Model for success: Milwaukee Ma'Ruf Center seeks to elevate a neighborhood

Model for success: Milwaukee Ma’Ruf Center seeks to elevate a neighborhood

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Just 73% of children who grow up in Milwaukee's Lincoln Park neighborhood get a high school diploma, but one local nonprofit moved in with the goal of bringing that number up.

"We wanted to do a youth center for the longest, but we wanted to do it somewhere it would be most impactful," said ElHadji Ba, President, Ma'Ruf Center Milwaukee.

ElHadji Ba, President of the Ma'Ruf Center, says they settled on this 8-thousand square foot, former hardware store near Hampton and Green Bay Avenue, an area where a fifth of students won't graduate from high school.

"Families in this neighborhood have their own challenges and a lot of that stems from single mothers having to sort of balance multiple jobs along with wanting to support their kids," said Ba.

Moms like Denise Retic couldn't be more thankful for the support.

"I have a 17 yr old, 12 yr old, 8 yr old and a 2 yr old," said Retic.

Retic asked her children, "Marnell, you want one piece of sausage or two? One. One?"

"I get up about 4:00 in the morning. I start my dinner. Then I get everybody up about 5:30, get them dressed and then head out," Retic told us.

WE caught up with Denise as she rushed home to serve a quick dinner so two of her four could rush off to practice.

"Marnell I hope you didn't throw your school clothes on the floor," Retic asked her son.

All the while, Retic is balancing her own education and work schedule, and trying to cover the cost of raising kids. Marnell's in wrestling at the Ma'Ruf Center and that helps.

We asked Retic, "The Ma'Ruf Center offers it for free right to families?"

Retic responded, "Yes."

We asked Retic, "How much has that meant to you as a single mom?"

Retic responded, "Oh that means a lot to me, a whole lot trying to juggle bills and activities can become very expensive and wrestling being one of them."

Wrestling's just one program offered at Ma'Ruf. Under Coach Obryan Mungon the team's done well.

"I like it," said Marnell Craft, Retic's 7th grade son.

Twelve of its young wrestlers this year qualified for state. Marnell's one of them.

"I sincerely really honestly appreciate the program - 36 It's good for our community, gives the kids something to do. It keeps them out of trouble, and it teaches them skills and self-control. So that's a really big one for me," said Retic.

According to the 2014 Mentoring Effect Survey, at risk youth with a mentor are 46 percent less likely to use drugs and 55 percent more likely to go to college.

"You ready to get started? Yes, good," Imani Raiyne of Kreative Fruitz said to a classroom full of children.

Here at Ma'Ruf, mentors abound.

"Now raise your hand if you've never tasted pink pineapple before," said Raiyne.

Ms. Imani, a fruit artist, is one of them.

"So, on the count of three I want you to pause and pick up your pink pineapple so that we can all taste it together," said Raiyne.

Ms. Imani's Kreative Fruitz occupies space at the Ma'Ruf Center and offers classes like this these. Today, students are using their imagination with citrus fruits and grapes.

"Remember you are making a fruity rocket ship so indulge in the fruit. You don't know how a fruit rocket ship looks? Well, you have to dive into your creativity," said Raiyne.

The Youth Center's full of stations - computers too - but mostly, it's things that require no technology.

"So, we do have an indoor sort of garden thing going on here along with some farm animals," said Ba.

It's birds and bunnies. They'll be getting baby chicks soon too, caring for farm animals, something the kids just love.

This section's for gardening, growing herbs and vegetables.

"Ma'Ruf was started by a group of, a small group of young Muslim professionals who wanted to be impactful outside of the mosque," said Ba.

The Youth Center even has a prayer room, a room for all faiths.

"We feel like that contributes to the wholistic approach we're trying to implement here," said Ba.

Some 25 students flow in and out of here on a daily basis, often during dinner hours. So, the center feeds them a hot meal.

"Here we actually do give them a meal because sometimes that's the only nighttime meal that they may have, that they may get," said Ba.

Since their start in 2018, Ba says they've served upwards of 150 children, free of charge to families, thanks to donors.

"We definitely stretch every single dollar that gets donated to the organization to its maximum," said Ba.

For all the good they do here, the Center behind the scenes is going through tough times. "We sort of had to make a tough choice," said Ba. "Find a short term solution or shut down until we can raise funds to buy a new roof. For now, we've got a guy who's been doing a little patch work here and there," he said.

"But it seems like for every leak he fixes, there's two more that sort of show up at some point. if you look at our ceiling especially in the main hall, you'll see a whole bunch of water damaged ceiling tiles all over the place, so the roof is overdue and when I say it's overdue, it's an understatement. It's overdue by a lot of years," said Ba.

So, leaders are taking a big ask to the community, recently setting up a Go Fund Me Fundraiser by Ma'ruf Milwaukee.

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