MADISON, Wis. (3/13/08)--Operation Fresh Start will use a $50,000 grant from CUNA Mutual Group to fund a new youth team devoted to housing issues in a Madison. Wis., neighborhood. The North Side neighborhood is considered a key in the city’s efforts to combat crime and gang activity while improving the lives of low-income families. In recent years, the number of families on public assistance in the area has increased 60%, and 70% of elementary school students in the area are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. CUNA Mutual’s grant will go to training a crew of 16- to 24-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds to perform housing rehabilitation and construction activities. The contribution from CUNA Mutual will “enable Operation Fresh Start to connect more at-risk youth with educational and community services while creating measurable benefits on the city’s North Side. The result will be more self-reliant, successful young people and a safer community,” Madison Police Chief Noble Wray said. Operation Fresh Start crews are composed of 10 to 15 participants in a year-long combination of classroom instruction, on-the-job training and ongoing mentoring. The team funded by CUNA Mutual will work to build an energy-efficient, affordable, single-family home. “This grant will add a new crew of young people and give them the opportunity to develop life-skills and vocational talents that will help them build positive relationships and a desirable employment history,’’ said Connie Ferris Bailey, Operation Fresh Start’s executive director. “We have a long waiting list of youth who could benefit from our program, so it’s great to be able to add another crew.” CUNA Mutual employees will play a role in mentoring and tutoring members of the crew, who will be working toward their high-school equivalency and vocational placement. “One of the reasons our employee philanthropy team selected Operation Fresh Start as a recipient of such a donation is the organization’s focus on helping youth to gain maturity and learn positive work habits such as thoroughness and personal initiative,” said Steve Goldberg, executive director of the CUNA Mutual Foundation. “The holistic approach to developing a young person’s potential and transforming negative behavior into positive results for the community really impressed our employee team,” he added. The company’s decision to contribute to Operation Fresh Start was a result of the company’s strong 2007 financial performance and its desire to support organizations that benefit the community, said CUNA Mutual President/CEO Jeff Post.