Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014

Unity in Motion Helps Transform Milwaukee’s Central City Youth

By Kristina Byas
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“Through the power of we, my future is up to me” is the mantra of local nonprofit, Unity in Motion.

When Unity in Motion was created in 2000, founder Allen Ruppel had one goal in mind: establish a long-term relationship with students that will help drive them and put them in a position to succeed.

Starting with 25 students participating in a non-violent martial arts class at a local community center, Unity in Motion has now reached nearly 400 of Milwaukee’s central city youth.

“I always envisioned it as a tool to bring people together across all of the social, economic and racial differences that we find in life,” said Ruppel. “I felt that when we bond in a common activity or a common goal, all of that goes away.”

Encouraging students to make healthy choices that positively impact their lives and building a strong relationship with the students is important to the staff. Taking an individualized approach, Unity in Motion works closely with each of the program’s participants and their families to ensure each child develops his or her academic skills, as well as strong personal values.

“Most organization focus on structure, but we are about the long-term relationship with the students, said Youth Development Coordinator Samuel Markwardt.

The program works with students ranging from fourth grade to post-secondary education and offers services such as tutoring sessions and recreational classes. Students have the option to participate in a non-violent martial arts class or dance, both free of charge.

Devonte Lee, a second year participant of Unity in Motion, is one of the many benefiting from the recreational classes and individualized help provided to students. “I like that you get to take out your stress from school on the punching bags during karate class,” Lee said.

Ruppel’s background in karate led him to incorporate the unique color-coded martial arts achievement system to motivate students. The different colored levels include white, yellow, orange, blue, green, brown and black and demonstrate where each student is at in the program and how much work they have put towards being successful in their academics.

“This system incentivizes youth to want to achieve and it gives them recognition among their peers,” said Ruppel. “Students are expected to maintain a 2.0 GPA, participate in community service projects, and maintain good attendance to move up a level.”

When students enter high school and advance to the black level, they then have the option to become mentors to students enrolled in the program, as well as the opportunity to benefit from college prep programs and post-secondary education scholarships. Unity in Motion has awarded over $47,500 in scholarships since its start.

After 14 very successful years of programming, Ruppel remains optimistic about the future of the students and what they will accomplish once they have completed the program. “We want the students to become productive, educated, contributing members of society,” he said.  

Programming for Unity in Motion is currently hosted at Hope Semper, All People’s Church, and Milwaukee College Prep’s 38th street campus.

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