cap Times

79. Cecilia Miranda interview, 2014.

80. Jane Addams Hull House to close January 19, 2012, Kate Thayer Chicago Tribune,

81. E-mail from Janet Laube, Neighborhood House archives.

82. no author, no title, Neighborhood House archives.

83. no author, no title, Neighborhood House archives.

84. e-mail from Tehmina Islam , March 20, 2009, to Strategic Planning Board.  Neighborhood House archives.

85.  Greenbush Neighborhood Association planning team, possibly from early 2009, Neighborhood House archives.

86. strategic planning session notes, February 2010, Neighborhood House archives.

87. Nate Warnke and Stephanie Johnson interview, 2014.

88. Nora G. Hertel, Can Neighborhood House get its act together? February 28, 2013

89.  Lorri Wendorf interview, 2015.

90. Nate Warnke and Stephanie Johnson interview, 2014.

91. Nate Warnke and Stephanie Johnson interview, 2014.

92. Former YMCA exec puts center ahead of retirement, Wisconsin State Journal March 27, 2014.

93. Andy Heidt interview, 2014.

94. Dan Foley interview, 2014.

95. photo from Neighborhood House archives.

96. Amanda Ryan interview, 2015.

97. Nate Warnke and Stephanie Johnson interview, 2014.

98. Nate Warnke and Stephanie Johnson interview, 2014.

99.  Lorri Wendorf interview, 2015.

100. Cress Funeral Home, Obituary, Linda Mae Weyenberg,

101. Nate Warnke and Stephanie Johnson interview, 2014.

102. Gayle Worland, Second School, Wisconsin State Journal May 4, 2014.

103. Cecilia Miranda interview, 2014.

104. Movie and Meal, Isthmus, April 9, 2015,

105. Steel pan fundraiser, Isthmus, May 16, 2015,

106. Rummage and craft sale, Isthmus, April 10, 2015,

107. Informal conversation with Andy Millman, 2015.