Learning runs two ways between Marquette students and students at Neu-Life.

It’s Thursday night at Neu-Life Community Development, and the youth organization’s headquarters on Milwaukee’s north side is hopping. A couple dozen young people stay for dinner, a fettuccine alfredo cook-off led by the young chefs in Farmfork, Neu-Life’s culinary and urban agriculture club. A poetry class prepares for a black history program. A young man teaches dance. The Neu-Life basketball team preps for a game.

Between Neu-Life’s three sites — its main location at Bethel Baptist Church, Gwen T. Jackson Early Childhood and Elementary School, and Milwaukee High School of the Arts — the organization annually serves 1,200 Milwaukee children ages 3–18 and beyond. Kids gather at Neu-Life after school every weekday. “It’s a family atmosphere,” says Tracy Hrajnoha, Arts ’08, director of partnerships and community development. “It’s not a drop-in center; we really want kids to engage and stay with us for years.”

JaQuawn Seals, was 15 years old when he joined Neu-Life's staff.
JaQuawn Seals, was 15 years old when he joined Neu-Life’s staff.

And they do: Nearly one-third of the organization’s staff first started by attending Neu-Life themselves. Hrajnoha offers a great example in JaQuawn Seals, who was just 15 when he showed up looking for a part-time job to help support his mom and siblings. Like many kids, Seals was initially guarded and unsure of whether the organization would deliver on its promises. Soon he was attending Neu-Life programs outside of his work shifts. Now in his 20s, Seals is still part of Neu-Life’s staff and going to college to become a youth worker. “There’s nothing like seeing someone who is shy or really distrustful come out of their shell and find something they’re excited about,” Hrajnoha says.

The eclectic programming is largely driven by students’ interests, but at its core is a mission to teach kids to make good choices. Neu-Life is known for its effective alcohol and drug prevention programs, and approximately 90 percent of the participating middle and high school students report a decrease in alcohol and drug use after attending Neu-Life. A new program centers on preventing human sex trafficking.

Neu Life kidsDuring the past decade more than 60 Marquette students have worked with Neu-Life through service learning or work-study programs. Among them is Marie Keiner, a biomedical sciences major who has tutored at Milwaukee High School of the Arts for more than three years. “Whether it’s tutoring students in math, teaching them important life skills or just being there to listen, I feel like I’m helping,” Keiner says. “I’m also learning more about myself from the students. I have a very different background than most of the students, and it is interesting putting myself in their shoes, seeing the world from their perspectives and helping them with the many ups and downs in high school.” — NE

During the past decade more than 60 Marquette students have worked with Neu-Life through service learning or work-study programs.

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