Genesis Social Services Corporation (GSSC) turns 15
Social service activities lead to community success stories
by A. David Dahmer
It started in the basement of Mt. Zion Church in 1998 as a dream to meet the social, economic, and employment needs of primarily Black, Latino, and Southeast Asian residents in the South Madison area. This month, the Genesis Social Services Corporation (GSSC) is celebrating 15 years of helping young men get back on their feet and making a positive impact on the Madison community.
“It started when Rev. Dr. Terry Thomas met with Deacon Percy Brown and Deacon Leon Bond to discuss Mt. Zion Baptist Church becoming more active in social service activities,” GSSC President Dr. Richard Harris remembers. “The church was involved in a drug prevention program that was founded by the County before that. Rev. Thomas wanted us to take that over and look at the possibility of economic development at the same time.”
Harris had been working at Madison Area Technical College for 33 years as an administrator and had retired in 1998. “They contacted me in the summer of 1999 and asked me if I wanted to come on board and the first time I told them, ‘No… I’m too busy doing nothing,’” Harris smiles. “Dr. Thomas said, ‘Well, why don’t you just do it on an interim basis for about a year?’ I said, ‘OK.’ And now I’ve been ‘interim-ing’ for 15 years.”
The goal was two-pronged — providing social service activities that could help a primarily African-American population and true economic development activities where businesses could be established and people could be employed from the South Madison community. In 2002, the goal was given a boost with the move to the Genesis Enterprise Center (GEC), where start-up and expanding small businesses flourished in the 70,000-square-foot building which was one of the largest Black-owned nonprofit development corporations in the United States.
“The social services program we are still doing,” Harris says. “The business incubator program was a very ambitious project. We were in business for about 10 years but we had lost tenants here and had to turn the building back. But while it was going, we helped 36 African Americans start their own business start-ups at the Genesis Center incubator. We helped about 112 black men and women find employment at the incubator. For those 10 years, it was very successful.”
The Genesis Social Services Corporation (GSSC) is still going strong featuring its Exodus Program whose services include outreach, information and referral, to treatment services with alcohol and other drug involved or otherwise at-risk persons of color.
“Our clients who come here are coming to a place where they know they can get help and where they know they are looked at as an individual and not as a criminal or someone that is beneath the individuals who are here to serve them. That is key,” says Exodus Director Emanuel Scarbrough, who has been with GSSC for all of the 15 years. “If you are serving individuals in the community — especially low-income people and especially African-American [men] — and if you have that feeling or give off that aura that you are better than they are, they sense it right away. And it really, really hampers your ability to help those individuals.
“However, because we do this, that doesn’t mean that we don’t get after their behinds,” Scarbrough adds. “When they screw up, we really get on them and they know it because we want to help them. They know we’re not just getting on them because they’re black. And that’s key.”
The GSSC Drug Court Treatment Program enables clients, and when appropriate client’s families, to gain access to and receive a full range of appropriate services in a planned, coordinated, efficient, and effective manner. Case managers are responsible for locating, managing, coordinating, and monitoring all services and informal community supports needed by clients and their families. Services may include assessment/diagnosis, case planning, monitoring and review, advocacy, and referral.
“I love to be able to help the young men that come in and being able to see them become successful,” Scarbrough says. “For example, I just walked into the new Nordstrom’s store in West Towne [Mall] the other day. When I walked in, one of our clients was working there and he was talking about the fact that he was doing well and that makes me feel good. When you see young men like that who are out of the program and working and are assets to society and assets to themselves, it makes you feel good.
“I just saw another client yesterday at Walgreen’s and he walked up to me and gave me a hug,” Scarbrough adds. “He said, ‘I’ll be by the office to see you soon!’ This happens a lot. Once the clients graduate from drug court diversion treatment programs, they come back to see us. They just drop in to say hello and to say thank-you.”
Scarbrough is on the governor’s sub-committee of State Council On Alcohol and other Drug Abuse (SCAODA) that advises the governor on drugs and alcohol. They recently just convened an ad-hoc committee on the facts around marijuana. “One of the things that I really like is that because I’m here as an African American, the voice of the African-American community can be heard on these particular issues,” Scarbrough says. “It is important that you have someone in these positions so they know how we feel about these issues and issues can be brought up and put into these reports before reports are finalized. We need to have that.”
Richard Bryant, a case manager for the Drug Court Program, has helped many young men in his seven years with GSSC.
“We do whatever is needed to help people whether it be treatment, education, transportation, housing. We’re working closely with the new [Dane County Jail] Re-entry Coordinator Jerome Dillard,” Bryant says. “Employability skills are so important, too. Some people don’t know how to get and maintain a job. We help them with that.
“Most importantly, we teach people about awareness — you need to be aware. You can’t be aware and high and drunk at the same time,” Bryant adds. “We’re really preaching the practicalities of a sober life. It’s OK to say, ‘I’m going to be sober … I’m going to live a sober life.’”
Many people turn to drugs in the first place to self-medicate themselves because they feel like they don’t have much to live for. “They don’t have a goal,” Bryant says. “I liken it to back in the old days when we used to swim in pits. As long as you’re in the middle of that pit treading water, eventually you’re going to get tired and you’re going to sink. But if you’re swimming toward a shore — any shore — you’ll keep moving toward a goal. We’ve got too many people treading water … just surviving. And we want to let them know that they can go well beyond surviving. But the first step is awareness.”
Bryant says what he enjoys most about his job is making a difference in another person’s life. “We have many success stories here. [We] just had a young fella who was heroin addict who called me on Saturday to tell me he’s celebrating a year clean,” Bryant says. “I’ve got guys who have been working for years at their same jobs. One guy is just finishing up his first year at MATC’s Fire Academy. There are a lot of success stories. That’s why we do what we do.”