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A hub for community connection in South Madison

May 16, 2024 By Katie McMullen

Tucked into the Village on Park in the heart of Madison’s south side, the UW South Madison Partnership is a nexus of community activity and connection. An initiative of the University of Wisconsin–Madison Office of Community Relations, UWSMP serves as a meeting location for dozens of local groups, university programs and other organizations.

“UWSMP is more than just a building—it’s a space that breaks down barriers and sparks collaboration,” notes Brenda González, director of community relations at UW–Madison. “We are a resource for South Madison and our partners, and our team is delighted to welcome community members into the space every day.”

Open for collaboration

Attendees line up outside to order food from a catered food cart during a community celebration event held at the University of Wisconsin–Madison South Madison Partnership on South Park Street on Aug. 25, 2022.

Attendees line up outside to order food from a catered food cart during a community celebration event held at the UW South Madison Partnership on South Park Street on Aug. 25, 2022. Photo: Bryce Richter

The numbers show the South Madison community makes frequent use of UWSMP. In the final quarter of 2023 alone, the space averaged more than 1,100 visitors each month. More than 55 community partners, 11 UW–Madison schools and colleges and 32 university divisions and institutes have held a variety of events, projects and activities in the building.

“Coordinating the schedules and system to make this work takes time, but creating this trusting space is part of our mission and values,” says González.

The team helping to meet this mission includes UWSMP Assistant Director Tanika Apaloo and UWSMP Coordinator Candace Patterson, who joined the team last year.

“We’ve hosted tax clinics, exercise groups, parental support organizations, book and writing clubs and more,” explains Apaloo. “Our anchor partners, including the UW Odyssey Project and the UW Law School Economic Justice Institute, are doing amazing work, but we’re also excited to see smaller community organizations make use of this space to further their work.”

A home base for community organizations

Four people face away from the camera as they paint a colorful mural on a white wall.

From left to right, Kim Blair, senior director of development at the UW Foundation; Desiree Bates, co-lead on the UW Bridge to the Chemistry Doctorate Program and UW computational chemist; Shannon Brown, UW graduate student and Bridge Fellow; and Candace Patterson, South Madison Partnership coordinator work on a mural on the wall of the Kids Classroom designed by Madison-based artist Lilada Gee. The murals reflect Gee’s bold and colorful style and are designed to inspire the community and families that use the location for programming. Photo: Althea Dotzour

Apaloo points out that community-based organizations, which often have small or limited budgets for space rentals, can make use of the convenient, accessible space at no cost. Others note UWSMP offers convenient, inclusive spaces for connection.

The African Center for Community Development Inc. is a Madison nonprofit with the mission to “promote the well-being of the African immigrant community of Madison and Dane County” by creating education, skills development, empowerment, housing support, entrepreneurship and dialogue programs.

“We use the UWSMP space for several reasons,” notes Esther Ama S. Ptak, community outreach coordinator for ACCD. “Firstly, it offers a welcoming environment for our community, staff, clients and program participants. Additionally, its proximity to the bus route makes our services and outreach events accessible to clients and community members throughout Madison.”

Just Mindfulness, another community partner focused on bringing mindfulness-based interventions to under-served populations and individuals serving these communities, works with UWSMP to host sessions of their Building Empowerment and Resilience group. BEAR seeks to empower women with a history of interpersonal trauma and to promote healing and resilience through education, mindfulness and empowerment self-defense techniques.

“I have been in that [UWSMP] space for other groups/meetings for several years now, and I just love the space’s accessibility, ‘vibe’ and spaciousness,” comments Dr. Carmen Alonso, founder of Just Mindfulness. “And the staff has been wonderful to work with.”

Connecting community to resources

A group of people participate in a fitness class. They're lifting small hand weights overhead.

Community members participate in a Get Movin’ In Motion class at the UW South Madison Partnership. Photo: WI–ADRC

UWSMP’s location also serves as an important connection point for programs and resources from UW–Madison’s campus.

Annik Dupaty, outreach program coordinator with the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, facilitates Get Movin’ In Motion at UWSMP. Get Movin’ is a free, year-round exercise program offered by WI-ADRC. As part of the center’s mission to improve the lives of people affected by Alzheimer’s disease, they’ve developed innovative research and interventions focused on prevention and treatment. Dupaty notes UWSMP’s location is essential for the success of the Get Movin’ classes.

“The Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center is located within University Hospital on the UW–Madison campus,” notes Dupaty. “While it is ranked number one of all Wisconsin hospitals, any hospital can be an intimidating space and not always easy to access or navigate. Offering programs and services at the UW South Madison Partnership has made it possible for us to more easily connect with the community and has made research and Alzheimer’s disease prevention strategies more accessible and inclusive to participants and people historically underrepresented in clinical research.”

UWSMP staff point to the impact of their partners like ACCD, Just Mindfulness and WI–ADRC as the highlight of UWSMP’s mission to meet the South Madison community’s needs and foster mutually beneficial relationships.

“We’re proud to be part of this vibrant community,” says González. “By fostering connections and empowering our partners who are doing incredible work to meet a broad spectrum of community needs, we’re building a stronger Madison together.”