Service learning discontinued at Repairers of the Breach despite court settlement

Service learning with Repairers of the Breach, the only daytime homeless shelter in Milwaukee, will be discontinued next semester due to a leadership struggle at the organization that caused a two-month legal battle, which was announced as settled Thursday.

Maryann Radowski, service learning coordinator at Repairers, said the decision to cut service learning was made because the shelter’s executive leadership may change during the next semester. Carolyn Young, who was appointed as the organization’s interim executive director after MacCanon Brown was fired from the position by Repairer’s board of directors, may not continue as permanent director.

“It’s just too hard for us to predict where we will be in the next few months,” Radowski said. “We want to make sure we can support students to take the the volunteer positions they take on. We want to be true to the contracts we make with them.”

About 20 students serve as student learning volunteers at Repairers each semester, organizing and leading sessions with the homeless members of the organization. Sessions include arts and crafts, poetry and creative writing among others.

“This is a temporary situation,” Radowski said. “We hope that we will be involved with Marquette students again in the future. … I know the members will miss the students.”

Brittany White, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences and former service learning volunteer at Repairers, said the decision is “absolutely disheartening.”

“As a former service learning student at Repairers, I have been privileged to experience the center and its beauty in incredibly deep ways,” White said. “I am completely shocked  and deeply saddened that something that went awry in the oversight of such an amazing organization is going to cause further damage and destruction.”

Although Repairers will not take on any new service learning volunteers, Radowski said the shelter will continue to work with Marquette’s Dorothy Day Social Justice Community and other past volunteers.

Ryan Pardo, a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps who has dedicated a year of service to Repairers, oversees all the service learning positions at the shelter. Pardo said this decision will drastically cut out a lot of responsibility for his job; although, he said he is unsure how it will affect the shelter.

“Having (service learning volunteers) here gives the members an outlet for conversation,” Pardo said. “At the same time, though, them not being here may get the members out more looking for jobs.”

Service learning is not the only volunteer position that will not be continued at the shelter. Radowski said Repairers also made the decision to discontinue the yearly position through the Jesuit Volunteer Corp. Pardo will continue to serve at Repairers next semester, but nobody will be replace him when his JVC position ends in July.

“Lots of things are going to be changing,” Pardo said. “I feel like the organization has really been grounded in the JVC for a while. The JVC and Marquette are definitely big factors that the organization can use for donors.”

Pardo also said the decision to cut his JVC position may dissuade Dorothy Day from continuing to send volunteers to the shelter.

Brown, a co-founder of the organization, was fired as executive director of Repairers Aug. 26 after she and five others — Bernard Cohen, Will McGraw, Dorothy Jackson, George Paz Martin and Sheila Grady — took over a board meeting Aug. 22 and elected themselves as the organization’s new board, according to court documents. The court documents also said Brown created a letterhead for Repairers indicating she and the five others were the organization’s board.

Brown refused to give up her post as executive director following the firing. As a result, the board pursued a temporary restraining order against Brown that would limit her and her co-defendant’s access to the shelter’s center, located at 1335 W. Vliet St., and to its website.

The two parties presented an out-of-court settlement to Judge Kevin Martens of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court Dec. 5. Records show the court received a stipulated proposal to dismiss the lawsuit.

Brown said she is “seeking new avenues through which she can advocate for the people who are most marginalized in Milwaukee.”

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