March 25, 2010

The Front Porch: Transitional Living Center Gets a Hand in Helping Homeless People

By Debra Karp

When Melissa Eitel first stepped foot in the Guest House at Burlington’s Transitional Living Center (TLC), little did she know that she would someday serve on the staff of the nonprofit organization that helps people who are homeless find their way back to independence. Now working toward an Associate Degree in Human Resources at Gateway Technical College, Eitel recently accepted a permanent staff position at TLC.

“Back in 2007, when I was released from prison, I was accepted into the TLC program. It was a very powerful sixty days. I felt an abundance of love and acceptance,” Eitel said. While living at the temporary shelter, Eitel utilized every referral she was given including agencies that helped her with counseling, career coaching and clothes for job interviews.

“I wanted a better life than before I went to prison,” Eitel said, emphatically. After 60 days, Eitel had a job and was able to afford her own apartment; but she missed the warmth and companionship she felt at TLC and continued to go back, soon volunteering to provide rides for the women and children. In her new role at TLC, she continues to act as a role model for the other women in the shelter. “I tell them my story to give them hope---let them know there is life after homelessness.”

Those other homeless women Eitel refers to almost did not have a place to go at all. In the fall of 2008, TLC was facing a serious financial crisis and the board of directors considered closing its doors. But with support from University of Wisconsin-Parkside’s CAN (Capacity-building Assistance for Nonprofits) Program and a committed group of donors, TLC is now financially stable and serving more people than ever before.

“A year and a half ago, the direction that UW-Parkside gave as far as where to go was huge for us,” said Dr. David Taylor, President of the TLC Board of Directors. “The knowledge base and information was critical to the survival of our organization.”

UW-Parkside’s CAN Program is one of the many provided by its Center for Community Partnerships (CCP). Funded by a $1.5 million three year Compassion Capital Demonstration Fund grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services, the CAN program provides free training, technical and financial assistance to build capacity in nonprofit organizations in Racine and Kenosha Counties.

In 2008, CCP staff conducted a comprehensive organizational assessment. Subsequently, in 2009, TLC received a grant from the CAN program to hire a consultant to help them create a Fund Development plan and train the board and staff in implementing it.

“The organizational assessment gave us a map and proved to be a great steering tool as we pulled ourselves out of the immediate chaos of a grassroots organization,” said Carol Marefka, a TLC volunteer who served on the board until 2009. “The CAN Program came at just the right time for TLC. We had successfully built a shelter, but needed to figure out how to run it.”

According to Marefka, TLC is now a stable organization with six months operating cash in the bank and a small capital reserve fund. They received funding from the United Way of Racine County for the first time in 2009 and have the capacity to work with twice as many as people as they could in 2006.

Though the guidance of the CAN program contributed to their success, it was also the hard work of the TLC board and staff as well as the generosity of the Burlington community businesses and individuals that ultimately allowed the organization to continue in its mission, according to Taylor.

Since 2008, over seventy nonprofit organizations in the CAN program have received free training and technical assistance provided by CCP staff or through community-based learning projects completed by students and faculty at UW-Parkside. In addition, the university has awarded over $600,000 for capacity building projects to nonprofit organizations in Kenosha and Racine Counties.

UWP does not do this work alone. Seven community partners collaborate to implement the program including the UW Cooperative Extension of Racine and Kenosha Counties, United Ways of Kenosha and Racine Counties, Kenosha County Department of Human Services, Racine County Department Human Services, and the Volunteer Center of Racine.

Front Porch Rockers

1) Attend Mentor Training: Mentor Kenosha & Racine presents “Gang Diversion 101” on Wednesday, April 14th from 4:30-6:00 in Tallent Hall 281. Community representatives will discuss why kids join gangs and what can be done to change their path. Learn more at or 262-595-2652.

2) Register for Camp at UW-Parkside: Join us for a week filled with Rockets, Robots, Astronauts, Scientists, and Space Flight Simulations at Space Camp Exploration for 6th thru 12th Grade Students! July 19-23, 2010

3) View a Film: UWP hosts a four-film Kente Film Festival continuing through May. Each of the featured movies were created and directed by African American women filmmakers. Admission is free and open to everyone.

Debra Karp is the Director of Community-Based Scholarship and Nonprofit Development at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside. Contact her directly at

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